By Lee Fang
The Koch brothers are eager to present themselves as small-government libertarians, but their grants to front groups suggest a different set of priorities.
Charles and David Koch, the billionaire owners of of Koch Industries, are known as big spenders when it comes to lobbying and influencing public policy. Now, a new document filed with the IRS reveals how the Koch political machine funneled over $54.5 million in previously undisclosed funds to a litany of front groups designed to smear Democrats.
The disclosure suggests that a very wide variety of Republican groups active in the last major election, from pro-life organizations that ran ads on abortion to shadowy fronts that aired partisan commercials with the infamous Ground Zero Mosque conspiracy, have been highly dependent on Koch money. The document also reveals that the Koch's political network spent much more on electing the current Congress than previously known.
Sean Noble, a Republican consultant, was hired to help administer the Koch war chest. According to Politico, Noble was part of a group of GOP operatives who met regularly with Karl Rove's superPAC to target 120 House of Representatives races in 2010. The close coordination was pivotal in helping the Republican Party capture 63 seats in one of the biggest midterm election landslides in modern history.
Yesterday afternoon, OpenSecrets.org bloggers Viveca Novak and Robert Maguire were the first to flag a tax form filed by an obscure Arizona-based foundation called the Center to Protect Patients' Rights, noting the foundation gave huge amounts almost exclusively to conservative groups that use undisclosed nonprofits to air partisan ads. The Center acted as a pass-through to distribute $44,599,946 in grants in 2010, and $10,783,500 the year before. Novak and Maguire also reported that the Center's tax forms were prepared by at least one employee of the DCI Group, a lobbying business.
Though the document does not reveal where the Center receives its funds, the tax forms available online from 2009 and 2010 indicate that Sean Noble, Koch's campaign commercial operative, managed the foundation. Heather Higgins, a presenter at the infamous Koch mega-fundraisers, served on the board for part of 2009. The Center paid Noble's firm a total of $350,000 a year in lobbying and "management services." In turn, it appears, Noble played a significant role in fueling the most aggressive advertising campaign in the history of midterm elections.
Noble's grant list features sponsors of the most hard-hitting partisan ads, including Americans for Job Security and the Club for Growth. Many of the Center's grants, however, went to social conservative groups that clash with traditional libertarian values, particularly in terms of women's health and foreign policy. Although the Koch brothers are eager to present themselves as small government libertarians, the grants suggest a different set of priorities.
Here are some of the groups that benefited from the Center to Protect Patients' Rights' largess:
From cutting the EPA to passing bills to undermine the Clean Air Act, Congress has handsomely rewarded the business interests of Koch Industries.– The American Future Fund, which received $12,965,000 from the Center, ran ads that helped to defeat Democratic incumbents including John Spratt, D-S.C., Mark Schauer, D-Mich., Bobby Bright D-Ala., Chet Edwards D-Texas, Phil Hare, D-Ill,, Baron Hill D-Ind., and Travis Childers D-Miss. As we've noted, the group is also responsible for an ad campaign that hit Democrats for supporting a New York mosque at Ground Zero, allegedly built to honor the terrorists' victory on 9/11. In reality, the ads misquoted the lawmakers, and the mosque in question was a planned community center headed by a cleric who has worked for the government, including the Bush administration, for years to promote peace.– The 60 Plus Association, which received $11,625,000 from the Center, runs aggressive ads against Democrats in both the House and Senate. The group was set up as a Republican response to the AARP. In 2010, the 60 Plus Association blanketed the nation with ads that charged that Democrats had "betrayed" seniors by passing health reform and cut Medicare.– The Susan B. Anthony List, which received $1,025,000 from the Center, ran ads in 2010 accusing Democrats of funding "overseas abortions" and passing a health care bill that "requires Americans" to finance abortions (a claim labeled false by experts). The group, which spent over $11 million two years ago, even ran pro-life attack ads against Democrats who oppose abortion rights. Other forced pregnancy groups financed by the Center include Nebraska Right to Life, Concerned Women for America, and Americans United for Life Action. Americans United for Life Action received $559,000.– Though most Center-funded groups focused on federal elections, one group, Protect Your Vote Inc., which received $100,000, was set up to undermine efforts to draw fair congressional districts in Florida.– The Fund also provided grants to a number of Tea Party advocacy groups, including the Tea Party Patriots, the Institute for Liberty, and Americans for Prosperity.In all, Koch operative Sean Noble channeled grants to two dozen 501(c)4 nonprofits. As Stephen Colbert has covered, 501(c)4 nonprofits, which he refers to as "Spooky PACs," can act like superPACs — raising and spending unlimited corporate, union and individual contributions — but do not have to disclose a dime in terms of where the money is coming from.The disclosure of Noble's outfit is the biggest window we've seen recently into who purchased the current composition of Congress two years ago. Before this disclosure, the Koch network could only be tied to a few disclosed donations during the 2010 election: about $30-45 million reportedly raised by Americans for Prosperity, the attack-ad sponsoring Tea Party front founded by David Koch, over $2 million in contributions to political action committees through Koch PAC, and$1,050,450 in donations to the Republican Governors Association. The Center's $55 million grant budget, raised possibly in connection to the Koch fundraisers — one of which Sean Noble and some of the wealthiest Republican billionaires in the country attended only months before the midterm elections — certainly raises the stakes in terms of calculating how much the current Republican Congress owe their current political fortunes to the Koch machine.
As I reported for ThinkProgress last year, David Koch visited Capitol Hill as Republican freshman were being sworn into Congress. He was a guest in the Speaker's office on John Boehner's first day on the job. I ran into him on his way out of the Capitol. Koch grinned as he told me that the Tea Party is composed of "just normal people like us." A few moments later, I asked if the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision had helped him with electing the new Congress. He cringed at the question, picked up his cell phone, and walked away.