Even if Doug Ducey, somewhere in his heart of hearts, wanted to advocate for higher taxes or put a brake on Arizona's private school voucher programs, he couldn't. He's addicted to the massive doses of dark money he gets from the Koch brothers network, and the Kochs are for lowering taxes and dismantling public (read "government") schools, ever and always. Ducey doesn't dare mess with the supplier even if he thought it would be good for Arizona, lest his vital flow of cash dries up. Lack of supply could lead to a painful withdrawal from public life.
On January 14, Ducey went on Sunday Square Off
with Brahm Resnik. It was Ducey's first time on the show since he's been governor, and it may be his last, given the tough questions Resnik threw at him about his positions on education and his political debt to the multi-billionaire Koch Brothers. Before I get to the interview, some background is in order.
Doug Ducey first made a name for himself on the national anti-tax stage in 2012 when he was state treasurer and led the fight against Proposition 204, which would have added a billion dollars to education funding by increasing the sales tax. Anyone fighting a tax hike is a friend of the Kochs, and they showed their support by putting $1.8 million into the effort. Their money was instrumental in defeating the measure. [See Note at the end for a correction.]
In 2014, Ducey was running for governor, and he wanted to make sure his Koch connection was still solid.
The Kochs don't supply all the money for candidates and causes they support. Much of it flows from a loosely connected group of fabulously wealthy people who form the Koch network. They come together during regular summits at fancy resorts to plot their strategies and offer up the money necessary to put their political plans into motion.
Ducey attended the network summit in June, 2014, along with conservative favorites like Tom Cotton, Jodi Ernst and Cory Gardner. These gatherings are very secretive. Nothing is supposed to leak out. But someone managed to record the proceedings, including Ducey's moment in the spotlight.
Ducey was introduced to the gathering as someone who "really stood up to a lot of cronyism in the business community in Arizona and led the charge against a tax hike ballot initiative" — referring, of course, to his fight against Prop 204. Ducey followed his introduction with a five minute self-congratulatory talk which let the deep pockets in the room know he was their man. He told them about himself while he stroked their oversized egos, hoping to open their pocketbooks.
"I've been coming to this conference for years," Ducey told them. In politics, he continued, "You're known for the company you keep," referring to the ultra-rich members of the network and the politicians they support. He stated that he had “confidence in the messaging we have here at the conference.”
"I can’t emphasize enough the power of organizations like this," he said as he concluded. “I’m grateful for what this conference does.” What the conference does is fund candidates, both through direct contributions and infusions of dark money. That's "the power of organizations like this" Ducey was talking about.
It's hard to pinpoint how much money the Koch brothers network put into getting Ducey elected governor. That's the nature of dark money. Estimates range from $1.5 million to more than $5 million. Some of it went to promote Ducey. The rest was spent tearing down his Democratic opponent, Fred DuVal.
Ducey has a big reelection fight coming up. Though he should be the odds-on favorite, he knows a Democratic wave has been gaining strength with every election since Trump was sworn in, and it could crest in November. He's going to need all the help he can get from the Koch network. So he attended another Koch brothers summit in June, 2017, and made sure to give the oversized egos in the room another stroking. When he talked about
the expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, Arizona's private school voucher program, a project dear to the heart of the Kochs and their allies, he made sure to give the wealthy donors the credit.
“These type of innovations are making a huge difference,” [Ducey] said. But, he added, to make it happen, “I needed the power of the network.”
When Brahm Resnik interviewed Ducey, he asked why a program Ducey claimed is popular with Arizona parents needed so much help from the Kochs. Ducey's response echoed addicts' usual rationalizations. First he maintained he was in total control. It was a distortion to claim he was dependent on the Kochs and their money. When that didn't fly, he tried to shift the blame, claiming his addiction isn't his fault, it's the fault of the media. They made him do it.
Here's a transcript of the portion of the interview about the Koch brothers' influence over Ducey and his policy.
Resnik: [Empowerment Scholarship Accounts] have grown over the last few years, and it was presented to voters as something Arizona parents wanted. And yet at a Koch Brothers donor summit last year, you were reported as saying, you needed the power of the network to get this expansion passed. So the question is, why is Arizona education policy being set by
Ducey: That’s, that’s a distortion. I said
Resnik: That didn’t happen?
Ducey: I set Arizona policy with our legislature and our education community.
Resnik: Did you thank the Koch Brothers?
Ducey: Because I have to overcome the media oftentimes, of how they talk about Arizona education.
Resnik: You use the Koch Brothers to overcome people like me?
Ducey: No, I, I need resources so I can communicate directly with the voters, because oftentimes on this show on Sunday morning, all that’s happening is dumping on Arizona education rather than talking about the excellence that we have inside our system, and then I’m addressing what resources we can bring so that we can further improve it across the state for all of our kids.
Resnik: So what exactly do the Koch network do aside from helping counter things that people like me might say on Sunday mornings?
Ducey: Well, I would say it’s more the educational champion or educational choice network that I’m addressing, people that, this is an issue of passion for them. They want to see improvement in public education across the board.
As our current president might say, it's sad to see Ducey denying the truth about his Koch addiction. But that's how the underground world of dark money works. The more you're dependent on it, the harder you have to deny it.
[Note: I wrote that Prop 204 was a sales tax increase. In fact its purpose was to continue a temporary three year sales tax increase which was due to expire.]