How the Koch Brothers Remade Wisconsin Politics by Billy Wharton

by Billy Wharton
Guest Writer
Dandelion Salad
February 22, 2011

Wisconsin Teachers Protest

Image by WxMom via Flickr

On July 11, 2008, Douglas Bullock, then a resident of N7523 Summit Rd, in Plymouth, WI, wrote a check for $2.31 to new Political Action Committee (PAC) in Wisconsin.  This was the opening contribution to the Koch Industries Inc. PAC, a political force that would, in two short years help turn the political landscape of the state upside down.  Nationally, the Koch Brothers are known as the funders of the Tea Party movement and in Wisconsin as the patrons of the successful campaign of current Governor Scott Walker.  However, their political agenda is far grander than just one candidate or even one political “movement.”  The Koch’s are capitalist entrepreneurs on a grand scale and as such are intent on crafting a political environment that best suits their economic designs.  In other words, they mean to re-shape the world into their own image one politician, one community and one Statehouse at a time.

Where the Money Comes From

Following the Koch campaign money involves examining the way in which their subsidiary corporations collaborate to create a centralized pool of money to influence electoral outcomes.  Koch Carbon LLC has four subsidiaries operating in Wisconsin – C. Reiss Coal Co., Flint Hills Resources, Georgia Pacific LLC, and G-P Consumer Products.

The management of these enterprises, not individuals like Bullock, were the prime donors to the PAC.  Reports filed with the State of Wisconsin document an assortment of Presidents, Sales Reps, Engineers, Operations Managers and Vice Presidents making small scale contributions to the fund.  Others are individuals with relationships to one of the subsidiaries such as Robert Alexander a patent lawyer from Neenah who works for Georgia Pacific and tossed in a few hundred every year.  Larger scale donations are offered by top executives like William Reiss, the President of C. Reiss Coal Co. who contributed $2,500 in March 2010.

These contributions were built up in 2008 and 2009 with almost $8,000 entering the fund.  Then, in January 2010, the collective financial muscle of the nationally organized PAC was flexed in Wisconsin as it paid out $28,000 in contributions followed by $36,000 in Fall 2010.  By September 2010 Wisconsin became a clear target state for Koch strategists as the Koch Co. Public Sector LLC began to appear on state records as a contributor to the PAC.

Who Got Paid?

Scott Walker is undoubtedly the poster boy for the Koch’s political plans in Wisconsin.  Their contributions and connections to far-right think tanks served to transform a middle of the road Republican into a rabidly anti-union Tea Party crazy.  Walker received $43,000 in funds from the Koch’s and far more in terms of policy advice and campaign management.  Not surprisingly, Walker was teamed with an early beneficiary of the Koch’s campaign money, now Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleifisch.

More importantly, the Koch’s collaborated with other far-right forces in the state to build a conservative constellation around the new Governor.  Fifteen current members of the Assembly, four senators and the Attorney General all received money from the Koch PAC.  The funds range from relatively minor contributions of $250 to significant funding delivered at critical moments such as the $2,500 check offered to Van Hollen for his Attorney General Campaign.

Of course, the Koch’s weren’t shy about the mainstream parties either.  Both the Democrats and Republicans received checks in the amount of $11,000 each in August 2009.  A second check of $6,000 was delivered exclusively to the Republican Party in September 2010.  Smaller scale contributions were also delivered to Democratic Party candidates.

There are two lessons that can be drawn from the fact that the Koch’s also funded the Democratic Party.  The first, is that the Democrats are a fully corporatized party that will accept money and be influenced by even the most far-right donors.  And second is that the Koch Brothers’ intention was not just to fund far-right candidates who met a narrow Tea Party agenda.  These fellows do not back losers.  Candidates, even Republicans with the right set of politics, headed for losses most often did not receive Koch money.  The point of the contributions was and is to dominate politics in the State in order to advance an agenda by exerting control over funding sources.

Why the Money?  Why Wisconsin?

Undoubtedly, there is a clearly ideological bent to the activities of the Koch political project as seen through the funding stream of their PAC.  The ability to push an anti-union, pro-free market message is obvious in the maneuvering inside the Republican Party and their massive funding of the Tea Party movement.  However, if the current anti-Walker demonstrations in Madison have done anything, it is to have shown how much the Tea Party movement really is an ideological creature backed by massive funding and inflated by relentless media pimping.  Calls for grassroots mobilizations in support of Walker have fallen flat on their face, but the big money influence of the Koch’s has already done its damage.

Another, less obvious, motivation for the Koch’s is that Walker’s politics and those of the right wing constellation are just plain old good for business.  The Koch’s have always been fanatically dedicated to using political means to advance the climate change denial research they have sponsored.  No wonder, since they own one of the largest carbon companies in the countries.  Environmentalism and the regulations that come with it will increase the costs of doing business and squeeze fattened profit margins.

More specifically, the Koch’s are currently engaged in a national legislative struggle over the construction of an oil pipeline that has had repercussions in Wisconsin.  The TransCanada Company’s proposed Keystone Pipeline would bring oil and gas from Northwest Canada into the American Midwest.  Koch subsidiary Flint Resources is a prime supplier of the Canadian oil fields and the company’s state-side fuel terminals are positioned to profit from the new supplies.  However, environmental groups are adamantly opposed to the construction and have engaged in a full court legislative press focused on the Obama White House to stop the project.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the Koch’s were busy this election season in preparing the ground for the Keystone Pipeline.  Their massive funding of Ron Johnson, they were the largest donors at $25,400, the eventual winner of Russ Feingold’s Senate seat, was as much about pipeline insurance as it was an abstract ideological quest.  Similar contributions to Republican Representatives Sean Duffy, Paul Ryan and James Sensenbrenner will buy the loyalty necessary to protect the Koch’s material interests.

In short, the Koch’s are not like their wild eyed Tea Party underlings.  They are shrewd capitalists angling for deals to protect market share, not erratic ideological warriors – though they will certainly sponsor such types.  The political maneuvering, in Wisconsin and nationally, has a real basis in the economy as it is and in the economy they wish to create.

Right Wing Overstretch and a Hopeful Ending

Capitalists build business models.  They create simulations using fancy computer programs that project likely outcomes.  When the Koch’s ran their Wisconsin plans through the simulator, the outcome was dependent on one central notion.  Namely, that the American public would be so complacent, so beaten down by decades of class war from above and so enthralled with the mad carnival that is the Tea Party that elites could continue their restructuring of American society without resistance.  Popular silence, compliance and confusion were all factored.

Oh, what a mighty blow these ideas have received in the streets of Madison lately.  A near dead Labor movement seems unshackled, a generation of students more interested in IPods than Marxism have come alive and all kinds of regular folk are searching for rebellious ways to make their political voices heard.  Now is the time to go far and fast, to undo the damage people like the Koch’s have done to democracy.  To recreate something new, a more direct democracy in which the voice of the people rings out louder than that of a few fat cat donors intent on manipulating politics in the service of big pipelines, big profits and big business.


Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at Become a FAN on Facebook.


[DS added the video.]

Thom Hartmann: Are the Koch Bros fingerprints all over Scott Walker?

thomhartmann | February 21, 2011

Thom Hartmann talks to Andy Kroll, Associate Editor-Mother Jones Magazine – Koch brothers fingerprints are all over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.


A New American Workers’ Movement Has Begun by Dan La Botz

Madison Protests May Spark a New Era of Protest Politics by Billy Wharton + Uprising in Wisconsin

Noam Chomsky: Democracy Uprising in the USA and more

Wisconsin Corporations Skate as Governor Targets Public Employees by Billy Wharton