Rick Perry’s Early Days As Energy Secretary Have Been A Bonanza For Corporations And The Koch Brothers

Rick Perry’s Early Days As Energy Secretary Have Been A Bonanza For Corporations And The Koch Brothers

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Most people who know anything about Rick Perry know he’s a friend to the fossil fuel industry. For 14 years, he was the Republican governor of Texas, a state that contains one-third of the nation’s oil reserves and is home to oil giants ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Valero Energy. As a political candidate, Perry received millions in donations from oil and gas companies and their executives. Until recently, he was a board member of Energy Transfer Partners, the co-owner of the dirty tar sands oil transport mechanism, Dakota Access Pipeline, which was approved by Donald Trump in January and runs through Native American lands in North Dakota.

Perry supported new coal plants in Texas as well, but he also allowed a major expansion of wind energy and signed a renewable portfolio standard that aided growth in that industry. He appears to favor an all-of-the-above approach to energy production, as opposed to the severely anti-clean energy agenda Trump projects and which the conservative Heritage Foundation hoped he would adhere to. In the past, however, Perry called the science of climate change a “contrived phony mess.”

Now, as head of the Department of Energy—an agency he wanted to eliminate during his 2012 presidential bid (and the name of which he famously forgot in a televised debate)—Perry seems to be welcoming climate-change deniers into his fold while at the same time sticking up for the department’s energy efficiency and renewables programs.

The Department of Energy made headlines when disaster was narrowly averted after a tunnel collapsed at a nuclear site in Washington state and when Perry refused to join the other G7 nations in a joint climate accord at a summit in Italy.

Here’s what’s been going on behind the scenes at the Department of Energy in its first six weeks under Perry.

Clean Energy Enemies Join the Department

At least three staffers from conservative, anti-clean energy think tanks now have roles in the Energy Department. This comes after Thomas Pyle, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, ran Trump’s transition team for the department. Pyle is president of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), a think tank co-founded and partially funded by fossil fuel industrialist Charles Koch, as well as its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance. A leaked Pyle memo obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy from December revealed Trump’s energy plan, a “fossil fuel industry wish list.”

Travis Fisher, an economist and current Energy staffer, most recently worked for IER, where he wrote columns opposing renewable energy and defending fossil fuels. Big funders of IER have included ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, several Koch-backed nonprofits and two Koch family foundations.

Fisher was once an intern at the John Locke Foundation, one of several North Carolina-based think tanks founded and funded by close Koch ally Art Pope.

On April 14, Perry issued a memo requesting a study, to be overseen by Fisher, on whether clean energy programs are hindering coal and nuclear programs. The study has caught fire from the left, with a group of Democratic senators writing to Perry with serious concerns, calling it “a thinly disguised attempt to promote less economic electric generation technologies, such as coal and nuclear, at the expense of cost-competitive wind and solar power.”

They wrote, “The notion that a 60-day review conducted by ideologues associated with a Koch brothers-affiliated think tank should supplant research and analysis conducted by the world’s foremost scientists and engineers would be a grave disservice to American taxpayers.”

Chief of staff to Perry is Brian McCormack, former vice president of political and external affairs at the Edison Electric Institute, an influential trade group for investor-owned electric utilities that has attacked residential solar access and opposed renewable energy targets and the 2007 Clean Water Restoration Act, according to SourceWatch. While there, McCormack was a key player in the institute’s campaign to take down rooftop solar energy. EEI’s PAC, funded mostly by employees in the fossil fuel industry, gives the majority of its campaign donations to Republican candidates and PACs, and the group funds independent super PACs and political nonprofits as well. At DOE, McCormack will likely help shape the future of several of the departments’ solar programs.

On May 3, the Department of Energy hired another Institute for Energy Research alum, Dan Simmons, to head the Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which Trump wants to cut by 70 percent and the Heritage Foundation wants to eliminate entirely. As vice president of policy at IER, he attacked subsidies for rooftop solar and called for increased fossil fuel exploration on federal lands.

Simmons also directed the Natural Resources Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative “bill mill” where politicians and big-business representatives, many from fossil fuel companies, work together to craft model legislation that will boost corporate profits. Finally, Simmons was a research fellow at the heavily Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Now he’ll oversee a major DOE office in charge of grants, competitions and initiatives including solar funding program SolarShot and efficiency program Energy Star, which is operated by both the DOE and the Environmental Protection Association (which, in turn, is led by fossil fuel shill Scott Pruitt, who has wanted to shutter the agency for some time).

Who else will carry out the Energy Department’s agenda is largely unknown, as most top department officials are only temporary appointees. Trump has yet to nominate anyone for 20 out of 22 top Energy positions, in keeping with his slow nomination process: Out of 557 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has put forth a mere 49 nominees, according to the Washington Post.

Aside from ordering the study on coal and nuclear energy, Perry has done other things that were surely hailed by fossil fuel companies. For instance, the new Energy secretary refused to join the six other nations at the April G7 summit in signing joint declaration reaffirming commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate. Perry found out there that opposing the agreement will have significant diplomatic and political consequences; he was met with foreign diplomats who voiced concerns that the U.S. will slow down its renewable energy production, thus hampering international efforts at combatting climate change.

A Perry Push for Energy Efficiency?

Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint called for steep cuts to the Energy Department’s efficiency and renewables programs, but Congress passed only modest cuts through the end of this year: The low-carbon transportation programs will get a 3.6 percent cut, and renewables program will see a 5.6 percent cut. However, its energy efficiency programs will have a 12.7 percent increase. Fossil energy research programs will get a 5.7 percent boost.

While the signs are not very good for clean energy expansion or significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions any time soon, it seems, at least for now, that a sliver of the Energy budget will still go toward efficiency and clean energy efforts.

According to Clean Technica, Perry has been “trolling his deputy” by aggressively promoting its energy efficiency programs. Although Trump wanted to kill Energy Star, which sets efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, the DOE has been regularly posting blogs about energy efficiency jobs and touting renewables on social media, including from Perry’s own Twitter account. If the EPA and the Department of Education crumble as planned, perhaps vestiges of the Department of Energy will remain.

Over in the State Department, Rex Tillerson, who worked for 40 years at Exxon, the oil company that dangerously misled the world on climate change, recently signed an international declaration recognizing climate change, despite the many powerful climate change deniers in the White House.

Don’t expect Perry to be a warrior for clean energy, but look for instances where he may do things that are out of step with the goals of Trump, Pruitt and other members of the opposed-to-any-form-of-green-energy cohort.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Ben Carson Is Proving To Be A Bizarre And Incompetent Secretary Of Housing And Urban Development, As Expected

Ben Carson Is Proving To Be A Bizarre And Incompetent Secretary Of Housing And Urban Development, As Expected

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Since neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson was sworn in as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on March 2, we’ve barely heard a peep from him. Is it because he’s adjusting to his new position, for which he has no relevant experience? Probably. Is it because, as his surrogate said, that he’s not qualified to run a federal agency? Could be that, too.

Apparently there’s been “an atmosphere of paranoia and guardedness that has enveloped HUD since Trump’s inauguration,” according to a former HUD official under Barack Obama, as reported by Next City.

In his first public remarks as head of HUD in early March, Carson tragically stumbled by referring to slaves as “immigrants.” On March 15, Carson began a “listening tour,” dipping his toes into public scrutiny by traveling to cities in Florida, Michigan and Texas to visit buildings and programs that HUD played a hand in creating. In several awkward cases, Carson has praised an initiative only to find out that Donald Trump’s budget blueprint would eliminate the programs that funded those very projects.

According to a trustee for Dallas County Schools, Carson “and his staff have avoided widely advertising the trip.” His trip to Texas wasn’t announced until hours before his first event, according to CityLab. Carson’s secrecy “may have something to do with the fact that Secretary Carson would rather not have to answer to the public and defend the outrageous budget cuts he and Donald Trump are trying to ram through Congress,” the trustee wrote.

Trump’s proposal cuts $6.2 billion from HUD, or 13.2 percent of its annual budget, by slashing public housing support and development grants. The budget gets rid of the 42-year-old, $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Choice Neighborhoods program and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on Housing and Urban Development over the last decade without a lot to show for it,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “Certainly, there are some successes but there are a lot of programs that simply cannot justify their existence and that’s where we zeroed in.” Meanwhile, according to CNBC, the Community Development Block Grant program provided housing assistance to nearly 74,000 households, gave public services to nine million Americans and created over 17,000 jobs in 2016 alone. But somehow Mulvaney can’t, or won’t, acknowledge these successes as he touts his budget blueprint that will hit the poor in almost every way possible.

Carson has attempted to defend the cuts to the public, and his past statements show he’s likely on board with them. The new HUD secretary has frequently claimed that with government subsidies, people are not incentivized to get off the federal dole. Carson has made some pretty outrageous statements including that poverty is “really more of a choice than anything else.”

Nothing like getting thrown out on the street with two kids and a $7.25-per-hour job to give you the tools to achieve the American dream.

The proposed Trump budget also eliminates a $1.4 billion-per-year disaster relief program within HUD while adding $700 million to the Department of Homeland Security’s disaster funding. The means that the Trump administration wants to cut disaster relief by $800 million, or 9.4 percent. The cuts are part of an effort to take billions from non-defense agencies and send them directly to the Pentagon.

In typical conservative lingo, the budget claims, “State and local governments are better positioned to serve their communities based on local needs and priorities.” How they’ll do that, when they’re already strapped for cash, is unclear. Seeing as 19 states refused to give millions of uninsured residents health care by expanding Medicaid—initially 100 percent subsidized by the federal government—it’s hard to imagine how they’ll bend over backward to help the poor with funding taken away from them.

Carson began his listening tour at Ben Carson High School of Science and Medicine, a Detroit public school named after him that is a “Michigan Future School,” meaning it receives support from the nonprofit Michigan Future, a project of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which supports charter schools. While Ben Carson High is not a charter, Michigan Future has made numerous six-figure donations to several charters in Detroit.

The next day, Carson had lunch at a restaurant made possible by the Motor City Match program, which helps Detroit businesses establish themselves and grow via grants, loans and counseling funded in part by HUD’s Community Development Block Grants. Carson praised the program on Twitter while his agency is set to eliminate it.

On March 30, Carson attended a youth baseball game hosted by the Dallas Housing Authority, and the next day he popped into a Dallas Habitat for Humanity facility for a mere 15 minutes. In 2015, Carson publicly opposed an anti-housing segregation provision of the Fair Housing Act, strengthened by a Supreme Court ruling involving Dallas, calling it a “mandated social engineering scheme.”

Then he moved on to Florida. In Jacksonville on April 11, he stopped at a poorly maintained low-income apartment building that’s part of HUD’s project-based Section 8 program, which provides residents with rental assistance. Carson praised housing vouchers, but Trump’s budget proposal would cut $600 million from Section 8 programs, which include vouchers and project-based initiatives.

Next, Carson hit Miami and visited an apartment complex that includes dozens of units for the homeless and low-income residents. A supportive housing group built the complex mostly with federal funding, including $1.5 million from the HOME program that the Trump administration wants to cut. The building wouldn’t exist without HOME, said the president of the supportive housing organization. And Miami sees $4 million a year in development block grants, which the city will say goodbye to if the Trump budget passes.

On the tour, the education secretary has heaped praise on public-private partnerships, which already make up a good portion of affordable housing projects. “I just really appreciate the fact that we are starting to learn as a nation that it’s the private-public partnerships that work because there’s almost unlimited money in the private sector,” said Carson.

Carson hasn’t offered specifics on his plans for the agency, and what he did say isn’t reassuring to people who depend on affordable housing. “I would forget the numbers and think about the concept,” said Carson in Detroit. “The concept is we’re going to take care of our people.”

