Not a Grassroots Movement

Betty Mills

Despite some rude and ugly behavior on the part of some of the Tea Party participants, the notion of a grass roots movement concerned with government was a comforting one. The low voting rate of our citizens has been a black mark on the national report card and here were people willing to stand up and be counted, even be mouthy.

Well, burst that bubble.

As one wise wit put it, it is not a grass roots movement, it’s an Astroturf movement, funded by the Koch Brothers, David and Charles. Consider the activities of a Koch funded organization Freedom

Works, whose CEO is a good old boy from North Dakota, Dick Armey. Freedom Works organized and funded the so-called rallies, put out conference calls for state organizers of the Tea Parties, supplied a web site, provided ideas for signs and press releases, and gave lessons in clear delivery of the message.

Americans for Prosperity provided location information for congressional town meetings, where to show up for the free bus to take them there, gave written instruction on how to disrupt a meeting, what to say to the TV cameras. It was hardly grass roots, home grown, spontaneous citizen action.

Any organization sponsored by the Koch brothers has a message which can be summed up as whatever will assist the Koch Industries bottom line. And Koch Industries is a gigantic critter including manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum chemicals, energy, fiber intermediates and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching, finance, commodities trading. They fight any rule, regulation, law, agency, congress person, president, who interferes with their operations.

Bloomerg Markets Magazine gives them a very bad report card, claiming they made illicit payments to win contracts, sold chemicals to Iran in defiance

of the U. S. trade ban, stole oil on federal land, and lied to regulators about toxics emissions.

The list of the organizations they have formed– and/or funded– is staggering, starting alphabetically with the Cato Institute and working it’s way through a lengthy list that includes the Heritage Foundation, Washington Legal Foundation, Institute for Justice, Citizens For A Sound Economy, Freedom Works, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that has recently been in the hot seat, its big time supporters deserting, dismayed by some of its activities such as promoting state legislation to limit voter participation by the poor and people of color.

What is it with the Koch brothers? They are the third richest men in the United States, behind only Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, own the first or second largest privately held corporation in the United States, employ 70,000 workers in 60 different countries, and have a yearly revenue of 100 billion. Isn’t that sufficient?

In 1980 David ran for Vice President of the United States on the Libertarian ticket. The platform including abolishing the FBI, the CIA, federal regulatory agencies, Social Security, all personal and corporate income taxes, and public schools. The ticket lost miserably and the Koch brothers dropped off the public radar for awhile..All that has changed.

Now so extensive are the lobbying activities, the intimidation, the multimillions involved with the various Koch creations that the effect is known around Washington as the Kochtopus.

They operate on three general premises: anti-regulatory, anti-environmental and anti-labor. So they pour millions into the campaigns of candidates who agree with them, create academic institutions to develop position papers supporting their views, and support state officials and legislatures who seek to cripple unions.

How much they have donated politically is not known, particularly now given the Citizens United decision which allows unlimited corporate giving without disclosure. It is my fantasy that when the present Supreme Court conservatives who made that decision appear before the Judgment Seat, St. Peter is busy and appoints James Madison, the father of our constitution, to render judgment.

Since Obama’s election, the Koch brothers have been waging a no holds barred campaign against the president, willing to support the name callers, the political opponents, the crazies, and pouring frightening quantities of money into the effort.

Has some of it found its way to our fair state? It hardly seems possible it has not, particularly given the oil boom, but it certainly won’t come with a visible gift tag. The Koch Brothers are aiming to take over Congress, and our Senate seat is no doubt on their list. It’s probably too late to paraphrase that ancient warning for our local Republicans to be wary of the Koch Brothers bearing gifts.

(Betty Mills has been a newspaper columnist in Bismarck for 26 years.)

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