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On March 4, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor about the political tactics of the Koch brothers. Below are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Charles and David Koch are shrewd businessmen. Their wealth is nearly unparalleled – not only in America, but in the world. The brothers inherited a small oil company from their father, and built it into a multi-national corporation that refines oil, manufactures fertilizers and chemicals, makes paper products, extracts minerals, produces glass and even owns a cattle ranch. And like most shrewd businessmen, the oil baron Koch brothers are very good at protecting and growing their prodigious fortune. There’s nothing un-American about that.
But what is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent. I believe in an America where economic opportunity is open to all. But based on their actions and the policies they promote, the Koch brothers seem to believe in an America where the system is rigged to benefit the very wealthy. Based on Senate Republicans’ ardent defense of the Koch brothers, and the fact that they advocate for many of the same policies the Koch brothers do, it seems my Republican colleagues also believe in a system that benefits billionaires at the expense of the middle class. The Koch brothers are willing to invest billions to buy that America.
In 2010, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of corporate money into electoral politics with its Citizens United decision. Since mega donors like Charles and David Koch can launder their huge contributions using shadowy shell groups and so-called “non-profits,” it’s difficult to tell exactly how much they’ve invested so far. Investigative reporting by some of the most respected news outlets in the country had revealed that the Koch brothers funnel money through a web of industry groups and advocacy organizations that are immune from disclosure rules, such as the Club for Growth, Heritage Action, the NRA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
We may never know how much money the Koch brothers are spending to rig the system for themselves. But we do know their investments have already paid off.
In November of 2010, the petroleum industry walked right through the door the Supreme Court had opened, and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to elect a Republican majority to the House of Representatives. That Republican majority has effectively shut down any hope of passing legislation to limit the pollution that causes climate change. And that Republican majority is, in fact, working to gut the most important safeguards that keep cancer-causing toxins out of the air we breathe and the water we drink. Without those safeguards, the Koch brothers would pass on the higher healthcare costs to middle class Americans while padding their own pocketbooks.
So the Koch brothers are already seeing a return on their 2010 investment in a Republican House of Representatives. But they haven’t stopped there. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity alone spent $400 million on misleading attack ads last election cycle. If you’ve seen an ad maligning the Affordable Care Act, chances are the Koch brothers – or one of their shadow groups – paid for it.
Koch-backed groups have spent a vast sum helping elect Republican Senate candidates this year – a sum that dwarfs even the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s own spending. The Koch brothers and other moneyed interests are influencing the political process for their own benefit in a way not seen for generations.
Republicans Senators have come to the floor to defend the Koch brothers’ attempt to buy our democracy. Once again, Republicans are all-in to protect their billionaire friends.
Not only have Senate Republicans come to the floor to defend the Koch brothers personally, they have, again and again, defended the Kochs’ radical agenda. Senate Republicans have opposed closing a single tax loophole for profitable oil companies or corporations that ship jobs overseas. Senate Republicans have opposed asking billionaires to pay the same higher tax rate as middle-class families pay. Senate Republicans have opposed environmental and workplace safety standards that might cost Koch Industries or their other corporate donors a few extra dollars.
And the Koch brothers are returning the favor with huge donations to Republican Senate candidates. Senate Republicans are addicted to Koch.
In fact, Senate Republicans hardly need the NRSC anymore. They’ve got the Koch brothers. Besides, the NRSC can’t hide its donors’ identities, like Koch-funded front groups can.
Senate Republicans call this freewheeling spending by anonymous donors nothing more than free speech – free speech. Senate Republicans say whoever has the most money gets the most free speech. But that is not what America’s Founders meant by free speech. The Founders believed in a democracy where every American has a voice and a vote.
This discussion – this fight – isn’t just about health care or even about a few hundred million dollars in disingenuous ads. This is about two very wealthy individuals who intend to buy their very own Congress – a Congress beholden to their money and bound to enact their radical philosophy. Witness: Republican Senators beholden to wealthy special interests rush to the floor to defend the Kochs whenever I say something negative about the brothers or their radical agenda.
By the way, those words – “radical philosophy” – aren’t my words. Charles Koch proudly told Brian Doherty, an editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, about his self-described “radical philosophy” in 2007.
These are the same brothers who have lobbied against recognition of formaldehyde as a cancer-causing carcinogen because it might be bad for business. These are the same brothers whose Koch Industries ranks near the top of the list of America’s worst toxic air polluters. These are the same brothers whose company, according to a Bloomberg investigation, paid bribes and kickbacks to win contracts in Africa, India, and the Middle East. These are the same brothers who, according to that report, used foreign subsidiaries to sell millions of dollars of equipment to Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism.
They already believe they can play by a different set of rules. Think about what an America rigged by the Koch brothers would look like.
The Koch brothers don’t care about creating a strong public education system in America. The Koch brothers don’t care about maintaining the strong safety net of Medicare and Social Security. And The Koch brothers don’t care about a guarantee of affordable, quality health insurance for every American. Why? Because the Koch brothers can afford to buy all those benefits and more for themselves and for their families.
Their extreme vision for America means abolishing Social Security and Medicare as we know it. Their extreme vision for America means eliminating minimum wage laws. Their extreme vision for America means putting insurance companies back in charge of your health care and allowing them to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Their extreme vision for America means stripping tens of million people of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act today. Their extreme vision for America means allowing the gap between the wages women and men earn for the same work to keep growing. Their extreme vision for America means giving giant corporations the unfettered right to dump toxins into our rivers and streams, on our mountains and in our valleys, and to give them even more tax breaks while they destroy our environment.
Democrats have a different vision. Democrats believe the economy is strongest when the middle class is vibrant and growing. Democrats believe world-class education leads to a world-class work force ready to take on any challenge. Democrats believe an even playing field with higher wages, affordable health care and a secure retirement gives every American the same shot at success.
Now, I welcome a public debate over these competing visions. Average Americans share our vision for a country whose success is built on a strong middle class. And the Koch brothers know it. That’s why, rather than have an honest and fair debate, they are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a massive campaign of deception. They manufacture stories and make up facts. And they are angry that I am calling attention to their campaign of distortion and deceit.
I am not oblivious to the fact that my comments about the Koch brothers have caused controversy. Anyone who has turned on Fox News lately knows I’ve gotten under Charles and David Koch’s skin. But I will continue to shine a light on their subversion of democracy.
When I hear my Republican colleagues defending the Koch brothers, I recall the words of Adlai Stevenson: “I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends… that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”
And as long as the Koch brothers continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying elections, I will continue to do all I can to expose their intentions.
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The Koch brothers’ coalition of extremist groups raised more than $400 million during the 2012 election cycle, according to an analysis of tax returns by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Post reports that tracing the Koch money proved particularly difficult because many of the groups swapped funds back and forth, a tactic used to shield the identity of the original donors and designed to help the groups qualify for tax-exempt status.
“It is a very sophisticated and complicated structure,” Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a University of Notre Dame Law School professor who studies tax law and political nonprofits, told The Post.
“It’s designed to make it opaque as to where the money is coming from and where the money is going. No layperson thought this up. It would only be worth it if you were spending the kind of dollars the Koch brothers are, because this was not cheap.”
Click to view the full map of the Koch’s 17 groups, as created by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics.