Democrats make demons of Kochs, and Alaskans shrug

It is a hoot to watch the political left, always prowling for new boogeymen to hate for fundraising purposes, as it hustles to chase down fresh victims. Take, for instance, its ginned-up war on the conservative Koch brothers. It is even more fun, despite the left?s herculean efforts, when Alaskans stare blankly and ask: Who?

A recent headline in Alaska Dispatch News, "New US Senate ads in Fairbanks invoke Koch brothers, but local resonance is unclear," indicates there is some of that disconnect going on in the City of Frozen Pipes.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Begich?s handlers have been spending money by the truckload to somehow link GOP Senate nominee Dan Sullivan to the billionaire Koch brothers -- Charles, 78, and David, 74 -- and the closure of the Flint Hills resources refinery in North Pole.

Flint Hills is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the nation?s second-largest privately held company, with refining and chemical operations in Alaska, Minnesota and Texas. It says increased operations costs, pricey Alaska North Slope crude oil, slipping profits and long-term liability associated with a sulfolane spill forced the refinery?s closure and the loss of perhaps 80 jobs.

The Kochs -- controlling a network of nonprofits pumping megamoney into the political process -- are demons for their efforts to destroy Alaska, Democrats say, and Sullivan is evil, too, because he has received campaign money from an organization with ties to them. The Kochs, if anybody cares, likely had little, if anything to do with the refinery closure decision.

This time, the accusations against the brothers are part of a $165,000 TV ad campaign in Fairbanks underwritten by a national firefighters union group, the IAFF FIREPAC. "These billionaire Koch brothers are killing Alaskan jobs, shuttin' down our refinery," Fairbanks firefighter Shayne Wescott says in the ad, and Sullivan, by golly, is not doing enough to stop them.

The problem? The ruse ain?t working.


Despite the continued spending, the ADN story by Nathaniel Herz reports, "Three area politicians said most residents have only passing knowledge of the Kochs and attribute the refinery?s closure to other factors." Herz quotes Democratic state Rep. Scott Kawasaki saying, "I don?t think that the general population really knows, in Fairbanks, who the Koch brothers are from anybody else. I wouldn?t know what they look like if they were in the same room as me."

That, apparently, is the case across the nation. The National Journal in March carried the headline: "Can Democrats' Koch Attacks Work If Nobody Knows Who They Are?" It said 52 percent of George Washington University Battleground Poll respondents said they had never heard of the brothers, with 11 percent more saying they had no opinion of them.

Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent, reporting this month on a new League of Conservation Voters and AFSCME poll, said Democrats supporting Michigan Congressman Gary Peters have been hammering the Kochs. Still, 33 percent of respondents never have heard of them.

The venom directed at the Kochs -- or their money -- springs from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid?s calculated, cynical and embarrassing war on them and Americans For Prosperity, founded in 2004 by David Koch. Reid?s rhetoric -- accusing the brothers of trying to "buy" America or being "un-American" -- approaches bombastic McCarthyism. The AFP?s rather Libertarian aims are to back candidates who support free markets, entrepreneurship, lower taxes and limited government -- anathema to the Reids of this world.

Why did Reid early on target the Kochs to run against as part of what BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski characterizes as an "almost pathetic" strategy? Easy. Politico reported in May that AFP "intends to spend more than $125 million this year on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives. ..."

Worse for Democrats, bags of that money are being directed against Begich, Reid?s guy in Alaska. Federal Election Commission records show the Begich-supporting liberal super PAC "Put Alaska First" got every penny of the more than $667,000 it raised in July from Washington, D.C.-based Senate Majority PAC. The super PAC, linked to Reid, has given "Put Alaska First" $4.6 million of its $5.1 million in funds this election cycle, the website Open Secrets points out.

It is increasingly clear why the Kochs drew Democrats? ire -- while nobody else seems to care. Because of that, we have not heard the last of the "evil" Kochs. Even in Alaska.

More correctly, I suppose, especially in Alaska.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, managing editor of the Anchorage Times, an editor of the Voice of the Times and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.