“The parts of these programs that are functioning well—and that are maintaining people—are going to be preserved,” Carson said vaguely in Miami, without giving details on how the programs will survive the massive cuts in the budget blueprint.

Carson, like Trump, has yet to fill many key positions in his department. According to the HUD website, all eight assistant secretary positions are vacant, as well as the “president,” chief information officer and chief operations officer. All ten regional administrators are missing as well as many deputy assistant secretaries. Unlike some heads of other agencies, Carson has actually kept on a number of staffers from the Obama administration, although his Deputy Chief of Staff is Deana Bass, a GOP operative who was press secretary for his campaign.

As Carson attempts to begin making changes to HUD policy, at least one group is following his moves closely. CarsonWatch is “a grassroots campaign” launched by nonprofit lawyers’ group Public Advocates and funded by three housing and justice organizations including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, according to CityLab. The site offers news updates and opportunities to “take action.”

The website reads, “CarsonWatch is committed to stopping President Trump, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and their congressional allies from any attempts to roll back fair housing protections and undermine the housing security of millions of Americans.”

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

How The Right-Wing Koch And DeVos Families Are Funding Hate Speech On Campus

How The Right-Wing Koch And DeVos Families Are Funding Hate Speech On Campus

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.


On March 2, eugenicist Charles Murray attempted to give a lecture at Middlebury College in Vermont, with little success. Protesters shouted him down and he was sequestered in another room to answer questions over a livestream. Afterwards, Murray left the campus, but not before protesters blocked his car and injured a professor.

Labeled a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Murray is the author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, in which he argues that inequalities of race, gender and income exist because white men are smarter and genetically superior to black people, Latinos, women and the poor. Numerous academics have panned the book for its faulty reasoning and unprovable points.

So why is someone with such fringe ideas invited to speak on college campuses, and who pays for it? It’s unlikely that many university departments would invite such an obviously racist and discredited figure. While co-presenting the Murray talk, the political science department did not invite Murray, nor did it contribute any funding for the event. The Middlebury student chapter of a far-right libertarian think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, asked him to speak, and AEI picked up the tab.

Murray is not the only controversial guest making the college circuit on a think tank’s dime. Another conservative nonprofit, Young America’s Foundation, also establishes student chapters at numerous universities and sends bigoted scholars and lecturers including Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and Ted Nugent to speak at their campus events free of charge. Bankrolling these nonprofits are conservative mega-donors including Charles and David Koch and the DeVos family, who by funding the organizations enable hate speech at institutions of higher education.

In addition, a production company connected to the right-wing billionaire Mercer family facilitated at least one college speaking gig of Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart News editor known for his racist, sexist, Islamophobic and anti-transgender vitriol.


Murray has been a scholar at AEI since 1990, four years before The Bell Curve was published. In 2013, AEI founded its college chapter program, and now there are “executive councils” at more than 80 colleges and universities. At a leadership training program available to executive council members this summer, Murray is teaching a course called “The Building Blocks of Human Flourishing.”

Murray is a frequent invitee of AEI campus groups. He’s now touring the country to talk about his 2012 book on the “state of white America” and gave talks at Duke University, Columbia, NYU, the University of Notre Dame and Villanova University in late March.

Regarding the recent Murray talk at Middlebury, AEI Executive Council member Alexander Khan told the Washington Post, “Our goal was not to create a controversy, but to start a discussion and a dialogue.” Khan did not return requests for comment.

Dissenters see things differently. Nearly 500 Middlebury alumni wrote a letter to the college preceding Murray’s attempted talk, saying that traditional free speech arguments fall flat in justifying his appearance. Murray’s shoddy theories are “the same thinking that motivates eugenics and the genocidal white supremacist ideologies which are enjoying a popular resurgence under the new presidential administration.”

AEI declined to comment for this story, but other reports claim that in sponsoring Murray’s talk, the nonprofit is paying Murray’s speaker fee directly.

AEI gets most of its funding from the foundations of wealthy conservatives and a pass-through group meant to shield the identity of these very donors. Donors Capital Fund, to which conservative mega-donors such as the Koch, DeVos and Bradley families donate, is AEI’s biggest funder at nearly $23 million through 2014, according to ConservativeTransparency.org. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a major funder of many conservative groups, is close behind, and foundations run by Charles Koch and Richard and Helen DeVos, the parents of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos, have given more than $1 million each to AEI.


A similarly funded and probably even more conservative nonprofit, Young America’s Foundation, works to direct “public education on the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise [and] traditional values and leadership,” according to its most recent publicly available tax form. YAF spent roughly half of its 2015 budget of $17.7 million on conference and lecture programs including “lectures on college campuses” and student chapters.

Just like AEI, YAF has student chapters at colleges and universities around the nation. These “Young Americans for Freedom” chapters, which now exist at numerous institutions of higher learning as well as at high schools, can seek “logistical and financial assistance [from YAF] to host a big-name conservative speaker.”

“Radical feminists, big government bureaucrats, fringe environmentalists, race-baiters, Islamo-fascists, and run of the mill leftists are distraught that [YAF chapters] would even think about promoting conservative ideas,” the website states.

YAF’s roster of more than 90 speakers features several notable bigots including Coulter, Horowitz and Nugent. YAF farms out its speakers at a quick pace, with roughly one event per day during the final three weeks of April.

Some campuses are having quite the year. For example, after a Yiannopoulos event that was canceled because a protest got out of hand, UCBerkeley had noted Islamophobe Horowitz speak on April 12 and will host Coulter on April 27.

“We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity,” wrote Coulter in the National Review shortly after the 9/11 attacks, referring to allies of the 9/11 terrorists. An alumna of the YAF National Journalism Center’s internship program, she often makes headlines for her outrageous racist and anti-Muslim statements and regularly writes for the white nationalist website VDARE.

YAF is providing “a large portion of the funding to bring Coulter to Berkeley” as well as “logistical support before the event as well as on-the-ground support from experienced staff.”

Horowitz is a former leftist who took a hard-right turn decades ago and has now earned the titles of “anti-immigrant” and “anti-Muslim extremist” from the Southern Poverty Law Center. He runs the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which the SPLC calls “the premier financier of anti-Muslim voices and radical ideologies.”

“Somewhere between 150 million and 750 million Muslims support a holy war against Christians, Jews, and other Muslims who don’t happen to believe in the Quran according to Bin Laden,” Horowitz erroneously claimed in 2007.

Among the particularly bigoted YAF speakers is anti-Muslim extremist Robert Spencer, who runs the hate site Jihad Watch, a project of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He has said, “[T]raditional Islam itself is not moderate or peaceful. It is the only major world religion with a developed doctrine and tradition of warfare against unbelievers.”

YAF speaker Matt Walsh, an anti-LGBTQ “Christian columnist and political incendiary” for Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, has called transgender people mentally ill and perverted and written that “‘transgender’ propaganda is wrong…demented…evil…dangerous [and] abusive.”

Also on the YAF roster is musician and activist Ted Nugent, whose racist comments know no bounds. In 2014, he called the 44th president “a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel [and] ACORN community organizer gangster.”

It’s not just the YAF speakers who have racist and white nationalist leanings. Current YAF president Ron Robinson and board member James B. Taylor ran a now-inactive political action committee called America’s PAC, which donated to the white nationalist Martel Society and consistently contributed to the campaigns of Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, a white nationalist who has recently cheered far-right European nationalists. Taylor is also former president of the National Policy Institute, which is now run by noted neo-Nazi and “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer.

YAF founded the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major right-wing event that occurs every year. CPAC rescinded its invitation to 2017 keynote speaker Yiannopoulos after videos in which he defends pedophilia surfaced, although his long record of racist, sexist and xenophobic rants was apparently not a problem.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation is by far the biggest donor to YAF, and the Donors Capital Fund and its affiliate, Donors Trust, are also big contributors. The Bradley Foundation, three Koch family foundations and a foundation of the wealthy Mercer family have also given large donations.

YAF did not return a request for comment.


When Yiannopoulos, known for his wide-ranging hate speech, spoke at the University of Washington, the College Republicans group that had invited him had to raise money to cover increased security, as Yiannopoulos’ events often attract large protests. The student group raised over $12,000 from a GoFundMe campaign organized by its president, and the event got the green light.

Yiannopoulos charged no speaking fee. A performance agreement obtained by MuckRock shows that Glittering Steel, the production company owned by white nationalist Trump adviser Steve Bannon and connected to the conservative Mercer family, wrote the contract. Yiannopoulos told TNR his speaking fee was $0 “on every stop of the Dangerous Faggot Tour.” He did not directly answer questions about whether a private citizen or company paid his speaking fees behind the scenes and how exactly Glittering Steel was involved.

“Make America Number 1,” the super PAC of billionaire investor Robert Mercer, paid Glittering Steel nearly $1 million last year. Mercer is a part owner of Breitbart News, which Bannon ran for four years before joining the Trump campaign last August. The hedge fund magnate was a big part of Trump’s victory, and his daughter Rebekah was on the Trump transition team.

Yiannopoulos’ Berkeley event was sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, according to Horowitz’s online magazine, and was set to launch a joint campaign against sanctuary campuses. The Berkeley College Republicans had to provide more than $6,000 for increased security. An “anonymous donor” took care of part of that fee “with two conditions: that he remain anonymous and that the event occur.”

The Freedom Center did not respond to a request for comment.


In response to fringe, far-right speakers often facing student protests, conservative legislators in many states are pushing “campus free speech” legislation. Two think tanks funded in part by the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer created a model bill, on which many of the state bills are based, that calls for harsh penalties, including expulsion, for students who disrupt guest speaking events.

While enabling hate speech at colleges and universities, billionaire mega-donors are cracking down on students who publicly object to such speech. Meanwhile, the same wealthy conservatives’ family foundations fund ideological higher ed programs that serve their business interests. The Charles Koch Foundation, for example, gave $142 million to hundreds of colleges and universities from 2005 to 2015, largely toward free-market centers, professorships and courses. From these programs, Koch-funded think tanks and political groups recruit their favorite students to join the Kochs’ mass libertarian sociopolitical movement.


While harder to find, there are liberal organizations with campus affiliates that sponsor guest speakers and other events. The Roosevelt Institute, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., works to “rethink and reshape everything from local policy to federal legislation, orienting toward a new economic and political system: one built by many for the good of all.” The nonprofit has 130 college and university chapters, which often meet regularly to develop campus, local and sometimes state-level policy proposals.

The institute provides grants and advice to student chapters. Senior program associate Aman Banerji told TNR that “95 percent of the time, students come to us with a thought for an event and then ask for recommendations.” But Banerji couldn’t recall the last time the institute funded a campus speaker, and he wasn’t aware of a chapter inviting anyone particularly controversial to speak.

As the Trump administration advances discriminatory policy, bigoted authors and activists are giving speeches along the college circuit, facilitated by right-wing nonprofits. It’s important for members of the university community to know which organizations are making this possible, and who funds them. It may prove effective for student dissenters to address AEI, YAF and Glittering Steel in their campaigns against racist speakers.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Supporters Who Got Trump Elected Are Pursuing Vicious And Divisive Agendas

Supporters Who Got Trump Elected Are Pursuing Vicious And Divisive Agendas

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.


Plenty of Americans wake up in the morning, remember that wealthy real estate tycoon and pathological liar Donald Trump is president of the United States, pinch themselves, and morosely confirm that yes, he really is president. I sure do. It also happens when I think about a fossil fuel industry shill and climate change denier running the EPA, or a billionaire who wants to fund religious private schools with public dollars in charge of the education department. And certainly a white nationalist, who apparently calls colleagues “cucks” and “globalists,” as chief adviser to the president.

