It was probably five years ago when the Koch Brothers hit my radar. I was at a conference of grassroots community folks and one guy in particular was describing these eccentric brothers, born into wealth, who were hell-bent on remaking America.
Their predatory libertarian hybrid philosophy wasn't new to me. I grew up around cranky old men who lived in cabins and argued with each other around the big table at the Anchor River Inn. Oh, they'd all come to Alaska to get away from America. The difference between their rants and the Koch Brothers? They were poor. All they could do was pound their fists and have their coffee refilled. The Koch Brothers are worth $36 billion each. Yes. Combined, they are worth $20 billion more than the Permanent Fund.
In campaigns during 2012, 17 groups enjoying tax-exempt status with ties to the billionaire brothers spent $407 million. That's a lot of money to push your ideology. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's craptastic 5-4 decision that check-writing is free speech, this is now our norm. Before you holler that unions can do the same, the Kochs' contribution was higher than all union spending on campaigns in federal, state and local races combined.
So far in this election cycle, $1.1 million of Koch money has been spent on Alaska television ads. (I realize the stations like this, but they don't require integrity. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case this year being argued by a Republican outfit that says they have the right to lie in advertising.)
The Koch Brothers have also been active in shaping the politics of Alaska through their funding of the American Legislative Exchange Council. That organization's attacks on voting rights, public schools, health insurance policy and reproductive fairness for poor women are all underwritten with Koch Bucks.
The Koch brothers have other interests in Alaska. They've done business here for years. This week, while buying more than $100,000 in attack ads opposing health care, they announced plans to close the Flint Hills refinery in Fairbanks. This has huge effect on not just the city of Fairbanks' tax rolls, and 80 employees' jobs, but it may put cargo planes in a pinch without jet fuel. And what will the railroad do with nothing to fill all those tank cars? This is far-reaching and we're going to feel it (although it won't amount to a pimple on a pea under the mattresses of the Koch brothers).
Our Washington, D.C., delegation and the governor all made sure to let Alaskans know they thought this closure was a bad idea. Funny that some candidates for U.S. Senate, namely Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell, are seemingly mute. They want Koch money to run ads on their behalf during the general election.
Koch got your tongue, fellas?
As bad as closing the refinery will be for our fellow Alaskans in the Interior, what the Koch brothers are doing to our state through other means is actually much more damaging. They inherited more than money from their father, who built 15 oil refineries for Stalin before moving to America. Daddy was an active opponent of Social Security and the New Deal.
The Koch's disdain for public education, voting rights and (other people's) personal property (they're happy to use eminent domain to snatch rights-of-way for their pipelines) are percolating in our co-opted state legislature. (See, if you don't vote the way that benefits them, they run someone against you.)
Charles Koch ran an opinion column a few years ago that bashed the government for picking and choosing winners. "There are now businesses and entire industries that exist solely as a result of federal patronage. Profiting from government instead of earning profits in the economy, such businesses can continue to succeed even if they are squandering resources and making products that people wouldn't ordinarily buy."
Really? This right after they landed an $85 billion contract with the federal government and raking in billions in federal ethanol subsidies.
Unfortunately, the Koch Brothers aren't leaving Alaska. They'll be here telling you who to vote for, what schools to pay for, who should have voting rights and whether to provide health care for poor people.
Shannyn Moore is a radio host on 1480 AM in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.