Through its political action committee, Koch Industries, an energy and consumer products behemoth with a substantial presence in Wisconsin, donated $43,000 to Walker’s campaign; the gift was the second largest he received. Koch PAC also put $60,000 into the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that spent $1 million to aid Wisconsin legislative candidates running with Walker, and donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association; the RGA funneled $65,000 into Wisconsin to help Walker and spent another $3.4 million on TV commercials attacking his opponent.
Koch Industries and the brothers who run it, Charles and David Koch, are longtime adversaries of public worker unions. They have founded and/or funded an assortment of think tanks and political action groups – the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity among them – that devote considerable resources and energy to sounding alarms about organized labor generally and public employee unions in particular.
Even before Gov. Walker was inaugurated in January, Americans for Prosperity was busy fomenting a showdown with Wisconsin’s public employee unions, Tim Phillips, the group’s president, told the New York Times. Phillips, who reportedly is paid $300,000 annually by Koch Industries, somehow managed to keep a straight face last Saturday when he spoke at an Americans for Prosperity - organized rally and characterized Wisconsin’s public employees as “pampered.”
So let’s put all this together. Gov. Walker won his office with major help from the business community, Koch Industries in particular. He began his term by pushing $117 million in future tax breaks for businesses through the state legislature. Now he’s pushing a “budget” bill that seeks to wipe out public worker bargaining rights opposed by Koch and would allow his administration to sell state-owned utilities to private investors – perhaps including Koch -- without notice or competitive bidding.
Look for more of the same in states like Ohio, where new Gov. John Kasich has launched his own bid to choke off public worker collective bargaining, and Indiana, where GOP state legislators heavily backed by the business community are pushing an anti-union “right-to-work” bill for government workers. It’s interesting to note that Hoosier State Gov. Mitch Daniels, a potential presidential candidate in 2012, already has called on his GOP brethren to stand down; they should have taken the issue to voters before advancing it in the legislature, he argues.
Here in Washington meanwhile, the re-constituted House Energy and Commerce Committee has 27 members who received campaign contributions last year from Koch Industries employees or Koch-affiliated groups. Its new chairman, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., already has introduced an “Energy Tax Protection Act” that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. The Kochs’ disdain for such rules exceeds even their antipathy for public employee unions
It all sure looks like payback. At the very least, it’s powerful evidence of why we need strict controls on corporate and other special interest spending, including union spending, on our elections – nationally and in every state.
Bob Edgar is the president and CEO of Common Cause.