Ky. falls in lockstep with Koch agenda

Ron Formisano
Ron Formisano

Kentucky’s Republican legislative majority and Tea Party governor debuted dancing to tunes played by the radical right billionaire Koch brothers.

The Koch lobbying arm, Americans for Prosperity, which should be called “Americans for Inequality,” gave bucks to elect Republican legislators and sent its paid operatives and hangers-on to pack a hearing room to cheer for the union busting right-to-work-for-low-wages law.

Their agenda — restrictive abortion laws, right to earn less, charter schools, enable polluters — comes right out of the law mill of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the creation of the Kochs and other reactionary billionaires and corporations.

It recruits and funds pliable legislators who receive model bills to push that are favored by corporate backers and often not read by the legislators. ALEC sponsored the notorious “stand your ground” laws that led to the killing of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin.

David and Charles Koch preside over a private global conglomerate in 60 countries whose core business of refining and distributing oil extends to pipelines, chemicals, fertilizer, timber and paper products. They own Georgia Pacific, which makes chemicals used in fracking; their commodities trading is worldwide.

Do not be fooled by the upbeat “We are KOCH” commercials. Koch Industries consistently has ranked among the top three polluters of the nation’s air, water and climate.

Its plants generate 24 million tons of greenhouse gases a year; in past years it has paid out more millions in civil and criminal environmental penalties than any other company.

Lives have been lost to their exploding pipelines, water poisoned and wetlands eroded. In 2000, “60 Minutes” reported on court documents in which their feuding and alienated brother, Bill, charged that they had made $230 million by stealing oil from federal lands.

Koch lawyers claim the company has reformed in regards to the environment. That would be welcome, but the Koch war against environmental regulations, to bust unions, cut public services and avoid paying taxes has been unabated.

To those ends, they began funding right-wing think tanks in the 1970s to disseminate propaganda touting the virtues of a free market; but they manipulate markets for profit. They launched numerous “astroturf” groups to gin up fake grassroots support for policies affecting their bottom line.

In 1998, for example, Citizens for a Sound Economy launched a successful campaign opposing a plan to restore the Florida Everglades. Soon after, it received $700,000 in contributions from the state’s three biggest sugar companies, polluters of the Everglades and drinking water.

CSE took on many other corporate causes: denying global warming for Exxon, opposing higher cigarette taxes for Philip Morris, maintaining car companies’ limited liability (Hertz), phone deregulation for US West ($1 million payback), and many more.

The National Journal described CSE’s fake “grassroots” campaigns as “a fig leaf for corporate lobbies.” One critic aptly called it “part of a rent-a-mouthpiece phenomenon.”

Americans for Prosperity succeeded CSE in 2003 and continues to launch deceptive “citizens” campaigns, while Koch also ramped up its infrastructure as a political machine. It is registered as a tax-free non-profit and, not needing to disclose its donors, thrives on the “dark money” corrupting our elections.

It now has operatives in 50 states and has sent corporate allies’ cash into hundreds of universities. As states cut education budgets, higher education welcomes infusions (hello Kentucky), strings attached.

Along with chambers of commerce and corporate PACs, they have spent to defeat not only Democrats but also moderate Republicans concerned about education and social services.

What really do the brothers want for their billions, besides remaining among the handful of super-rich Americans?

Make no mistake, they would repeal or privatize not just the Affordable Care Act but Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. They would eliminate minimum wage, prohibit overtime and paid sick and maternity leave. They want freedom to pollute and they do not want to pay taxes.

Union-busting laws are not just about workers in union shops not paying dues for union benefits. In the words of Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan director Scott Hagerstrom: “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation but really ... we would like to take the unions out at their knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.”

In short: Right-to-work-for-less is part of a grand design to create the lowest-wage labor force in the developed world and to make billionaires richer.

Anyone thinking otherwise is kidding themselves.

Ron Formisano of Lexington is a retired history professor and author of “Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the Poor” (Johns Hopkins University, 2015).