But let’s not forget the droves of political figures, state campaign chairs and other supporters who didn’t make it into the White House but may be just as demented as racist “alt-right” figure Steve Bannon or disgraced Islamophobe Michael Flynn.

Wonder what they’re up to now that Trump is president? They’re definitely keeping busy.

Among the most extreme Trump devotees are the neo-Nazis and the neo-Confederates, groups that often overlap. Throughout a campaign launched on the racist fallacy that Mexicans are rapists and rooted in the erasure of Muslims from America, Trump earned the enthusiastic support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer, and Breitbart News, the “platform of the alt-right” that Bannon led until he became CEO of the Trump campaign last August. (According to Breitbart Washington editor Matthew Boyle, the two still talk regularly as the outlet continues its fierce support for the president.)

Some Confederacy boosters hold state office, and they’re trying to celebrate their so-called “cultural heritage” through legislation. In March, Republican Georgia state representative Tommy Benton introduced a bill to make April “Confederate History Month” and April 26 “Confederate Memorial Day at the state capitol.”

“Georgia has long cherished her Confederate history and the people who made sacrifices on her behalf,” reads the bill, apparently discounting the roughly 3.3 million African Americans (32 percent of the state’s total population) who live in Georgia and don’t exactly look fondly upon slavery, not to mention the many people of all races who think Confederate history is not worthy of celebration. When the Confederacy fought the Union for “states’ rights,” it was fighting to keep its slaves, plain and simple.

At a press conference, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “When asked whether the resolution…includes the need to understand the role that slavery and systemic exploitation and oppression of African and African-American people played and an acknowledgement of what the war was fought about, Benton declined to answer…‘Next question,’” he said.

The bill was inspired by Trump’s victory. “We just elected a president that said he was tired of political correctness,” said Benton. “And so that was the reason that we were looking to introduce the resolution.”

Benton is known for his earlier disturbing comment that the KKK “made people straighten up.” His district of 54,000 people is 84 percent white, and only 20 percent have a college education. This is the demographic—rural white Americans without a college degree—that voted overwhelmingly for Trump last November.

The three other co-sponsors of the bill, all Republicans, are also big Trump fans: Rep. Steve Tarvin, who was a co-chair of Trump’s Georgia campaign and whom Trump endorsed last year; Rep. Jesse Petrea, who was seen celebrating Trump’s win with his country’s Republican group and who introduced a bill in February that would create an online list of undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes; and Rep. Alan Powell, who has praised Bannon.

The Georgia racists are in good company in the South among fellow Trumpers. In Virginia, the chair of Trump’s Virginia operation is running a gubernatorial campaign on a neo-Confederate platformCorey Stewart, currently the chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, promises that as governor he’ll prevent liberals from removing Confederate monuments, bring back specialty license plates emblazoned with Confederate emblems and “absolutely not” mention slavery when addressing Confederate history.

Much like Benton, Stewart says, “I think things have changed…I think the 2016 presidential race was a watershed moment where you saw voters…just fed up with political correctness and these gotcha techniques that the left has used to shut down speech.”

Right-wing websites, think tanks and state legislators around the country who are proposing deceptively named “campus free expression bills,” even one originally nicknamed after the proud racist Milo Yiannopoulos, know what they’re doing by attacking political correctness: trying to make hate speech great again.

Since the election, another upstanding state chair for Trump has distinguished himself among the pack of extremely bigoted Trump supporters. Co-chair of the Trump New York campaign Carl Paladino responded to a December questionnaire from Art Voice with some truly disgusting answers.

On what he’d most like to happen in 2017, he replied, “Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford [sic]. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarrett, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a jihady [sic] cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.”

Paladino’s alma mater, St. Bonaventure University, called his comments “racist and demeaning.” Paladino claimed his commentary “has nothing to do with race” and was merely “a little deprecating humor.” Many called for Paladino to leave his post on the Buffalo School Board, including the board itself, but the education commissioner has not yet asked him to leave.

Here are a few more political whack jobs who just so happen to be big Trump fans.

Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, who’s proven himself to be a consummate white nationalist along the lines of Dutch arch-Islamophobe Geert Wilders, endorsed Trump in August. He’s since tweeted such savory things as, “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end” and more recently, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” King’s extreme nationalism is right in line with that of Bannon and another of Trump’s top advisers, Stephen Miller, who ultimately want to decrease legal immigration as much as they can. It appears Jeff Sessions is on their page as well.

Former presidential candidate and Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, known for his vehemently anti-gay rhetoric (and whose last name was redefined by sex advice columnist Dan Savage), continues his reliable, frothy stream of preposterous statements as a cable news commentator. Some of his recent epiphanies include the idea that millions of sick Americans are defrauding health insurance companies and that Trump’s plan to increase coal mining in Pennsylvania and other states is “a breath of oxygen into the lungs of small-town, rural communities.”

In North Carolina, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who has been the state’s biggest champion of the widely derided anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill” that in its original form would cost the state billions of dollars in lost revenue, is pushing a new bill that would criminalize student protest. His plan, which is derived from a model bill drafted by scholars from two Koch-backed think tanks, likely imposes harsh penalties including expulsion on students who disrupt guest lectures, as his 2016 plan would have done just that. After a slew of sexual assault allegations against Trump, Forest gave a speech introducing Trump at an October rally in Charlotte.

“If you wanna protect federalism and the right that every state has to determine how they represent themselves in the United States of America…then we better elect Donald Trump president of the United States,” proclaimed Forest.

Also in North Carolina, we mustn’t forget Earl Philip, the Trump campaign’s state director who pulled a gun on at least one of his subordinates. When this came to light in August 2016, he had to leave the campaign. Philip previously stated, “You cannot be a Christian and be a member of, or support, or be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party,” and claimed that Barack Obama was neither black nor Christian.

These are some of the honorable citizens Trump picked for his campaign operations. As he slowly fills hundreds of vacant staff positions and judgeships, what could possibly go wrong?

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

How The Republican Obamacare Repeal Shuts Out The Poor

How The Republican Obamacare Repeal Shuts Out The Poor

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Spectator.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, calling President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement “a disaster.” With a Republican majority in Congress, and a secretary of health and human services who was a leading critic of the ACA while he served in the House, Trump may very well get his wish.

The new HHS secretary Tom Price, in fact, is eager to assist in this venture. The former Georgia Congressman wants to get rid of the ACA and make big cuts to Medicaid, the federally funded state insurance program for the poor and disabled. But as Price settles into his new role, North Carolina’s newly elected Democratic governor is racing against time to expand Medicaid as allowed by the Affordable Care Act.

Roy Cooper, a former state attorney general who narrowly won last year’s gubernatorial race, faces other hurdles, including a stubborn, far-right Republican legislature. But if Cooper prevails, he could provide health care for more than half a million low-income residents at no cost to the state. Without the Medicaid expansion, North Carolinians whose income is between about 37 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty line (or roughly $9,000 to $24,300 for a family of four) qualify for neither Medicaid nor the Affordable Care Act marketplace, putting them in what the Kaiser Family Foundation calls the “coverage gap.” They’re too “wealthy” for Medicaid but too poor for Obamacare.

Cooper was prepared to bypass the legislature and expand the program before Trump took office, but a judge held up the procedure until it was too late. The Republicans who have controlled North Carolina’s legislature since 2010—and who are famous for their racial gerrymandering and eleventh-hour power grabs—continue to oppose an expansion under the Affordable Care Act, despite the billions of dollars in federal funds and access to health care that expanded Medicaid would bring to the state. But Cooper found a potential route around the opposition.

Cooper’s plan

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government covers 95 percent of all Medicaid costs to the state, phasing down to 90 percent in 2022. North Carolina already forfeited the program’s first three years, in which the federal government would have covered 100 percent of the expansion. Confronted by legislators who will not appropriate the fractional costs the state would now have to put up, the Democratic governor found another funding source.

Cooper’s plan would extend Medicaid to roughly 625,000 low-income North Carolinians at no cost to the state. Hospitals, which will make money on expanded Medicaid—both in an increase in patients and a reduction of uncompensated care for indigent patients who show up at emergency rooms—would cover all or part of the expansion’s costs to North Carolina. Savings in state expenditures due to the new federal funding would cover any remaining costs.

Even the conservative North Carolina Hospital Association, which makes independent political expenditures benefiting mostly Republicans for state-level office, supports expanding Medicaid because of the health benefits and reduction in uncompensated care, which hospitals cover by raising their fees. When asked whether the hospitals would be willing to pay for the expansion, the association’s vice president for communications noted that they have “not closed the door to that” but hope such a policy could be achieved through bipartisan consensus.

Yet many GOP legislators, including those elected with the support of the Hospital Association, are willing to go to great lengths to deny low-income people health coverage. Though some Republicans are open to a “limited” expansion for select populations, including the disabled and mentally ill, the party as a whole continues to describe the expansion as a huge tax increase. And Republicans opposing the expansion have enlisted the support of Art Pope in their campaign to block Medicaid expansion. Pope is a wealthy discount store magnate who spent $50 million in a 10-year campaign to put Republicans in charge of both chambers of the legislature—and until Cooper’s win, the state’s executive branch.

Republican obstruction

Republican legislators have established a number of legislative roadblocks to prevent the ACA from being implemented. In 2013, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a law barring the governor from expanding Medicaid without the General Assembly’s approval. But Cooper opted to work around that law, rather than directly against it. So, during his first week as governor, he asked the federal government for permission to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. This move isn’t without popular support either—after all, 72 percent of North Carolinians want the government to “fix the health insurance coverage gap.”

Although the Obama administration’s health and human services department was eager to make Cooper’s plan a reality, GOP state legislative leaders were not supportive. Republican lawmakers sued state and federal health agencies on January 13, alleging that the expansion unconstitutionally ignores the General Assembly’s right to make laws. They got their wish the next day, after a federal judge granted a 14-day restraining order, even though the expansion wouldn’t happen until 2018.

On January 27, United States District Judge Louise Flanagan responded to another stay request from state legislative leaders, joined by Trump’s HHS, and extended the filing date in the case until March 31, effectively extending the temporary restraining order. Cooper could try to negotiate with the new team at HHS; however, it is unlikely that the hostile Trump administration would approve of any expansion of Medicaid. That reality hasn’t stopped Cooper, who ran on a promise to expand Medicaid. “I will continue working on a state-tailored plan that increases access to health care and builds our economy,” he wrote in a Medium post published on January 24.

According to the state’s Medical Care Advisory Committee, 625,000 North Carolinians—including 12,000 veterans and 144,000 residents with behavioral and substance-abuse disorders—would receive full health coverage through the expansion. Uncompensated care would diminish, as low-income patients who typically can’t pay their medical bills would be insured. The financial burden on rural hospitals dependent on Medicaid and Medicare payments to stay afloat (and often facing closure) would be reduced. The expansion would create tens of thousands of jobs in health care and could save 1,000 lives per year.

“North Carolina will miss out on more jobs and better health care without Medicaid expansion and it’s frustrating and disappointing that we’re having to fight our own legislature in court to get it done,” Cooper said on January 16. “Tax dollars already paid by North Carolinians are funding Medicaid expansion in other states and we want to bring that money back home to work for us here.”

Medicaid at risk in other states

North Carolina isn’t alone. Nineteen states—most under Republican control—have yet to expand Medicaid. But Republican obstructionism is only part of the problem; almost as many states with GOP governors have expanded the program.

If Trump and Congress repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate and subsidies while leaving insurance market reforms in place, 32 million Americans, many of whom are Medicaid recipients, will lose their health coverage over the next 10 years. Price is in favor of Medicaid block grants to the states, which would eventually amount to a roughly 40 percent cut to the program. Any governor who has expanded Medicaid couldn’t possibly want that to happen.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who expanded Medicaid in his state of Michigan, has said that it made “sense for the physical and fiscal health of Michigan.” After all, he continued, “expansion will create more access to primary care providers, reduce the burden on hospitals and small businesses, and save precious tax dollars.”

