Dear Commons Community,
Kenneth Vogel had an article in yesterday’s POLITICO, exposing the latest Koch brothers’ initiatives aimed at recruiting poor Americans to their ultra-conservative ideology. Here is an excerpt:
“The political operation created by the billionaire conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch is quietly investing millions of dollars in programs to win over an unlikely demographic target for their brand of small-government conservatism ― poor people.
The outreach includes everything from turkey giveaways, GED training and English-language instruction for Hispanic immigrants to community holiday meals and healthy living classes for predominantly African American groups to vocational training and couponing classes for the under-employed. The strategy, according to sources familiar with it and documents reviewed by POLITICO, calls for presenting a more compassionate side of the brothers’ politics to new audiences, while fighting the perception that their groups are merely fronts for rich Republicans seeking to game the political process for personal gain.
The efforts include a healthy dose of proselytizing about free enterprise and how it can do more than government to lift people out of poverty.
“We want people to know that they can earn their own success. They don’t need the government to give it to them,” Koch network official Jennifer Stefano told activists and donors during an August rally in Columbus, Ohio, at which she introduced one such project, Bridge to Wellbeing.
Housed within the foundation arm of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network’s largest group, the program represents “the new way to advance freedom,” Stefano boasted. “And so that’s why, today, you’ll see Americans for Prosperity Foundation reaching out to new communities offering not just classes on the Constitution, and knowing your rights, but on couponing and how to turn your passion into profit by helping other people be successful, to not just tell them about the economy and economic freedom, but to show them that we want them to economically thrive, and how to do it.”
Bridge to Wellbeing last week served hot dinners to crowds of dozens of primarily African American attendees at a church in Miami and a community center in Orlando. A chef offered tips on how to prepare “dinner on a dime,” while attendees were guided into “learning about freedom,” according to the Twitter feed of one AFP staffer.
The Koch efforts can seem at times almost like a post-Citizens United version of turn-of-the-century political machines like Tammany Hall ― part privatized social-service agency, part voter mobilization. But liberal critics see it as a craven and patronizing gambit to bribe the disadvantaged into supporting a de-regulatory agenda that helps the haves at the expense of the have-nots.
“It won’t work. They can’t hide their agenda of lower wages, no unions and no health care, which would be devastating to these communities, merely by trying to ‘help’ them with a food coupon,” said David Brock, who founded a liberal non-profit group that tracks the Koch network. He added, “It’s also creepy. It sounds like something Hezbollah would do to get recruits.”