Last week’s announcement of a settlement between the state of California and two political campaign organizations linked to the Koch brothers fittingly coincided with the centenary of the first scientific explorations of Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits. The history of the tar pits is pretty straightforward: For at least 38,000 years, thick, petroleum-based asphaltum has oozed up from fissures at the site, a noxious goo that long ago entrapped hapless animals as well as the predators that tried to feast on them.
Rather more recent and less explored have been the political intrigues of petroleum tycoons Charles and David Koch, although news of their ambitions is slowly rising to the surface, too. Last year a daisy chain of groups with Koch connections funneled campaign contributions into a pair of policy measures on the 2012 California ballot: Proposition 30, a tax-raising measure designed to restore much-needed funds to public education,
It should serve as more than mere cold comfort that Charles and David Koch – the oil billionaires with a desire to remake America according to their own Dickensian vision of society – are about to be fined $1 million by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission. Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that a pair of the brothers’ political money funnels, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, unlawfully directed $11 million to a campaign account set up to defeat Proposition 30 and promote Proposition 32 in 2012.
The first proposition, which aimed to raise tax dollars for public education, passed; the latter measure, intended to cripple the ability of public employee unions to participate in politics, didn’t.
Last November unions won a resounding victory when voters defeated Proposition 32, a ballot measure that would have crippled labor’s political influence in California, partly by barring public-employee unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. The initiative, which enjoyed a huge lead in early opinion polls, was heavily funded by wealthy conservatives and far-right groups.
Union leaders were overjoyed by its defeat.
“You can’t buy California,” Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association (CTA), told an election-night victory party in Sacramento. “We’re not for sale.”
The celebration hasn’t been long lived. In a little-noticed move in April, a conservative legal organization that has pushed to overturn the 1964 Voting Rights Act filed a lawsuit in federal court in Santa Ana that could accomplish in the courts what Prop. 32 couldn’t at the ballot box. The players behind the suit may not be household names but the millionaires and private foundations covering their legal fees represent a familiar klatch of extreme libertarians who,
(Note: This feature first appeared September 21, 2012.)
On September 14 the Web exploded with news that billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch had donated $4 million in support of Proposition 32. A San Francisco Chronicle editorial noting the donation labeled the brothers “conservative ideologues” – a moniker often applied to the Kochs. This description, however, gives the Kochs far too much credit for their supposed philosophical purity—particularly as it relates to the Prop. 32 battle.
Despite their reputations as libertarian true believers, the Koch brothers are nothing if not practical businessmen, who have no trouble taking advantage of government subsidies when it bolsters their bottom line. (Koch Industries, for instance, was for years heavily invested in the $6 billion, federally subsidized ethanol industry.) That bottom line runs up and down the state of California, where Koch Industries has hundreds of millions of dollars invested through its subsidiary Georgia-Pacific—a gypsum,
It’s official: Americans for Responsible Leadership, the shadowy dark-money outfit that funneled $11 million from Arizona into the campaign supporting California’s Proposition 32 and the effort to defeat Proposition 30, was little more than a courier service for the Koch brothers.
Today’s San Jose Mercury News carried news about the fast-developing story that has gripped Sacramento since October 16:
A group tied to David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who have played a huge role in spreading anonymous political cash around the country, was behind the shadowy Arizona group’s $11 million donation to a California business group.
That group is the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a known front for the Kochs’ political agenda. On October 25, a Frying Pan News post reported by Bill Raden first broke the story that the Kochs were probably responsible for the $11 million October Surprise.
California’s Proposition 32 proposes outlawing the use of automatic payroll deductions from union members and corporations for political purposes. Backed by such labor-hating billionaires as the Koch Brothers, Charles Munger Jr., and by anti-marriage equality crusaders like Howard Ahmanson and Larry T. Smith, the measure will decimate unions’ ability to participate in the political process—stripping them of their considerable clout in the state. But that doesn’t mean Prop. 32 is purely about union-busting. Instead, the measure provides its wealthy backers with a means to an end — to eliminate organized labor as the most significant obstacle to imposing a corporate and fundamentalist religious agenda on an otherwise stalwart progressive state.
Prop. 32 isn’t an end game. It’s the beginning of a much larger conservative agenda for California. The only way to truly understand the potential impact of Prop. 32’s passage is to analyze the agenda of its backers.
Here are the 10 most dire issues California can look forward to if Prop.
In 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13 – a ballot initiative that rolled back property taxes to 1975 levels and capped future increases at two percent. More destructively, it mandated that all future tax raises in the state be approved by the legislature by a two-thirds margin. The law presaged a wave of anti-taxation measures across the country that continues to define the political landscape we inhabit to this day. Ironically, while Prop. 13 was an effective carrier of the anti-taxation message, the rest of America soundly rejected the draconian policies Prop. 13 put into place to block the raising of tax revenues.
“The specifics of Prop. 13 were largely not adopted in other states,” explains Lenny Goldberg, Executive Director of the California Tax Reform Association. “Hardly any states enacted the two-thirds majority rule. And very few states treat taxes on commercial properties like Prop. 13 does.
“We’re Up to $60 Million”
It’s an unreasonably warm October day, and I’m milling about awkwardly with a handful of suits at a mixer in a small banquet hall at Newport Beach’s Pacific Club—which, according to its website, is the gathering place of choice for the “distinctive life-style of Orange County’s business and professional leaders.”
An incredible thirst suddenly overwhelms me, as I look down and see I’ve practically sweated through my cheap suit. I try my best to keep control of my decorum, but when a busser passes by with a lone Arnold Palmer on his tray, I snatch it greedily from the outstretched hands of another guest and suck the saccharine concoction down in one gulp.