In Ohio, where Republican John Kasich is governor, a huge Medicaid expansion improved outcomes for patients and costs were well below budget projections.

Other states with GOP governors that have expanded the program include Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana (overseen by former Governor Mike Pence), Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, and North Dakota. At least five GOP governors—including Snyder and Kasich, as well as Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and Brian Sandoval of Nevada—are urging their fellow Republicans in Congress not to eliminate the expansion, although some support a block-grant reform. Even some governors who initially rejected the expansion, including Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Sam Brownback of Kansas, are asking for federal dollars.

“You must ensure that individuals, families, children, aged, blind, disabled and mentally ill are not suddenly left without the care they need to live healthy, productive lives,” said Sandoval.

GOP senators from states that have expanded Medicaid are also wary of supporting legislation that would take health care access away from so many of their constituents. Some Congressional Republicans who support repealing Obamacare have argued in favor of keeping the Medicaid expansion in place for two extra years.

Yet the prospects for North Carolina’s Medicaid expansion are bleak. Republican state legislative leaders are set on blocking a plan they insist is “a massive, budget-busting Obamacare expansion” and a “coup.” Their devotion to a small-government ideology and their distaste for Obama’s legacy guide their policy decisions.

These lawmakers appear immune to the words of fellow Republican Jan Brewer, the former governor of Arizona, who once stated: “There comes a time, and you have to look at the reality. You have to do the math. . . . It’s not only a mathematical issue, but it’s a moral issue.”

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist who specializes in money in politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexkotch.

IMAGE: A supporter of the Affordable Care Act celebrates after the Supreme Court up held the law in the 6-3 vote at the Supreme Court in Washington June 25, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Why The Christian Right Is Rejoicing Under Trump’s Presidency

Why The Christian Right Is Rejoicing Under Trump’s Presidency

Reprinted with permission fromAlterNet.

In early 2016, few evangelical leaders were on Team Trump, as they had Ted Cruz and other conservative Christians to choose from in a crowded Republican presidential field. After Donald Trump embarrassed his GOP competition and became the party’s nominee, prominent evangelicals began changing their tune. Some, including a number of outspoken anti-LGBT activists, worked with the Trump campaign on a large evangelical advisory board. After Trump won the presidency with 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, most far-right Christian leaders who hadn’t endorsed him came around. Many were gleeful, and some even pronounced that God had stepped in and handed Trump the job.

That excitement has grown since the election as Trump prepared for and took office, nominating several ultra-conservative Christians for key posts and promptly following through on several of his campaign promises tailored to evangelical voters. Trump had already picked far-right evangelical Mike Pence for vice president. Then he nominated Betsy DeVos, who was raised in a Calvinist community in Michigan, for secretary of education and Seventh-Day Adventist Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development secretary, and appointed several other conservative Christians to additional top positions in the administration.

Ronnie Floyd, an Arkansas megachurch pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Washington Post that the Trump administration was full of “followers of Christ,” not just DeVos but Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price, EPA head Scott Pruitt, Energy nominee Rick Perry, Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The administration has been way over the top in giving them visibility and recognition that we can bring values,” said Floyd, who was part of Trump’s evangelical advisory team and gave a prayer at Trump’s prayer service during inauguration weekend.

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University who was the first major evangelical figure to endorse Trump, has said that hundreds of evangelicals are getting lower-level positions in the Trump administration.

On January 31, Trump nominated the ultra-conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. He’s the judge who wrote the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, enabling businesses to refuse to pay for insurance coverage of contraception based on “religious objections.” Gorsuch, who is considered to the right of even the late Antonin Scalia, is seen by conservative Christians as someone they can count on to oppose abortion and expand their ability to legally discriminate against LGBT people via “religious freedom.”

“I thank God that if confirmed, this administration will have delivered on one of its most critical campaign promises—to appoint a judge in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia,” said far-right Christian James Dobson, who served on Trump’s evangelical advisory board.

Also January 31, Trump appointed Falwell to lead a higher education task force bent on “deregulating” education. Two days later, Trump attended the National Prayer Breakfast, where in a bizarre speech he pledged to repeal the Johnson Amendment, allowing churches to spend money on politics and potentially operate like super PACs.

Trump reinstated the “global gag rule” (or “Mexico City policy”), which prevents U.S.-funded foreign organizations from discussing abortion with their clients or advocating abortion law liberalization, but he made it harsher than under George W. Bush. This rule now pulls all public health funding from organizations, even to vital AIDS and HIV programs, that address abortion. And the president has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade and to sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood.

In late January, the Trump administration circulated a “religious freedom” executive order that legalizes discrimination, allowing any government agency or any private business to deny services to LGBT people. Trump has since backed away from that order, but another may come in the near future.

On Feb. 22, Trump went ahead with anti-LGBT discrimination. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions leading the charge, the Trump administration rolled back Barack Obama-era protections requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. Education secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly opposed the move—which some doubt based on her religious beliefs and her parents’ funding of anti-LGBT hate groups—but Trump and Sessions strong-armed her into backing it. The next day, DeVos went on to call Obama’s transgender guidance “a huge example…of overreach.”

With all the good news for the Christian right coming so quickly, Falwell said evangelicals are “a happy group of people right now.”

Franklin Graham, who gave a prayer at Trump’s inauguration, spoke at a December “thank-you rally” for Trump in Mobile, Alabama, reiterating that God had showed up for Trump on election night. He was thrilled at Trump’s selection of Gorsuch, writing on Facebook, “Once again he has kept a campaign promise—how refreshing!” He concluded his post with this: “Now we need to pray that God will overrule the liberal socialists and progressives who will do everything in their power to block this nomination.”

Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and chair of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, was “prominently seated” at a ceremony honoring Gorsuch. In a Fox News op-ed, he praised DeVos for her strong support of public vouchers to send children to private religious schools. DeVos has said she wants to “advance God’s kingdom” through education.

Televangelist Pat Robertson, one of the most extreme right-wing evangelicals of note, came to Trump’s defense after his “pussy-grabbing” comments surfaced. Now Robertson says people who oppose Trump are revolting against God, and he muses that Obama and Democrats may have enacted a conspiracy to take down the shamed Michael Flynn, who didn’t last a month as national security advisor because he lied about having prior contact with Russia.

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council, is sanguine about Trump upholding religious liberty, which in his case means legal discrimination of LGBT people by “religious” businesses with federal contracts. Perkins also praised Gorsuch’s nomination.

Far-right Christian organizations are also happy with Trump and his executive orders. The Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center recently classified as an anti-LGBT hate group, said of the gag rule, “The president has done the right and logical thing in reinstating a policy that never should have been rescinded.” ADF was founded by Dobson and several other Christian right leaders in 1994 and since then has opposed equal rights for LGBT people and even pushed to criminalize homosexuality abroad.

Christian leaders aren’t just thrilled with Trump’s actions and promises, they’re gratified by the surprising amount of access they have to the president. Falwell told the Washington Post that he, along with other members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board including televangelists James Robison and Paula White, have never had such easy access to a president. “I’m very shocked by how accessible he is to so many. He answers his cellphone any time of the day or night.”

Trump has also answered his cellphone for Robison. Dobson says he can call Pence on his cell.

Plenty of evangelical leaders oppose Trump, or at least, his refugee ban, but the most extreme members of the evangelical movement are quite pleased.

Few would have predicted Trump’s stellar relationship with far-right Christians. But now that he’s won them over, benefited from their political support, and amassed a White House featuring many evangelical conservatives, LGBT protections, abortion rights, and public school funding are on the line.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.

IMAGE: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (L), joined by her husband Dick DeVos (2nd L), at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Conflicts Surround GOP Mega-Donor Who May Become Our Next Education Secretary

Conflicts Surround GOP Mega-Donor Who May Become Our Next Education Secretary

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Preparing for a packed first week of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s numerous controversial cabinet picks, Democratic politicians and advocacy groups had to decide which nominees they would focus their energy on opposing. With so many distasteful characters, several of whom have attacked the very agencies they’ve been nominated to lead, opposing all of them could spread resources too thin. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, is clearly one of the worst.

DeVos, chairman of an investment firm and wife of the heir to the Amway fortune, has spent the last few decades advocating and funding the school privatization movement. Her nomination to lead public education may seem curious, as DeVos has never worked in public education and supports diverting public funds to pay for kids to attend private, religious schools. But considering Trump’s own eagerness to spend federal money on charter and private schools and DeVos and her family’s generous political donations to the GOP, the decision isn’t so curious after all.

DeVos’ first Senate confirmation hearing was set for January 11, but her ethics review has not yet concluded and her financial disclosures are not public. The New York Times Editorial Board called her finances “a tangle that could take weeks to investigate,” as she and her husband have investments in 250 companies registered to the same Grand Rapids, Mich. address.

The Senate delayed her hearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee until January 17, with its chair claiming the delay was “simply to accommodate the Senate schedule.” The committee will vote on her confirmation January 24.

Advocacy groups, Democratic politicians and ethics experts have shot up red flags in recent days, strongly opposing DeVos’ nomination.

Possible financial conflicts of interest

Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, former White House chief ethics lawyers who were recently named to lead the board of government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, explain why DeVos’ hearing should not occur until all of her ethics and financial documents have been vetted and made public.

“Shortchanging the ethics review process in Congress jeopardizes nominees’ ability to do their jobs if confirmed. The Senate, and all of us, need to know if nominees will, for example, sell investments that create conflicts. If not, will they recuse themselves from certain issues? Will they have so many recusals that they cannot reasonably perform their duties, or will they be running the constant risk of violating the anti-conflicts laws?”

DeVos is invested in a Michigan charter school, per Politico, and the Wall Street Journalexposed her indirect investment in an online student lending company. She was, and possibly still is invested in for-profit online charter school company K12, Inc.

“The notion that DeVos will be questioned before entering into an ethics agreement and disclosing it along with her financial holdings is absurd,” write Eisen and Painter.

The Office of Government Ethics has not completed DeVos’ ethics agreement, and her financial disclosure documents are nowhere to be found. Several other nominees are in the same boat, but Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who requested that Obama’s 2009 nominees complete both before Senate hearings—scheduled many of their hearings anyway. OGE director Walter Schaub expressed his concern over Senate hearings on nominees who haven’t completed the ethics review process. The hurried and incomplete process “has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings,” he wrote in a letter to two Democratic senators, adding that he was unaware of any instance like this since the OGE was created.

Unpaid campaign finance fines

Senate Democrats have asked DeVos to explain why her political group failed to pay a $5.3 million fine for breaking campaign finance laws in Ohio. In 2008, the pro-school choice All Children Matter illegally funneled $870,000 to its Ohio affiliate when that state’s yearly cap on donations was $10,000. The group reportedly asked the state about contribution limits, was told what they were, and then proceeded to donate 87 times the maximum legal amount.

DeVos played a role in the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which has allowed unlimited individual, corporate and union money into elections. EdSource’s Louis Freedberg describes how DeVos was a founding board member of an institute set on ending restrictions on money in politics that hired attorney James Bopp as its chief counsel. Bopp would go on to successfully argue the Citizens United case.

Few issues have been “more central to the DeVos family’s mission than eradicating restraints on political spending,” wrote New Yorker investigative journalist Jane Mayer in her book, Dark Money.

Another Senate Democrat, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, is also going after DeVos, having penned a lengthy letter to the nominee criticizing her lack of experience in public education (she has none) and providing 41 questions she wants answered during her hearing.

