Who’d a thunk it? The Koch brothers, two of the world’s wealthiest men who have spent millions of dollars to help fund “both political campaigns and a network of right-wing propaganda” in this country aren’t so popular with some Republican politicians these days. According to Zaid Jilani (AlterNet), there are signs that “the Kochs’ influence is starting to produce a backlash even in the Republican Party they finance.”
Over the past few months, a group of Tennessee Republicans led by the state’s governor Bill Haslam, tried to use federal Medicaid dollars to expand the number of people covered by health insurance. They narrowly failed, and much of the failure has been blamed on intense activism by Americans For Prosperity (AFP), a group financed by the Kochs.
Travis Gettys of Raw Story said that some Tennessee Republicans “are getting tired of the Koch brothers meddling in their state politics.”
The billionaire libertarians pour cash into Republican campaigns and steer pro-business policies through their Americans for Prosperity organization — which attacks GOP lawmakers who are insufficiently supportive.
That’s what happened to state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), who asked his GOP colleagues to at least consider Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to use federal dollars and extend Medicaid health coverage to 280,000 low-income residents through his Insure Tennessee proposal, reported The Tennessean.
According to Gettys, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) “launched a series of radio ads claiming that Brooks, the House assistant majority leader, had betrayed voters by flip-flopping on Obamacare.” Gettys said that Insure Tennessee “failed twice in this year’s General Assembly after AFP attacks on Brooks and GOP state Reps. Jimmy Eldridge and John Holsclaw for their perceived support of the governor’s plan.” Gettys noted that the Kochs’ “disproportionate influence on the state’s politics rubbed some Republicans, including the governor’s top political adviser, the wrong way.”
Gettys continued by saying that “Tom Ingram, the advisor to Haslam and a registered lobbyist during the last session for a business group supporting Insure Tennessee, blames the situation on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.” Ingram said that AFP has the ability “to pour money directly and indirectly into state politics and push their agenda in ways that individual voters cannot.” Ingram added, “I find something out of whack about that.”
According to The Tennessean, a number “of high-profile Republicans finally lashed out at AFP, decrying its disproportionate influence over the state’s politics.”
… long-time political consultant Tom Ingram, Haslam’s top political adviser, said what happened is also Exhibit A for outside groups’ growing influence on state politics and state government.
“To some degree the same thing is going on nationwide,” said Ingram, who blames the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that removed restrictions on independent political campaign spending by nonprofit organizations and corporations.
Groups like AFP are working both political campaigns and lobbying in a hand-in-glove approach, according to Ingram. The source of their money is often secret. They spend huge sums. And that’s legal.
“They (AFP) have a full-time staff, they’ve poured in a lot of money indirectly and directly,” said Ingram, who was registered to lobby last session for a pro-Insure Tennessee business group. “It’s largely to push whatever agenda they have and influence, frankly, our elected officials, our issues, disproportionately more than any of us as individual voters can.
Haslam said he believe[sic] outside groups have less impact than many believe, but Ingram – who has longer experience in state government – said lawmakers fear AFP’s spending power in a primary election.
“Even if they’re not intimidated, they’re aggravated by it,” Ingram said.
It appears that Republicans in states other than Tennessee are also expressing their displeasure with the Koch-funded AFP. According to Gettys, conservatives in Montana “booed AFP representatives earlier this year during a town hall forum on that state’s Medicaid expansion, and a Florida Republican recently denounced the group and its billionaire patrons as serving ‘no purpose.’”
On April 22nd, Nina Liss-Schultz (RH Reality Check) reported that the Republican-led Montana legislature had given “final approval to the state’s Medicaid expansion plan, sending the bill to the governor’s desk for a signature. The state senate passed the bill on Saturday, ending a years-long battle to expand public insurance in the state despite well-funded opposition by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
The bill’s passage marks a defeat for the Koch brothers, who have thrown resources into campaigns against insurance expansion in Montana and other states. In Montana, a state where Republicans control both the house and senate, the Kochs sent staffers from the right-wing group Americans for Prosperity to hold town halls across the state to trumpet the supposed perils of Obamacare.
Eric Stern, the Deputy Secretary of State in Montana, reported in a Salon article on April 21st that the passage of Medicaid expansion in Montana “was an unlikely defeat for the Koch brothers, who came in as heavy favorites and spent a fortune trying to kill the measure. Sadly for the Kochs, poor people in Montana will now get medical care.”
For the Medicaid battle the Kochs tried a new strategy, one that never works in the West. They flew in a bunch of high-priced young politicos from Washington to get the job done. These held “town meetings” in rural communities at which they showed up in slim-fit suits and pointy shoes, looking like they were heading to a nightclub, lecturing farmers and ranches on politics and the dangers of “more Obamacare” and publicly threatening moderate Republicans. It didn’t take long for them to get booed off the stage by their own partisans.
Stern added that the work was not over yet. He noted that the bill was “not actually full-on Medicaid expansion.”
It’s a hybrid, a compromise. The Republican moderates who voted for it did so on the condition that recipients of the new coverage be made to pay a monthly premium and co-pay, between 2 percent and 5 percent of their annual income. That’s money that these folks can barely afford, but the leader of the Republican faction that voted for it claimed that it would “make sure that everyone has some skin in the game” (this is the Republican version of Judeo-Christian values). In the end, however, it is better than no program at all…
Meanwhile in the state of Florida, the Miami Herald reported in April that Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, “took Koch brothers-backed, ultra-conservative political action committee Americans for Prosperity to task” in a Senate committee hearing.
After AFP lobbyist Skylar Zander tried to waive his time in opposition to the bill, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, asked to hear full testimony.
The Herald said that was “when Detert got her shots in.”
Detert was quoted as saying, “I appreciate the mail-outs that you do against me on a monthly basis that say I give money to Hollywood moguls, which, of course, I don’t have any money to give, and neither does the state of Florida give money to Hollywood moguls…You’re all on the Koch brothers’ payroll. Good for you. I’m glad you’re all employed … I hope you’re getting paid a lot of money to show up to these meetings and say meaningless things.”
Then Detert added, “Obviously you’re for prosperity for yourself and not anyone else … You people serve absolutely no purpose.”
Interesting, don’t you think?????
Americans for Prosperity aims for Tennessee influence (The Tennessean)
Sen. Detert to AFP: ‘You people serve absolutely no purpose’ (Miami Herald)
GOP-Led Montana Legislature Expands Medicaid, Despite Koch Brothers’ Opposition (RH Reality Check)