Eric Lipton’s WaPo article “Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute” raises disturbing questions about the motivation of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has introduced a measure that would dismantle public unions. Lipton writes,
State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts.
…Campaign finance records in Washington show that donations by Koch Industries and its employees climbed to a total of $2 million in the last election cycle, twice as much as a decade ago, with 92 percent of that money going to Republicans. Donations in state government races — like in Wisconsin — have also surged in recent years, records show.
Lipton points out that direct campaign contributions are just one pipeline for Koch money for union-bashing. As Lipton explains,
But the most aggressive expansion of the Koch brothers’ effort to influence public policy has come through the Americans for Prosperity, which runs both a charitable foundation and a grass-roots-activists group. Mr. Phillips serves as president of both branches, and David Koch is chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
…The organization has taken up a range of topics, including combating the health care law, environmental regulations and spending by state and federal governments. The effort to impose limits on public labor unions has been a particular focus in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with Republican governors, Mr. Phillips said, adding that he expects new proposals to emerge soon in some of those states to limit union power.
Lipton reports that Tim Phillips, the president of the right-wing Americans for Prosperity, told an anti-union counter-demonstration at the capitol, composed of members of the Wisconsin chapter of the organization “We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation.” As Lipton notes,
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.
Lipton adds that Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause warns that the Koch brothers are using their money, in Lipton’s words “to create a façade of grass-roots support for their favorite causes.” Edgar adds “”It is not that these folks don’t have a right to participate in politics. But they are moving democracy into the control of more wealthy corporate hands.”
Paul Krugman explained it well in his Sunday column,
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
…What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.
Governor Walker knows that if he hangs tough, he will earn the gratitude of the Koch brothers, and likely become the new GOP poster boy for anti-union conservatism. The question is whether the people of Wisconsin will see through the Koch Brothers’ astroturf counter-demos and take a stand for workers’ right to union representation.