Donations to senators who will vote on her confirmation

In addition to giving nearly $200,000 to the Republican National Committee and millions more to super PACs aiding Trump and GOP senators’ campaigns—including one founded by the Koch brothers—DeVos has donated directly to the campaigns of numerous senators who will vote on her confirmation. She and her husband Dick have given $265,000 to these numerous confirming senators over the years, and additional family members have pitched in even more.

No senators have indicated that they will recuse themselves from the vote, so two money-in-politics reform groups—Every Voice and End Citizens United—launched a public campaign January 6 to pressure the senators who have received donations from DeVos to do so. Over 20,000 people have signed the petition, and the groups are sponsoring digital ads targeting four members of the HELP committee who have received tens of thousands each in campaign donations from DeVos: Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Cassady (R-LA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Tim Scott (R-SC).

In 1997, DeVos said that she and her family “do expect some things in return” when they make political donations.

“Pay-to-play politics has no place in our government,” said Tiffany Muller, executive director of End Citizens United, in a press release. “Yet Betsy DeVos has said she expects something in return for her contributions—making it unethical for these senators to vote on her nomination.”

Every Voice president and CEO David Donnelly said, “The only way to assure the American people that the Senate is not handing a high-ranking government position to the highest bidder is for senators who have benefited from DeVos’ donations to recuse themselves from voting on her nomination.”

‘The most anti-public education nominee’ 

Teachers unions, which see DeVos as a threat to the very institution of public education, are vociferously opposing her nomination. The National Education Association is mobilizing its members to urge their senators to oppose DeVos. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a well-publicized speech on January 9 that DeVos, “the most anti-public education nominee in the history of the department,” has a “drive to privatize education” that is “demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children.”

Even the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association expressed concern over DeVos because of her advocacy for private school vouchers and her role in the “widely criticized” charter system in Michigan. DeVos has called traditional public education a “dead end” and an “industry.”

Troubling LGBT record

DeVos and her family have donated tens of millions of dollars to organizations that oppose LGBT rights. On January 12, five Democratic congressmen, all co-chairs of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, sent a letter to the leadership of the HELP committee, listing several anti-LGBT groups to which DeVos has given large amounts of money. Among them is Focus on the Family, to which the DeVoses have given $6.1 million and which promotes “conversion therapy” for students and opposes anti-bullying policies and basic workplace protections for LGBT people, among other discriminatory positions.

According to EdSource, DeVos’ mother was the fourth-largest contributor to the Proposition 8 campaign, the 2008 anti-same-sex-marriage initiative that barely passed a ballot referendum in California.

Credo Action, the political group affiliated with Credo Mobile, has a petition with over 250,000 signatures urging Senate Democrats to vote against DeVos, whom it labels “an extreme right-wing bigot.”

In response to DeVos’ record and the GOP platform’s attempt to weaken the protections of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, the groups End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX launched a campaign called #DearBetsy, encouraging people to make videos urging the nominee to protect sexual assault survivors and LGBTQ students.

#DearBetsy, keep students safe. Enforce #TitleIX. Tell @BetsyDeVos why Title IX is important to you! https://t.co/2OaqahokC4@knowyourIX pic.twitter.com/FajZChzS78

— End Rape on Campus (@endrapeoncampus) January 9, 2017

Despite DeVos’ potential conflicts of interest, political donations, anti-public education stance and financing of anti-LGBT organizations, many expect her to breeze through her confirmation, as Senate Republicans have a 52-48 majority and many share her views.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.

IMAGE: Reuters

Charles Koch’s Very Questionable 6-Step Guide To Founding A Free-Market Center At Your University

Charles Koch’s Very Questionable 6-Step Guide To Founding A Free-Market Center At Your University

Published with permission from AlterNet.

Since 1980, the family foundations of billionaire industrialist Charles Koch have gifted roughly $200 million to U.S. colleges and universities, largely to promote libertarian, free-market economics programs around the nation. Koch gave $108 million of that total to 366 colleges and universities between 2005 and 2014, according to the Institute for Southern Studies. Koch and his brother, David, who are well known for their vast, conservative political spending network, own Koch Industries, a giant conglomerate composed of companies that sell gas, pipelines, chemicals, minerals, paper and textiles, among other products. The brothers have fervently opposed taxation and regulation for decades.

At the root of Koch’s strategy to turn America into a tax- and regulation-free society is his effort to reshape higher education. Since the 1970s, Koch has carried out his “Structure of Social Change,” funding free-market academic centers, courses, professors, graduate students, scholarships, lecture series and summer programs. His funding generates academic output in line with his own laissez-faire ideology, work that free-market think tanks, which he funds, repackage into easily digestible policy initiatives. Then, “citizen activist” groups—actually “social welfare” organizations that he and his wealthy conservative friends heavily finance—pressure lawmakers and the public to get on board with these policies.

In the final steps, which Koch and his right-hand man, Richard Fink, did not outline in their original social change scheme, webs of Koch-funded political spending groups pour hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, installing the far-right politicians they can count on to propose and sign the tax-slashing, regulation-killing legislation written or inspired by the think tanks’ output.

Koch and his allies are founding increasingly more free-market academic centers at colleges and universities. Leaked audio recordings (#Kochileaks) from the latest annual Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) conference, which brings together Koch-funded professors, think tank “scholars” and big-business representatives, shine a light into how the centers come to life. Members of the activist group UnKoch My Campus attended the April event and recorded several panels of professors in the Koch academic network who shared strategies for how to found these centers, fund them with massive private donations and maintain donor intent. Administrators with the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), the primary Koch family foundation giving educational grants and funding APEE and its conferences, explained their pivotal role in these university-donor agreements.

AlterNet previously detailed the inner workings of the APEE meetings, where hundreds of free-market academics out of the roughly 5,000 total in the Koch higher education network meet. Many attendees come from schools heavily funded by CKF, especially George Mason University, which has received the greatest amount of support from Koch and which sent 98 students, professors and fellows to this year’s conference, nearly one-quarter of the participants.

According to CKF director of university investments Charlie Ruger, the foundation is funding roughly 225 tenure-track professors at 53 or more free-market academic centers. And CKF and its donor partners have committed about $170 million “in resources” over the “next five or six years to these center projects.”

“We are seeing the coordinated hostile takeover of academic institutions,” Ralph Wilson, senior researcher at UnKoch My Campus and one of two activists who recorded the APEE event, told AlterNet.

“These centers are being operated by a small world of corporate-funded academics who are integrating the goals of Koch’s donor network into [often] public institutions.”

Based on the audio from the conference, here’s Charles Koch’s (annotated) guide to setting up a free-market academic center. Free-enterprise disciples with PhDs should know when taking his money: They’re part of his master plan to change the culture of America, and strings may be attached.

Step #1: Start a center (or take over an existing one).

In 2011, Howard Wall began working at Lindenwood University, where he began as director of the existing Center for Economics and the Environment in the business school. He still directs CEE and also directs the John W. Hammond Institute for Free Enterprise.

When Wall joined the Missouri-based Lindenwood, he was CEE’s only staff member. “The first thing we had to do was just change what the center was going to do,” he told the audience while on a panel called “Establishing a Successful Academic Center.” “We changed the mission from economics and the natural environment to, more broadly, the business environment, or local business environment.”

Then Wall “created a panel of [10] research fellows [from other universities] to create the illusion that it was more than just [him] sitting in an office…” His goal was to inflate the center’s reputation and catch the eye of the university. “The rest of the university has to care you exist,” he said.

Without a budget for guests, Wall hosted speakers who came free of charge, including Rex Sinquefield, “the Charles Koch of St. Louis, or of Missouri.” He wanted to publicize the center as much as possible. “Record all the public events, put it on the website,” he said. “Again, generate as much audience as possible.”

Wall started a blog, used his media contacts and wrote some local policy papers to generate press. “I was giving the university some media exposure and academic reputation.”

“You’ve got to already be doing these things before you have the money,” said Steve Gohmann, director of the John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise at the University of Louisville, on the same panel as Wall.

In addition to big speaker series, professors host reading groups to attract students to their free-market programs. Gohmann assigns these students books written by Charles Koch and by other free-market professors in the Koch network: Christopher Coyne and Peter Boettke of George Mason’s Mercatus Center, which is heavily funded by CKF, and Benjamin Powell, director of Texas Tech University’s Free Market Institute. These and other authors come to the reading group and talk with the students.

After reading a book by sweatshop proponent Powell, “a lot of students said ‘Man, it changed my mind about sweatshops,’” according to Gohmann.

These academics share many links. Powell got his PhD in economics from George Mason, where he was a fellow at the Mercatus Center, and he has coauthored an article with Coyne. Boettke is on the board of directors of Powell’s Free Market Institute and is listed as a reference on his CV. J.R. Clark, the secretary and treasurer of APEE who hosts the organization at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is also on Powell’s board.

Boettke and Powell are both former presidents of APEE. Coyne and Powell are on the editorial board of APEE’s Journal of Private Enterprise, which has published Gohmann’s work. Clark is the journal’s managing editor.

Coyne sits on the academic advisory board of Troy University’s Koch-funded Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy and is a founding member and distinguished scholar at the Center for the Study of Political Economy at Hampden-Sydney College, where CKF sponsors student research fellowshipseach year. Boettke is a Charles Koch Distinguished Alumnus of the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason, and he has collaborated with Coyne on editing and writing projects.

Step #2: Create an advisory board.

When free-market professors have gotten something off the ground, they create an advisory board, largely consisting of established, Koch-funded economics professors such as Powell and Boettke. At the University of Louisville, Gohmann set up an advisory board to prevent a new dean from potentially creating the board himself. Gohmann put on the board Powell and Scott Beaulier, one of the central academic figures in the Koch network who got his doctorate at George Mason and has established Koch-funded free-market centers at Arizona State University and Troy University. Gohmann will also add “another businessperson,” and he and a dean will also be on the committee. The advisers won’t have much to do, said Gohmann, but they will help out if there are any “issue[s] about direction.” “So it’s really just a protection thing for me,” he said.

The academic advisory council and “network of scholars” at Arizona State’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty include Boettke; Powell; Tyler Cowen, director of the Mercatus Center; Joshua Hall, co-director of the Koch-funded Center for Free Enterprise at West Virginia University and former president of APEE; Mercatus Center board member Vernon Smith, a professor at Chapman University, to which CKF gave $132,000 from 2005 to 2014; and Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at Mercatus and former policy analyst for the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank co-founded by Charles Koch.

Sometimes, centers give seats on their boards to sympathetic university administrators and even center donors. Wall said at APEE that the initial funder of the free-market center at Lindenwood University, John Hammond, is on the center’s board and gets to appoint the other two members. But the professor told AlterNet that he was incorrect and that the president appoints the other two members of the three-person board.

Wall said, “I have complete academic freedom with no direction from anyone else.” A Koch grant, which came after Hammond’s, “is to support our existing mission and I have complete academic freedom in using it.”

Step #3: Bring in private donations.

The annual APEE meetings and the biannual Koch donor summits, where conservative mega-donors meet to combine their political and educational funding efforts, are both places where academics market themselves to major prospective benefactors.

At the 2008 APEE conference, Gohmann approached then-BB&T Bank Chairman John Allison, who received an award and said that the BB&T Foundation was endowing chairs of free enterprise at universities. These typically $1 million grants, which the foundation gave to more than 60 schools, required professors to teach Ayn Rand’s libertarian bible, the novel Atlas Shrugged. Gohmann told the audience at the “Establishing a Successful Academic Center” panel, “I said, ‘Hey, John, I’ve been using Atlas Shrugged in my labor economics class for years. You know, you got any money?’ He said, ‘Send me a letter,’ so I did. He sent me a letter and he said, ‘I’ll give you a million dollars.’”

As “deans are happy to take anybody’s money,” the deal went through, and it set up an endowed chair for Gohmann. This “got me on the road to getting funding from the Koch Foundation to do programming,” he said.

