Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Koch Brothers Emerge (a Little) From the Shadows, Part 1: Target, Education

Posted By on Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 5:30 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of Bigstock
What does the word "education" mean when Doug Ducey calls himself "the education governor"? The answer is coming, but it'll take me awhile to get there. Have patience.

When the Koch brothers, Charles and David, began their push to change politics and economic policy in the U.S. in the 1970s, an important part of their strategy was stealth. Spend millions of dollars, they decided, hundreds of millions of dollars, but stay in the background. Create and help fund multiple organizations, think tanks and college centers, all with lovely sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Foundation and The Freedom Center, to help push their version of libertarianism into the center of American life in a determined effort to make this country a better place for the obscenely rich to live—but keep the Koch name out of it. Hold huge donor summits in posh resorts, but don't let the reporters in. Only allow the Koch name into the spotlight when donations are made to causes like cancer research or New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Things have changed over the past few years. The brothers been outed. Their names are regularly featured in the media and Democratic campaign pitches, and people have figured out ways to sneak recorders into their secretive donor summits. So they've emerged from the shadows, a bit, anyway. The spider web of interconnected groups they fund still have the same lovely, Koch-free names, but the Kochs have been forced to give in to the inevitable.

Case in point: The Koch brothers' three-day donor summit in Indian Wells, near Palm Springs, which ended Monday. They let reporters in, with the understanding that they could report on the proceedings but not reveal the names of the 500-plus donors at the summit without the donors' permission. Reporters, however, were allowed to reveal the names of politicians on the guest list, which included two governors: Matt Bevin of Kentucky and our own Governor Doug Ducey.

At the summit, the Koch network announced plans to spend at least $20 million to make everyone love Trump's massive tax cuts for the rich (which included the occasional bone thrown to the non-rich, until the bones go away in a few years). They also plan to spend $400 million on the 2018 midterm elections, more than the RNC, the NRA and the Chamber of Commerce combined. Ducey, a shining star in the Koch firmament, is certain be a recipient of their campaign largesse. A little will be donated directly to his campaign and reported in the light of day, but most it will be in the form of dark money.

On another related front, the Koch brothers plan to dismantle the country's current system of public education and replace it with something more to their liking.

Changing the education system as we know it was a central focus of a three-day donor seminar . . .

The Charles Koch Institute distributed roughly $100 million to 350 colleges and universities last year, up sevenfold over the past five years. What’s newer is the emphasis on elementary and secondary education. The network declined to offer exact figures but said it will double investment in K-12 this year, with much more planned down the road.
Doug Ducey is the brothers' education point man.

In 2014, Ducey spoke at a Koch donor summit, praising the group's support of his successful effort to defeat Prop. 204, which would have guaranteed an additional billion dollars for education in the state budget. Ducey's efforts against the proposition were aided by $1.8 million from the Koch network.

Ducey received a multi-million dollar boost for his 2014 gubernatorial campaign from the Kochs. When he spoke again at the 2017 summit, he patted himself on the back for his successful expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, aka Education Savings Accounts, aka Vouchers on Steroids, with new legislation that allows all Arizona students to take advantage of the vouchers. At the same time, he praised the donors. To help him pass the ESA legislation, he told them, "I needed the power of the network."

He spoke to members of the summit again Monday, praising himself one more time for the ESA expansion and warning the donors about Proposition 305, the ballot measure designed to roll back the expansion.
Addressing the seminar yesterday, Ducey touted the measure [to expand ESAs] as further reaching than anything that’s been tried in other states. He warned that, under Arizona law, if advocates lose at the ballot box, they will not be able to legislate on the topic in the future. “This is a very real fight in my state,” Ducey said. “I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.”
Other speakers who followed Ducey echoed his anti-public school sentiments, using teachers unions as regular whipping boys. Next came the ask for money to push their education agenda.
At the end of what was essentially a sales pitch, members of the Seminar Network, as it is officially known, were asked to check a box on a piece of paper in front of them if they were interested in contributing to the education efforts.
Expect a two-pronged attack from the Koch network against public education in Arizona: money to defeat Prop. 305 and more money to help reelect the man who calls himself "the education governor." Despite Ducey's protestations to the contrary, it's the Koch's vision of education he supports, not Arizona's system of public education.

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