Cogs in the Koch Astroturf Machine

April 29th, 2014 · 2 Comments · energy policy, Fact Check, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

It was a small item, really, a few slim paragraphs, on the Albuquerque Journal’s Business page Friday, April 25. Yet it spoke or rather shouted volumes about the newspaper.

The headline read, “Libertarian author to talk at luncheon”.

“The Rio Grande Foundation”, it read, “is hosting a luncheon talk with Matt Kibbe on Monday, May 12, where he will discuss his new book “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto”.

After specifying where, when and how much, the item returned to the speaker:

“Kibbe is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a national grassroots organization that serves citizens in their fight for more individual freedom and less government control.”

Well, Kibbe may be the boss, but FreedomWorks is not a “grassroots organization.” It’s not even close.

A grassroots organization arises naturally and spontaneously from the community, unlike groups organized and backed by traditional power structures, right? That’s not FreedomWorks. In fact, pretty much the opposite is true.

Here’s the history, as pulled together after an hour or two surfing the web:

FreedomWorks was founded in 2004. It merged David Koch’s Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America. Simultaneously, the CSE Foundation became Americans for Prosperity, also Koch-supported.

Reps. Dick Armey, Jack Kemp and C. Boyden Gray (heir to a Reynolds tobacco fortune) all prominent Republican politicians, were FreedomWorks’ original co-chairs.

So far, not a grass root in sight.

Over the years, Freedom Works’ backers have included Philip Morris, the tobacco company, Richard Stephenson, founder of Cancer Treatment Centers of America and the Armstrong, Bradley, DeVos, Sarah Scaife and Shelby Cullom Davis foundations.

Those grassroots must be somewhere.

Dick Armey resigned as chair of FreedomWorks Nov. 30, 2012, after he and Kibbe squabbled, with Armey receiving $8 million in “consulting fees.”

It is true FreedomWorks bankrolled grassroots Tea Party enthusiasts and still does. In 2006, however, the Washington Post revealed that from 2001 – 2006 the organization struck a secret deal with insurance brokers whereby the brokers would sell high-deductible insurance policies and tax-free medical savings plans to individuals at a group discount, with purchasers automatically becoming FreedomWorks members. Customers were unaware of the deal, for which they were charged extra fees; FreedomWorks gained some 16,000 “members” and profited by $638,040.

Grassroots found. Grassroots fleeced.

FreedomWorks once pretended to be grassroots.

In 2008, a fake grassroots web site called rallied opposition to “the Obama Housing Bailout”. Michael Phillips, a Wall Street Journal reporter, investigated:

“Though it purports to be a spontaneous uprising, is actually a product of an inside-the-Beltway conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a fellow Republican. It’s a fake grass-roots effort — what politicos call an AstroTurf campaign — that provides a window into the sleight-of-hand ways of Washington.”

So if it isn’t grassroots, what is FreedomWorks? It appears to be a radical right corporate operation fighting climate change legislation, immigration reform and organized labor and passionately in favor of privatizing Social Security.

Which it does partly by employing cash in elections through its FreedomWorks for America arm, which raised $23.5 million in the 2012 election cycle and spent some of it trying to defeat conservative GOP Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana.

This year, says, it is “targeting for defeat” two more conservative Republican leaders: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

Had enough? Good. FreedomWorks is not grassroots. It speaks for Corporate America’s right wing.

But the Journal’s journalistic failure goes deeper than accepting the organization’s grassroots lie at face value. It includes accepting at face value the rest of the organization’s description – “that serves citizens in their fight for more individual freedom and less government control.”

That reads like a smokescreen, too, hiding what FreedomWorks and its affiliated organizations do – politics in the interest of its bankrollers, according to other sources.

For, as we’ve noted here many times, the Journal exempts them from coverage.

That’s why a citizen who reads only the Journal (Heaven forbid!) wouldn’t know the Kochs and their fossil fuel business allies are spending millions to slow the progress of alternative sources of energy.

For example, Oklahoma lawmakers recently approved a surcharge on the power home solar users sell back to utilities “at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group that often dictates bills to Republican statehouses and receives financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers, including the Kochs.”

That is from an informative N.Y. Times editorial Sunday, April 27. Also check out the April 20 Los Angeles Times story it references, which ran under this rubric:

Koch brothers, big utilities attack solar, green energy policies”.

You didn’t read that in the Albuquerque Journal and I have 10 bucks that says you never will.

Fact is the Journal does as little reporting as it can get away with about the Kochs and their network, including (but not limited to) FreedomWorks, Americans for Progress, Capital Research Center, ALEC, the American Competitive Institute, Heritage, CATO and the State Policy Network.

Yet the Journal publishes opinion pieces from most of the above!

And from the Rio Grande Foundation, the Koch network’s local outpost!

And from fronts for the American Petroleum Institute!

Yes, the editors collaborate by declining to ID the authors properly; why tell readers what interests paid for the essays?

And yes, to square today’s circle, the business pages alert readers to Koch network meetings (like the FreedomWorks luncheon) with false statements, thus shouting the newspaper’s unwillingness to subject that network to normal journalistic scrutiny.

If I didn’t know better, I would conclude the Journal is itself a cog in the Koch machine.

Wait. Fact is, I don’t know better.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Steve Wilson

    Great Post. The Journal constantly publishes outright propaganda on behalf of these outside profiteers. When the Rio Grande Foundation first showed up on the scene, I thought perhaps it was a local parent or grandparent agitating for change in the local school system on behalf of their child. It soon became readily apparent that they are a front for privatizers and profiteers, offering up debunked postitions and solutions on behalf of the usual suspects.

  • Al Bruno

    The accepted definition of “grass roots” is a group not belonging too or originating with a political party. Last I looked, the Kochs, or the Rio Grande foundation, were not a political party. Because a person has money does not make their movement any less “grass roots” than a group started by poor people. If you think the Journal is “right leaning” you are our tof your mind. As to Steve, I hope the “privateer” that pays your salary sends you down the plank, or maybe you are one of those freeloaders with a government job.

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