In 2015, Gohmann scored a $6.3 million, seven-year grant to found the Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise at the University of Louisville, with $4.6 million coming from Schnatter, the conservative Papa John’s founder and University of Louisville trustee, and $1.7 million from CKF. Schnatter, a big player in the Koch donor network, threatened in 2012 to cut workers’ hours to avoid having to pay for their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Papa John’s franchise owners have had to pay workers large amounts after being found guilty of wage theft. Schnatter has recently funded additional free-market centers with CKF at Ball State University and the University of Kentucky.

“I love having [an] endowment and all this money,” said Gohmann. “But you know what? I’ve got all this money, and I can do what I want with it.”

Libertarian economist Bruce Benson, who has received awards from APEE, was kept on as chair of the Florida State University Economics Department at the request of CKF, which drew up a controversial, multimillion-dollar contract in 2008 with the department that exerted the foundation’s control over hiring decisions and curriculum. As FSU and CKF were working out the agreement, Benson sent a memo explaining the proposed Koch agreement, writing, “If some version of this proposal is agreed to, Koch will invite representatives from FSU to [the Koch brothers’ donor meetings], introduce us, allow us to make our pitch, and encourage others to join them in funding the program.”

Lindenwood scored a $1 million donation in 2013 from John Hammond, a banking executive and current treasurer of the university’s board of directors, to found the Hammond Institute. “Our new mission was to foster free enterprise and civil and religious liberty, through the examination of market-oriented approaches to economic and social issues,” said Wall at the APEE conference.

The money allowed Wall to create a new center, the Liberty and Ethics Center, and incorporate this center, CEE and the existing Duree Center for Entrepreneurship into the Hammond Institute. “And it looks, again, like there’s more going on than there really is because now it’s three of us.” The three centers were able to cross-promote, and they “had an immediate list of inherited achievements. Whatever the existing centers were doing, we just rolled them over and said, ‘This is what the Hammond Institute does and has done.’”

At this point, Wall and Rachel Douchant, director of the Liberty and Ethics Center, “wanted to just confuse the heck out of the rest of the university.” They created an unlikely theme, “Social Justice through Free Markets and Liberty,” holding events, sometimes with leftist speakers, allegedly collaborating with the Black Student Union and even partnering with the city of Ferguson, Missouri, offering an “entrepreneurship program” and Lindenwood internships and scholarships. They also started a campus TV show and regular “Free Market Minutes” contributions to a local radio station.

A slide from Wall’s presentation at APEE reads, “We were opportunistic in partnering with anyone who could help us.”

Wall told AlterNet that he and his colleagues still try to “confuse” the university. “Some are still very confused because they are ignorant of how the underlying purpose of our institute is to help the less well off.”

After all of its publicity work, the Hammond Institute got the biggest donation the university had ever received, solidifying the Institute’s power on campus.

CKF had only given Lindenwood roughly $35,000 from 2010 to 2014. But having attended several APEE conferences, Wall knew whom to speak with.Lindenwood approached CKF for a much bigger sum and landed $2 million in late 2015.

The 800-Pound Gorilla

The grant “helped us to convince the university to do things it wasn’t comfortable with,” said Wall. And when people criticize the historic donation from a politically polarizing figure, Wall “mock[s] the complainers.”

“Many of the complainers, whose goal is usually to suppress the academic freedom of people they disagree with, deserve nothing more than mockery,” Wall told AlterNet.

Wall and his colleagues decided that “we are the 800-pound gorilla on campus because our grant from the Koch Foundation was the largest in the university’s history.” When someone asked him, “Why don’t you do [a skit for incoming freshmen]?” Wall replied, “I’ll give you two million reasons I’m not gonna do that.”

“Basically, to run a center or to be a person on a campus that has impact, you have to be viewed as, kind of, a version of a gorilla,” said Boettke on a panel called “Being a Liberty-Advancing Academic.” “Either from a tiny gorilla to, like, the big 800-pound gorilla. And the more you’re the 800-pound gorilla, the more you’re able to, like, get your way.”

Bradley Thompson, executive director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, said during another panel called “Successful Models of Programs in Private Enterprise,” “My goal is to put other departments out of business.”

Step #4: Preserve donor intent.

“Increasingly, political administrators are institutionalizing donor influence over hiring, curriculum and scholarly activity, often defying faculty dissent,” said Wilson.

CKF has engineered a donation process that best preserves its original intent. Instead of a general endowment, CKF enters into contracts that outline a multi-year funding commitment to specific programs but are evaluated and funded on a yearly basis. If the university does anything with the money that wasn’t stipulated in the written agreement, Ruger said in the “Successful Models of Programs in Private Enterprise” panel, CKF will say, “‘Best of luck, but the next check isn’t coming.’”

“The purpose of the grant agreement is to say what cannot be done with the money,” Ruger said. “…The money is at the control and supervision of the center director, and we want that person’s name in the agreement … And so we want to empower people with the ideas and say, ‘Look, if anyone except Steve Gohmann ends up in control of these funds, the next check is not going to be on the way.’”

It helps if your wealthy donors are “local stakeholders” who know powerful administrators. “If the university starts to violate donor intent,” said Ruger, “it’s great to be able to call up a donor partner and say ‘Hey, John Schnatter, the university is doing this thing with my resources. They haven’t set up a discrete account like the agreement says.

“It really helps if we can call the donor and say, ‘Hey, you know the university. Call up the vice president of development and ask him what the hell he’s doing.’ That’s incredibly powerful, and it goes way beyond, you know, just the dollar contribution that they put into this.”

And if university administrators question how the funds are being used, professors can flex Koch muscle. Said Wall, “I’ve used the phrase, ‘Are you sure that the Koch Foundation’s lawyers will read that the same way you are [reading it]?’ And then they figure, ‘Well, they must have pretty good lawyers.’” Wall told AlterNet, “It’s not a threat to tell an administrator that he or she is running the risk of having the university violate a legal agreement.”

But some arrangements may be unsavory to the greater university community. In its agreement with College of Charleston, where it funds the Center for Public Choice and Market Process, CKF demanded the names and email addresses of students who participated in Koch-funded activities, as Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity reported. The foundation also requested that it approve any media regarding “programmatic activities” before publication.

Step #5: Keep the donor agreement secret.

“We’re all for the idea of transparency,” said Ruger during the question-and-answer session of the “Establishing a Successful Academic Center” panel. “We’ve got nothing to hide, you know. There’s nothing untoward happening.”

But sometimes, conflict-of-interest and academic-freedom concerns among students and faculty who have seen the donor agreements have led to changes in these agreements, as at Florida State University.

Ruger went on: “Our position on [public records requests] is, no, don’t give them anything they ask for… ’til they go through [the lawsuit] process. It makes them look foolish that they file lawsuits, they hire attorneys, and then they get nothing… But we don’t wanna just give them something for free.”

Gohmann said, “Well, perhaps if you drag ’em on longer and longer and make them spend more on attorney fees, it then becomes real expensive for them to get something like, like our agreement.”

Wall, who teaches at a private university, added that he doesn’t have any Freedom of Information Act “problems.” “But even so… a new university counsel came and he asked me for a copy of the contract, and I told him no.”

Despite the Koch academic network’s “800-pound gorilla” approach, Ruger thinks it’s CKF and the Koch-funded professors who are under attack. “The reason that groups like UnKoch My Campus are engaging in this abuse of open records laws is not for the sake of transparency, it’s for the sake of intimidation and bullying, and to, you know, put academic freedom at risk.”

Wilson sees things differently. “If the biggest political power in the nation claims we are intimidating people by calling for transparency, then they are hiding more than anyone thought,” he said. “They know what we are realizing: The more we find, the worse it gets.

“So far, all documentation we have been able to obtain indicates the donors are requiring, and being granted, undue influence over scholarly activity.”

Step #6: Feed the “Structure of Social Change.”

“The idea behind these centers,” said Ruger on the “Successful Models of Programs in Private Enterprise” panel, “is to bring the ideas out of the academy and apply them across social institutions to achieve this cultural change.”

A major goal of the free-market academic movement is to indoctrinate students, nurturing future academics, think tank scholars, political operatives and activists. Gohmann said that donors “want to give money, they want to see students coming out thinking, ‘Markets work really well. We need more free enterprise.’”

Some graduates may become free-market professors themselves, what Ruger terms “building the bench.” “Building the capacity for great mentors who have more students, and [having] those students go and mentor their own students for the next several decades of their careers, to us is a very leveraged opportunity.”

On a panel called “Being an Intellectual Entrepreneur,” Derek Yonai, who recently led the Center for Free Enterprise at Koch-funded Florida Southern College and is now the managing director of the Koch-backed O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist University, spoke about recruiting an army for economic freedom. He tells students, “Look, you understand these ideas, you are the best foot soldier we have in this fight for economic freedom because I talk about it, [but] you get to live it. You get to show people what these principles mean by the ways you act.” He told the APEE audience of Koch-funded professors, “Just figure out where are these students going to be placed [after graduating], what are they going to be doing—because each and every one of them can be valuable in order for us to change, if you will, the trajectory, uh, with regards to economic freedom.”

Ed Lopez, who recently secured a $2 million donation from CKF for Western Carolina University’s new free-market center, wrote to CKF that among the list of “deliverables” to CKF were developing a “pipeline of students” exposed to free-enterprise teachings and “cultivating students‘ long-term interest and participation in the larger community of free enterprise scholars, implementers, activists and related professions.”

Kevin Gentry, vice president of CKF and board member of the Kochs’ “central bank,” Freedom Partners, said at a 2014 Koch donor seminar, “The [Koch] network is fully integrated, so it’s not just work at the universities with the students, but it’s also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities and integrating this talent pipeline.” Gentry used to be vice president of both the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason.

“So, the Charles Koch Foundation does a lot of funding of universities and higher education institutions over all,” said Ruger at the APEE event, “but we’ve got a constellation of network organizations that are focused on applying what comes out of universities to change the world. And so, that’s sort of the core of the partnership. Money plus the network.”

In addition to grooming students to promote free enterprise in politics, Koch-backed professors insert themselves into government policy discussions.

At the embattled Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University in Alabama, Koch-funded professors have been very active in state politics, advising legislators to lower income tax rates and privatize services, as well as setting up an office in the state capital to “be more directly involved in state politics.” One professor’s recent APEE conference remarks, which included details about his colleague’s attempts to “bring down” the state pension fund, caused the dean of the business school to cancel the professor’s planned promotion to chair of the Department of Economics and Finance.

At the federal level, free-market legislation sometimes references studies by Koch-backed centers, and professors and fellows from such centers have been appointed to government positions. For example, two Republican congressmen who received campaign donations from the Koch Industries political action committee each sponsored bills that cite Mercatus Center research. In 2015, the two officials teamed up to fire the director of the Congressional Budget Office, replacing him with then-Mercatus senior researcher Keith Hall.

In order to publicize the free-market products coming out of the academic programs it sponsors, CKF funds “communications and outreach directors” and “media people,” said Ruger, who “are able to book radio, television, different sorts of appearances… to place op-eds in national publications, you know. All of these things have an impact.” They may also arrange “state legislative testimony” for professors “to make sure that, you know, these kinds of ideas have a seat on the table in public policy.”

The Centers Keep Coming

More and more free-market centers are popping up. At the end of 2015, a controversial plan for the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at Western Carolina University was approved despite the faculty senate’s scathing criticism, and centers at schools including Oklahoma State University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville were also announced that year. The center at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, funded by Schnatter and Koch, was announced this March.