The hot weather may be playing a small role in my odd behavior, but my discomfort is mainly due to the fact this is no ordinary mixer. I’ve successfully infiltrated one of the most powerful and secretive Republican organizations in the country: The Lincoln Club of Orange County.
Frying Pan News reporter Matthew Fleischer discussed Proposition 32 on KPFK’s Uprising program Monday morning, joining host Sonali Kolhatkar (left) and Jessica Parra-Fitch (center), who talked about Prop. 37’s attempts to get genetically modified food labeling on the books in California.
A new Frying Pan News infographic reveals the money and groups behind Proposition 32. Slide cursor over pyramid for interactive links.
In October of 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Dream Act—which allows undocumented but high-achieving immigrant students to receive state funds to help pay for college. It was a monumental victory for tolerance and the culmination of a long fight—Arnold Schwarzenegger repeatedly vetoed similar measures during his tenure in the California governor’s office.
Come November 6, however, that fight could begin all over again if California’s Proposition 32 passes. The initiative will outlaw the use of automatic payroll deductions from union members and corporations for political purposes, crippling union political activity and empowering the measure’s billionaire backers to impose their political will on the state. While state unions passionately fought for the California Dream Act’s passage, they were opposed by politicians with ties to Prop. 32’s backers. Though they might not be rabid with anti-immigrant bile, Prop. 32’s moneymen have no problem funneling money to politicians who are.
Over time, this phrase, (probably along with “Let them eat cake”), has become the enduring expression of those things that sound like equality but, in ignoring differences in station, circumstance or means, become absurd, because, in reality, they would only be applied to one of the two groups allegedly being treated in equal fashion.
Such is the case with Prop. 32. This proposition would bar contributions of funds for “political purposes” (further defined below) only if those funds were collected through payroll deductions. The measure is crafted to look as though it is limiting the ability of both unions and corporations to make campaign contributions to candidates or measures, but, in truth,
Any lawyer with some experience in Sacramento politics can draft language for a statewide initiative. But crafting deceptive ballot measures that can trick people into voting against their core beliefs is nothing less than an art form.
For many years, the undisputed master of the misleading initiative has been Thomas Hiltachk. So it’s little surprise that Hiltachk is the author of Proposition 32, which promises to rid Sacramento of special interest money – but which would actually give almost complete control of state politics to corporations and the super-rich by effectively crippling the ability of unions to participate in elections and lobbying. Hiltachk has also quite possibly written into the initiative a poison pill that would shield corporations from its provisions and leave only unions to suffer the consequences if Prop. 32 passes.
A full-time political and election lawyer since 1998, Hiltachk is an old hand at drafting legislation benefiting Big Tobacco or beating back living wage campaigns.
Brothers David and Charles Koch, and other libertarian billionaire backers of Proposition 32, including Charles Munger Jr., like to wrap themselves in the toga of individual freedom. However, despite their supposed ideological fervor for personal liberties, they have allied themselves with some of the nation’s most vociferously anti-gay religious activists – all for a campaign to outlaw the use of automatic payroll deductions from union members and corporations for political purposes. Although it is not widely seen as a “gay issue,” Prop. 32’s passage could have far-reaching consequences for California’s gays and lesbians.
“If we lose organized labor as a funded political ally in California, the LGBT movement is in big trouble,” says Courage Campaign founder and LGBT activist Rick Jacobs. “Would you rather have Howard Ahmanson thinking about your rights in the workplace, or organized labor? That’s what this is about. Mark my words, people like the Kochs and Ahmanson are not thinking about how LGBT people are welcome in the workplace and not discriminated against.”
Newspapers across California are calling out Proposition 32—a ballot measure that would outlaw using automatic payroll deductions from union members and corporations for political purposes. Editorial writers and columnists charge the initiative is dishonest for positioning itself as an anti-corporate campaign finance effort — even as supporters of the initiative have recently taken to union-bashing to frame their arguments. However, for a period of several months over the summer, Prop. 32 backers did their best to fool Californians with a disingenuous Occupy Wall Street-inspired “fight the power” advertising campaign. Let’s take a look at some vintage Trojan Horse political advertising.
0 minutes 05 seconds – Nice special effects. Michael Bay is impressed.
0:16 – Does that briefcase combination read “666”? Perhaps the flow of “special interest” money into politics is a deal with the devil. Only problem: The devil is wearing a wedding band. Given that such Christian conservative Proposition 8 backers as Howard Ahmanson and Larry T.
“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” Gloria Romero tells me on the phone. “It’s flowing to both sides. Government isn’t about drawing lines. It’s not about saying you’re on that side and you can’t come over.”
Her voice is friendly, somewhat placid, but it’s clear Romero is not thrilled with having to answer questions about her political alliance with the Koch brothers and other wealthy supporters of Proposition 32, and she conspicuously avoids bringing up their names. When pressed about the Kochs and the money behind behind Prop. 32, she falls back upon her experience in Sacramento.
“I have sat in the belly of the beast,” she says. “I have seen the realities of money and its influence.”
With Election Day still one month away, the battle to pass Prop. 32 has seen its share of political shockers, including the sudden injection of $4 million of Koch brother money to the Yes on 32 campaign,
(The following message from Edward James Olmos is republished from the L.A. County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, with permission. The concert mentioned took place Oct. 3.)
Forgive me, but I’m going to be blunt. Proposition 32, the so called “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act” is a misleading, cynical and unfair attack on working families and labor unions.
That’s why I’m standing with Working Californians and their No on Prop 32 campaign. And that’s why Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman are joining Working Californians to play a special benefit concert in support of the No on Prop 32 campaign this October 3rd at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE. Want to come and join me?
Get your free ticket for the No on Prop 32 concert with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman, at the link below:
The people behind Prop 32 wrote in giant loopholes and created special exemptions to give billionaire CEOs,