What happens when billionaire businessmen bent on reducing the taxes, regulations, and wages they pay gather with the politicians most closely aligned with their agenda? Because of Lauren Windsor’s groundbreaking investigative journalism on The Undercurrent and The Nation, into the Koch brothers’ secret conference at an Orange County California luxury resort, we now know. The revelations today about Mitch McConnell, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, and Cory Gardner flying to a luxury resort in California and pledging loyalty to the Koch agenda are breath-taking, especially the detailed information about the Koch brother front groups’ electoral strategies. It confirms all of your most cynical fears about the behind-the-scenes deal-making between politicians and their financiers.
In the spirit of full disclosure, before I go any further, let me note that the organization I founded and chair, American Family Voices, has a consulting contract with Lauren to produce and promote a lot of our content. AFV has also been a public sponsor of her investigative journalism work through her web-show, The Undercurrent. AFV’s support of The Undercurrent is in keeping with our history from the early days of our organizational work; supporting indie journalism is something we have always done.
These articles now provide us with an in-depth look at the Koch strategy for political domination, and their relationship to candidates who are eager to do their bidding.
Here’s Mitch McConnell: “I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you are doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”
And the head of the Republican Governors Association: “We’ve had no stronger partner over the last four years than American For Prosperity.”
Or Republican US Senate candidate Joni Ernst: “The first time I was introduced to this group was a year ago, August, in New Mexico, and I was not known at that time. A little known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, uh, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”
McConnell’s entire speech is about how he has made as the number one passion of his career to make sure the millionaires and billionaires in the room can give as much money as they want to whatever politician or political entity they want without having to disclose who they gave to. He even brags about leading filibusters, and inventing a new one, in his fight against campaign finance reform in his very first term, saying, “And I was so determined, I came up with a new filibuster.”
After McConnell describes in great detail how he has served these billionaires’ interests his whole career, he then makes clear that if Republicans get a majority, his number one priority will be to attach riders to appropriations bills to keep the government from having a cop on the beat to keep the oil and coal companies represented in the room from polluting, or keep the health industry execs there free to keep cheating their patients, or make sure the Wall Street bankers there are free to manipulate the markets so that they get ever-wealthier.
These articles are going to have major political implications in the 2014 elections. Here are some highlights...
1. McConnell giving a speech on why he has made fighting every bill that would lessen the power of big money in politics as the number one cause of his career is bad enough, his secret pledge to the money men in the room to force government regulators and prosecutors to back off of oversight in their industries is even worse. But his description of what the Democratic priorities may come back to haunt him most of all:
And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.
Quite a contrast: I’ll give you friendly billionaires everything you want, plus we won’t have to worry about stupid stuff like the minimum wage or helping the unemployed anymore.
2. One of the quintessential moments of the whole conference was during the panel on what Koch front groups were doing in the elections. Tim Phillips, the head of Americans For Prosperity, starts talking about what a hero Tom Cotton is for voting against the farm bill, and the aristocracy applauds enthusiastically. Now the farm bill is pretty important in Arkansas; it pumps a huge amount of money into a very poor, rural state. While the billionaires at the secret meeting at the luxury resort in California may not like it, Arkansas farmers do. Cotton being so applauded for voting against the farm bill may not go over so well back home.
Here’s the other thing: Cotton missed the most important political event of the summer in Arkansas, the tomato festival that every statewide candidate for decades has been going to, in order to hang out with his billionaire friends in CA. The campaign refused to admit that he had gone, saying they wouldn’t comment on what he had been doing instead of the tomato festival. Now there is not only confirmation that he went to the Koch event, but the people of Arkansas can hear his hosts applauding excitedly about his voting against the farm bill.
3. The news that Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst was there thanking the Kochs and their friends so profusely is a pretty big deal as well. She hadn’t been listed on the official agenda obtained by The Nation, , and not only was she there singing the praises of the billionaire financiers in the room, she talks about being with them the conference a year ago, when she was an unknown state Senator just getting started in her race. Clearly, she is the Kochs’ special favorite. In a populist state like Iowa, being that close to the Kochs might not be all that popular.
4. Another Senate candidate, Cory Gardner from Colorado, was introduced as being a true friend and a leader in “free market” energy issues, which is a polite way of saying let the big oil guys do what they will to the environment. Gardner waxed enthusiastically about the idea of Koch front groups coming not just to Colorado, but to the entire Rocky Mountain region — that those states were “ripe” for their investment. The people of CO might be less excited about all that big oil money polluting their airwaves as well as their air and water.
5. Another huge story is the very close, perhaps illegal coordination going on at these meetings between the candidates, parties, and supposedly non-partisan Koch front groups. Having run a non-profit group for many years, I think it is safe to say that my normally mild-mannered lawyer would want to strangle me if I said the things about blatantly helping candidates that the head of AFP said in his panel. And to have the head of the Republican Governors Association say that AFP was their “number one partner,” and to have McConnell say that if you wanted to fight the Democrats, you could give directly to candidates or you could give to AFP? This degree of coordination is striking, even in the loose, murky world of campaign finance law.
These audio files reveal the frightening truth about the state of American politics in 2014 — our country is being held hostage by a minority beholden to corporate interests. The Minority Leader of the United States Senate brags to billionaires about his career in service to their interests, and promises to deliver what they want if he gets to be the Majority Leader. Those same billionaires excitedly applaud a candidate for voting with them instead of his constituents. A “non-partisan” group on a panel with the head of the RGA talks through their strategy for taking control of the Senate. These transcripts are the story of big money in politics in the post-Citizens United era.