Republic Report has obtained financial audits showing that the billionaire Koch brothers supported at least $3.9 million in unreported election-related activity in 2010. The documents, reported here for the first time, provide a window into an otherwise secret campaign infrastructure that will likely be reactivated this year.
David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers of the Koch Industries business empire, are big election spenders: They dumped millions into negative advertisements against Democrats in the last election, and control a political action committees that has distributed well over $5.2 million in checks to favored politicians over the last two campaign cycles (Koch PAC). But the petrochemical plutocrats spent way more than what has been previously disclosed. Documents obtained by Republic Report shed light on the 2010 midterm election strategies of the Koch political machine, including secret money used to harness Tea Party activists into defeating Democrats.
On the Federal Election Commission disclosure website, you won’t find any big checks written to super PACs by David or Charles Koch. That’s because the brothers prefer nonprofit 501(c) organizations to hide their donations and their political spending. By evading the spirit of campaign disclosure laws, the attacks go on with little accountability from the public.
In 2010, the Koch political network set up multiple bus tours to caravan across the country promoting candidates supported by big business. Former Republican operatives, like Ben Marchi, who had previously worked for the congressional campaign arm of the GOP, were hired to staff these events, which were designed to gain “earned media” for candidates through rallies.
Here’s how it would work. During the election, a bus tour from one of several roving Koch groups (with names like “November is Coming” and “Spending Revolt“) would drive into a city with a competitive congressional election and host the Republican candidate for office. Speakers would denounce the Democratic opponent and President Obama. The Koch operatives at the event, usually employed by the Koch-founded front group Americans for Prosperity, would collect names of the attendees and enter them into a database for get out the vote efforts in the election. So the bus tours would garner positive media in the local press for the candidate, while building up a network to generate votes. Call centers were set up to divert volunteers into Republican campaigns. The most active volunteers were rewarded with $250 Visa gift cards.
The elaborate operation — which hit dozens of congressional races with over a hundred political rallies — was never disclosed as political electioneering, and was hardly noticed by the press as an effort to influence the entire shape of Congress by a few billionaires. But Republic Report recovered two financial audits of the Koch-controlled organization that sponsored these bus tours. The documents show earmarked grants to fund these activities. (View the first document here, and the second here).
View a screenshot below, which shows November is Coming received $3.3 million in restricted grants, and Spending Revolt received $600,000. To be sure, these grants show the minimum of the bus tour budgets — not the maximum. The real amount could be much higher:
A leaked audiotape last year revealed that an executive at Koch’s lobbying office in D.C., Kevin Gentry, said that the bus tours were “designed to help in the Congressional races” as part of their “get out the vote” efforts. Gentry, speaking at a resort filled with billionaire hedge fund managers and oilmen, referred to the tours as “Tea Party.”
The documents also uncover the large amount spent attempting to lobby against clean energy and health reform. These two Koch nonprofits spent at least $2,680,878 fighting health reform (with rallies that featured Democratic lawmakers hung in effigy and speakers comparing the Affordable Care Act to the Holocaust).
This year, it’s likely we’ll see a repeat of many of the strategies deployed during the midterm elections. As Mother Jones reported, the Koch nonprofits are quietly paying Tea Party organizers a hefty sum to collect personal information about voters in the Republican primary. Once the nomination is settled, we’ll see the Koch machine kick into gear to defeat President Obama — and it’s quite possible that, like two years ago, almost nothing will be disclosed.