“Koch’s academic operation appears to be growing in proportion to his larger political operation,” explained Wilson. “Of the $889 million the Koch network initially intended to raise for 2016, one-third was for political spending, while two-thirds was for research and education. And Koch has recently indicated that more of his network’s money will shift away from direct political spending and towards education.”

Knowing how these free-market centers unfold over time, faculty and students may have better luck opposing ideological institutes founded at their colleges and universities with the largesse of right-wing, corporate oligarchs such as Charles Koch and John Schnatter.

Just some of the numerous, Koch-backed free-market centers are:

  • Arizona State University: Center for Political Thought and Leadership
  • Arizona State University: Center for the Study of Economic Liberty
  • Ball State University (Indiana): John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise
  • Clemson University (South Carolina): Institute for the Study of Capitalism
  • College of Charleston (South Carolina): Center for Public Choice and Market Process
  • Emporia State University (Kansas): Koch Center for Leadership and Ethics
  • Florida Southern College: Center for Free Enterprise
  • Florida State University: DeVoe L. Moore Center
  • Florida State University: Gus A. Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education
  • George Mason University (Virginia): Institute for Humane Studies
  • George Mason University (Virginia): Law and Economics Center
  • George Mason University (Virginia): Mercatus Center
  • Hampden-Sydney College (Virginia): Center for the Study of Political Economy
  • Lindenwood University (Missouri): John W. Hammond Institute for Free Enterprise
  • Oklahoma State University: Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise
  • Southern Methodist University (Texas): William J. O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom
  • Texas Tech University: Free Market Institute
  • Texas Tech University: Institute for the Study of Western Civilization
  • Troy University (Alabama): Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy
  • University of Arizona: Center for the Philosophy of Freedom
  • University of Kentucky: John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise
  • University of Louisville (Kentucky): John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise
  • University of Montana: Center for Regulatory and Applied Economic Analysis
  • University of Texas at Austin: Center for Politics and Governance
  • Utah State University: Institute of Political Economy
  • West Virginia University: Center for Free Enterprise
  • Western Carolina University (North Carolina): The Center for the Study of Free Enterprise

Ruger and Gohmann did not respond to requests for comment.

Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow him on Twitter at @alexkotch.
Photo: DonkeyHotey / Flickr
Inside Charles Koch’s Plot To Hijack Universities Across America And Spread His Radical ‘Free-Market’ Propaganda

Inside Charles Koch’s Plot To Hijack Universities Across America And Spread His Radical ‘Free-Market’ Propaganda

Published with permission from Alternet.

The public is starting to catch up with the reality that Charles Koch is not only a major spender on building his own ideological institutions. Over the past decade, Koch has funded colleges and universities to bend them in his direction, often funding “free-market” academic centers. Mostly through his personal foundation, Koch gave $108 million to 366 colleges and universities from 2005 to 2014 and still more since then: for example, $10 million for George Mason University’s School of Law, which will be renamed after late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; $2 million to Western Carolina University to establish a free-market center; and over $4.1 million approved for future payment to several schools according to the foundation’s 2014 990 tax form.

Some of these grants come with strings attached. At Florida State University, the initial memorandum of understanding between the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) and the school’s economics department gave the foundation control over hiring decisions and the curriculum.

With his grants, Koch is installing libertarian-minded economics professors at hundreds of universities, so how do these professors coordinate their free-market agenda?

In April, activist group UnKoch My Campus attended the latest conference of the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE), self-described as “an association of teachers and scholars from colleges and universities, public policy institutes, and industry with a common interest in studying and supporting the system of private enterprise.” Left out of this description are details about who these figures really are: Koch-funded academics, “experts” from Koch-funded think tanks and big business representatives.

The Koch academic network has “nearly 5,000 scholars,” according to Ryan Stowers, Vice President of CKF. Hundreds flock to the APEE conference very year.

The group heralds its ability to facilitate “communication and cooperation between university and business communities,” encourage “the creation of chairs and centers of private enterprise in colleges and universities” and “serve in advisory capacities to governmental bodies dealing with economic policy, taxation, and other issues on national, state, and local levels.”

APEE is based out of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, overseen by J.R. Clark, the school’s Probasco Chair of Free Enterprise and APEE’s secretary and treasurer. The university received a $27,000 grant from CKF in 2012.

What we know from conference recordings — #Kochileaks — by UnKoch senior researcher Ralph Wilson and UnKoch collaborator Jerry Funt is striking: This network of Koch-funded, laissez-faire-minded professors, think tank researchers and big-business representatives meet every year and share how to take over university departments, establish free-market centers and divert university and state resources into free-market programs.

“Basically, to run a center or to be a person on a campus that has impact, you have to be viewed as, kind of, a version of a gorilla,” said Peter Boettke, a deeply embedded Koch-funded academic at George Mason University, on a panel called “Being a Liberty-Advancing Academic,” moderated by Debi Ghate, director of academic investments in higher education at CKF. “Either from a tiny gorilla to, like, the big eight hundred pound gorilla. And the more you’re the eight hundred pound gorilla the more you’re able to, like, get your way.”

A Tangled Web of Money: Billionaires, Cash Funnels, National Policy Groups and State-Based Think Tanks

According to the Center for Media and Democracy, CKF gave APEE almost $260,000 from 2006 to 2013. Five employees of CKF or the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) participated in the 2016 conference as moderators, presenters or panelists. Other major funders include the John Templeton Foundation, the Pierre F. and Enid Goodrich Foundation and the Earhart Foundation.

A smaller donor is the John William Pope Foundation (JWPF), led by North Carolina-based Art Pope, a conservative mega-donor and close ally of Koch and his brother, David. JWPF gave APEE $15,000 from 2007 to 2009, according to tax documents. Jane Shaw, the former president of the JWPF-funded John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, was president of APEE from 2003 to 2004. Her husband, Richard Stroup, has taught at multiple Koch-funded universities and is co-author of a K-16 economics teacher-training program, pushed by Koch-funded schools, that advocates “sacrificing lives for profits.”

The conference program, provided by Wilson, lists one of conference’s two “supporting organizations” as the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University, which has received funding from the CKF. Florida State has received over $2.3 million from CKF since 2007. Offering “program support” was CKF, and participating organizations include CKF, CKI and many other free-market think tanks, academic centers and national policy networks, which receive consistent funding from one or more of the various Koch foundations. These groups include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Ayn Rand Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Independent Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) at George Mason University (GMU), Learn Liberty (a project of IHS), the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Mercatus Center at GMU and the State Policy Network. CKI, another “charitable” nonprofit focused on education, has also donated to many of these organizations including the Cato Institute and the Ayn Rand Institute. CKI’s partner organizations are many of these same groups as well.

Other major sources of funding for these groups are the linked DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, which constitute an important money funnel for the Kochs as well as for other conservative billionaire families such as the DeVoses and the Bradleys. The Knowledge and Progress Fund, for which Charles Koch, his wife Elizabeth and son Chase are directors, was the biggest funder of the linked Donors groups ($13.6 million from 2005 to 2013, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, and CKF has pitched in as well). With huge annual revenues on account of the Kochs and their wealthy friends, the two Donor groups dish out millions of dollars to many of the same organizations to which the Kochs personally donate through their foundations and which participated in the 2016 APEE conference: ALEC, the Heartland Institute, the Independent Institute, the Mackinac Center, the Mercatus Center, and the State Policy Network, among others.

CKF’s most recent available tax return, from 2014, lists $4.1 million in approved future payments. As it turns out, conference participants from many of these schools and a think tank were well represented at the 2016 APEE conference. CKF reported this approved future spending:

  • $2.3 million to West Virginia University (on top of $239,000 paid that year), which sent 14 participants to the conference
  • $832,000 to Arizona State University (on top of $231,000 paid that year), which sent two participants
  • $500,000 to the Cato Institute (on top of over $1.1 million paid that year), which sent three participants
  • $266,000 to Florida State University (on top of $626,000 paid that year), which sent 11 participants
  • $78,000 to George Mason University (on top of $11.8 million paid that year), which sent 58 participants
  • $75,000 to Texas A&M University (on top of $84,000), which sent three participants
  • $29,000 to Troy University (on top of almost $300,000 paid that year), which sent five participants

Just these six universities and think tank (Cato Institute), among many others that Koch is actively funding, sent 98 students, professors and “fellows” to the conference, nearly one-quarter of the 423 total participants. Five of these universities host free-market centers funded by Koch, who founded the Cato Institute.

The vast majority of domestic colleges and universities and think tanks represented at this year’s APEE conference have received Koch funding.

A Professor Network Just as Entangled as the Money Flow

Many of the same academic characters who spoke at APEE have positions at other participants’ Koch-funded free-market centers. Some hold leadership roles at their own centers while serving on the “network of scholars” or the “academic advisory council” of others.

Take Boettke, who earned his doctorate in economics from George Mason University, the school that’s raked in by far the most money from CKF. As a student in the 1980s, he received a research fellowship from one of the Koch family foundations, the Claude R. Lambe Foundation. He’s received additional grants and fellowships from other major funders of APEE: the Earhart Foundation and the Templeton Foundation. And there’s more: He received a “Charles Koch Distinguished Alumnus” award from IHS, which is also heavily funded by CKF, and multiple awards from APEE. In 2012, he received an honorary doctorate from Guatemala’s Universidad Francisco Marroquin, the president of which is current APEE Vice President Gabriel Calzada.

Now vice president of the Mercatus Center, housed at George Mason, director of the center’s F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and a BB&T Professor of Economics, Boettke serves on the academic advisory board of Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy, founded in part with at least $720,000 from CKF and more from Johnson and the BB&T Foundation. Boettke is an academic advisory council member of Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, founded with $3.5 million from CKF in 2014 and now receiving direct annual funding from the state of Arizona. He’s also on the board of the Bastiat Society, a participating organization at the 2016 APEE conference and recipient of CKF funding.

A whopping 58 students, professors, and researchers from George Mason University—14 percent of the 423 participants—took part in the conference, including 26 from the Mercatus Center. In all, Koch foundations have given GMU at least $87.7 million since 2005.

Five Troy University academics participated in the 2016 conference, including George Crowley, who was a Charles G. Koch doctoral fellow at West Virginia University, which has received at least $1.3 million from CKF since 2005, before joining the faculty at Alabama-based Troy, where he helped establish the Johnson Center. Troy has received over $1.1 million from CKF since 2010.

Two academics from Arizona State University participated. Two members of the Bastiat Society participated.

Boettke was president of APEE from 2013 to 2014 and has been on its board of academic advisors since 2000. At the 2016 APEE conference, Boettke participated in numerous panels.

This is the web surrounding just one Koch-funded academic. With Boettke so entrenched in the Koch academic network, and 423 people taking part in the 2016 conference, just imagine the thousands of overlapping connections between Koch-funded academics, Koch-funded think tank researchers and big business.

Wilson of UnKoch, who’s been studying Koch’s influence in higher ed since CKF’s contract with Florida State University became public in 2011, told Alternet, “After spending so long studying how professors work with the Koch foundation, the State Policy Network and ALEC to further the Koch network’s political agenda, it was surreal to simply walk into a room and hear our findings—and fears—explicitly confirmed and exceeded.”

The Troy Takeover

Free-market centers typically come to life through the work of academics who owe their career to Koch money. Here’s one example.

In addition to studying at West Virginia University and teaching at Troy, Crowley has been a faculty lecturer IHS seminars numerous times, published at the Mercatus Center and has participated in DeVoe Moore Center events. All five of the references on his CV teach at Koch-funded schools, and three participated in the 2016 APEE conference.

Remarkably, the Johnson Center’s nine faculty members earned their doctorates, many fairly recently, at just four universities, all of which have received Koch funding. Four on the faculty studied at George Mason University; two at West Virginia University; two at Suffolk University (which recently split with CKF); and one at Mississippi State University. The center’s academic advisory council is a who’s-who of Koch-funded academics.

At an APEE panel called “Being an Intellectual Entrepreneur,” Crowley discussed how he and Scott Beaulier established a popular economics program at Troy’s Johnson Center. After establishing economics majors at both the business school and the college, “We actually at a later point were able to kind of take over the finance major as well,” said Crowley.

In answer to a question from panel moderator Brennan Brown, a program officer for education at CKF and an adjunct economics professor at Northwood University, to which CKF has donated at least $88,000, Crowley said, “We’ve been very lucky at Troy. We had a big gift that let us hire a whole bunch of people all at once, and we kind of were able to take over, for lack of a better term … ”

Once established, centers collaborate with other Koch-funded centers, often trying to influence government policy.

Crowley has worked on numerous Mercatus-funded research projects. In the panel, he described how Troy professors have collaborated with the Mercatus Center to impact state policy. Crowley references his new study extolling the virtues of lowering state tax rates and raising rates and enacting new taxes on goods and services (effectively shifting the tax burden to lower-income people) and a “state diagnostic” on Alabama written by Profs. John Dove and Dan Smith (who both presented at this year’s APEE conference) and published at Mercatus. “… Smith and Dove—when their policy study got released—they went to [Alabama state capital] Montgomery and actually briefed the Governor’s staff on it.”

“Dan Smith has kind of taken it upon himself to try to bring down the state pension system,” Crowley said to a laughing audience.

And a Troy professor has also entered into federal policy: Alabama U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R) appointed Thomas Hogan, who got his PhD from George Mason, as chief economist for the U.S. Senate Banking Committee; he’s currently on a leave of absence from Troy. Other “scholars” in the Koch network, often from Mercatus, have earned government appointments or have been nominated for such posts.

The Master Plan

Koch and right-hand man Richard Fink devised the “Structure of Social Change” in the late 1970s, a plot to turn America into a libertarian utopia free from taxes and regulation. The first step in this plan was to fund higher education to conform it to their ideology. But was it more about libertarian principles or higher profits?

With his ever-growing, dedicated squadron of academics and think tank “scholars,” the billionaire industrialist has helped found or fund dozens of free-market academic centers that publish peer-reviewed work supporting the business interests of his family company. As Koch Industries polluted the environmentcommitted corporate crime, and evaded taxes, Koch created this giant network of interconnected libertarian academics who collaborate, shuffle between centers, promote each other’s work and make policy recommendations to lawmakers, surely to many from the ranks of Koch-backed politicians at the local, state and national level.

The tax-slashing and regulation-killing policies that become law may align with libertarianism. But, conveniently, they boost Koch Industries’ profits, leading to the combined $87 billion possessed by Charles and David Koch.

This article is part one of a two-part investigative series on the Association of Private Enterprise Education. Stay tuned for part two, which will take a deep dive into these closely connected characters’ strategy for founding free-market centers at universities across the country.

Photo: Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” in Upper Manhattan, New York in this May 5, 2014 file photo.  REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/Files

Charles Koch’s Disturbing High School Economics Project Teaches ‘Sacrificing Lives for Profits’

Charles Koch’s Disturbing High School Economics Project Teaches ‘Sacrificing Lives for Profits’

Charles Koch is known for being CEO of industrial giant Koch Industries and a chief financier of the massive conservative political operation he runs with his brother David. In recent years, student activists and investigative journalists have exposed another of Koch’s hats: mega-donor to hundreds of colleges and universities, often funding free-market-focused academic centers housed at public and private schools alike. One Koch-funded program is advocating cutthroat economics to grade school students, even sacrificing lives for profits.

Anti-tax industrialist billionaires like Charles and David Koch stand to gain a lot by financing higher education programs tailored to their ideologies. Richard Fink, the Kochs’ right-hand man for decades, laid out their “Structure of Social Change,” the plan they devised in the late 1970s to shape society with their libertarian ideals. The plan begins with funding academic programs that favor laissez-faire economics, resulting in academic papers promoting the free market and chastising regulation and taxation. Next, think tanks they fund repackage the academic work into more easily digestible policy proposals that “citizen activists” (actually Koch-funded “social welfare” groups like Americans for Prosperity) use to pressure lawmakers.

From 2005 to 2014, the Charles Koch Foundation doled out nearly $108 million to colleges and universities. The school that has accepted the second highest total from the Charles Koch Foundation from 2005 to 2014 is Florida State University, whose economics department entered into a 2008 agreement that gave the foundation a say in its curriculum and hiring decisions, as Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity reported. One part of the 2008 agreement, which proposed a $6.6 million budget to be funded by the Charles Koch Foundation and unnamed “Donor Partners,” established a “Program for Excellence in Economic Education” within the Gus A. Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education, part of the economics department. Annual reports confirm these funding arrangements.

The 2008 Koch agreement also funded professorships, postdoctoral fellowships, an undergraduate program and administrative costs for the “Program for the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise,” part of the Stavros Center as well.

The Stavros Center promotes “Common Sense Economics,” a free-market-focused book coauthored by the director of the Stavros Center, James Gwartney, and accompanying course materials for economics teachers all the way down to the kindergarten level. The center, along with programs at other colleges and universities, hosts workshops for teachers who want to offer Common Sense Economics courses at their schools; one such workshopoccurred on February 4-5 of this year, hosted by the Excellence in Economic Education program.

Under “Readings Reflective of Common Sense” on the “Fun Readings” page of the Common Sense Economics website, one probably not-so-fun selection sticks out. “Sacrificing Lives for Profits,” written by Common Sense Economics coauthor Dwight Lee, actually argues that we’d all be better off if companies cut corners, even risking customers’ lives, in the name of profit:

“The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities … is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits. Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn’t a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That’s right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.”

Lee gives the example of expensive safety features in cars. With cheaper, less safe cars, he argues, consumers would be free to spend more money on (overpriced) education and (overpriced) health care, ignoring compelling economic arguments for free education and single-payer health care, both of which might have a chance if it weren’t for the extremely low tax policies he no doubt supports. The longer life expectancy that comes with more education and health care, he thinks, far outweighs the occasional traffic death due to dangerous automobiles, yet he apparently overlooks the fact that the healthiest, most highly educated individual could die in an instant from poorly manufactured brakes or shoddy paneling.

Dwight Lee is a senior fellow with the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom in Southern Methodist University’s business school, which has helddiscussions featuring sweatshop proponent Benjamin Powell of Texas Tech University. SMU, based in Dallas, Texas, received almost $586,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation from 2005 to 2014, and the school just announced a $3.5 million grant from the foundation, along with $3.5 million more from Rick Perry mega-donor and Ted Cruz supporter Darwin Deason, to found a criminal justice reform center. As it turns out, the O’Neil Center has teamed up with the Libre Institute, part of the Kochs’ effort to engage Latino voters, to run free enterprise teaching programs.

Lee is also a fellow at the Independent Institute, formerly funded in part by the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, and an “expert” at the Heartland Institute, which has received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, another Koch-led foundation that’s now closed. The professor previously held faculty positions at several other schools including George Mason University, also known as “Koch U,” which has raked in by far the most money from the Charles Koch Foundation, the majority going to its two free-market academic centers, the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies, at nearly $78 million since 2005.

Students at FSU found “Sacrificing Lives for Profits” and attended the February 4 Common Sense Economics kickoff event, distributing flyers about the Stavros Center’s Koch funding and alerting participants to the author’s enthusiasm for sacrificing lives for profit. They later demonstrated outside the building during the reception.

Photo Credit: Paul Rutovsky

Ralph Wilson, a doctoral candidate at FSU who has led efforts to expose the university’s Koch ties, took part in the demonstration. He wrote in an email to me:

Rather than teaching economics, FSU’s agreement has let the Koch network propagate pro-corporate propaganda into K-16 classrooms all over the country, providing intellectual justifications for a moral trade-off: lives for profit … The curriculum is a mish-mash of recycled free-market essays from Koch-funded think tanks patched together by corporate academics.

Despite documents that clearly outline how the Charles Koch Foundation’s grant established the Program for Excellence in Economic Education, professors and university officials have gone to great lengths to deny this connection. According to Wilson, FSU officials denied that the workshop had ties to Koch money, and a local news story set to run was never published.

One professor in the Excellence in Economic Education program, Joab Corey, who spoke at the Feb. 5 workshop, sent emails to multiple FSU students who had asked about his Koch connections at the event. Corey wrote that he is “not biased or influenced by donors in any way” and denied any ties to Koch funding, writing that he “did not really know where the funding for my position came from,” although he “vaguely remembered” that his position was funded by BB&T Bank (actually, the BB&T Charitable Foundation, which is known for making at least 63 million-dollar grants to universities explicitly for the purpose of teaching Ayn Rand’s libertarian bible Atlas Shrugged). Corey’s “undergraduate teaching specialist position” is in fact funded by the BB&T Foundation, which came on as a Donor Partner in the Koch-FSU agreement. What Corey failed to acknowledge is that the very program he teaches in was established with Koch funding, and that, at least originally, every hire within his program and the similar Political Economy and Free Enterprise program had to meet the approval of Charles Koch Foundation officials.

Corey also wrote that he thought those who objected to “Sacrificing Lives for Profit” didn’t understand the argument and he invited dissenters to discuss it at office hours.

In 2014, someone left a customer review of Economics: Private and Public Choice, coauthored by Gwartney, linking him and other authors to Koch funding. Joseph Calhoun, assistant director of the Stavros Center and a lecturer in the Excellence in Economic Education program, weirdly posted a response credited to Gwartney that reads, “the Stavros Center for Economic Education and Free Enterprise at Florida State University which I direct has never received any funds from the Koch brothers or Americans For Prosperity, nor any of their charitable organizations.” This is patently false.

Another coauthor of this volume and of Common Sense Economics is self-proclaimed “free-market environmentalist” Richard Stroup of Raleigh, North Carolina, who formerly taught at FSU and is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, which was founded by the Charles Koch Foundation. Unfortunately for Stroup’s “environmentalist” claims, and for the many students who’ve had to readEconomics: Private and Public Choice, the textbook has earned a failing gradefor its treatment of climate change by PhD economist Yoram Bauman.

Stroup’s wife is Jane Shaw, former president of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, which has long advocated reducing university funding, cutting courses that focus on non-Western subject matter, and giving university donors control of how schools use their money. The Pope Center is funded by the John W. Pope Foundation, which has given millions to higher education programs mainly in the South and is led by Republican political mega-donor and close Koch brothers ally Art Pope.

Common Sense Economics has other primary hubs at University of South Florida’s own Stavros Center and Northern Michigan University’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, which Common Sense Economics coauthor Tawni Ferrarini codirects.

The Stavros Center and other similar centers are part of a national movement to push free-market principles on kids all the way down to kindergarten, headed by the national Council for Economic Education, which has more than 200 state and university affiliates, including FSU and many other universities that also receive funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. Many of these affiliates host Common Sense Economics courses and workshops.

More Koch-funded programs are part of this movement. Charles Koch’s Youth Entrepreneurs program to indoctrinate grade-school kids with free-market gospel is well established. Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies’ The EDvantage program, which features Ferrarini as one of its editors, is a “curriculum hub” for K-12 educators.

Across the country, Koch-funded academic centers and professors are training teachers of all grade levels to pass on the same ideas, even promoting lives lost in the name of profit. “Corporations like Koch Industries need this generation to make the lives for profit trade-off in order to justify their continued existence, and so they are trying to influence younger and younger students,” wrote Wilson. “Charles Koch is quoted in Jane Mayer’s recently published book, Dark Money, as saying that youths were crucial to his quest to alter society because ‘this is the only group that is open to a radically different social philosophy.’”

Photo: Flickr user (and saint) DonkeyHotey