Obama Calls Out the Koch Bros. – “You are not grassroots”

Posted on February 29, 2012


Organizations like our homegrown Fraser Institute and the USA’s now-notorious Heartland Institute have long pretended to be “think tanks” although existing in reality as nothing more than front groups lobbying for right-wing and business interests, characteristically producing nothing in the way of new research on any topic.  Of course, the absence of new research is unsurprising since they spend nothing of their funding on actually creating new knowledge, preferring instead to produce a non-stop stream of propaganda documents on behalf of their well-heeled special interest funders. 

They are clearly not “think tanks” except within the Orwellian newspeak that most of them practice.

To speak of newspeak, another term these propaganda organs are fond of is “grassroots.”  Ethical Oil, whose very name is a newspeak oxymoron, and which has been shown to be a Conservative Party front group with oil company connections, recently came out in favour of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, claiming to be a “grassroots” organization.  However, given that they were spending huge sums of money on media ads, it was legitimate to ask where they were getting their money from.  When asked point-blank, whether Ethical Oil was funded by oil companies, the spokesperson ducked the question. 

 Again and again.

 Grassroots?  I don’t think so.  In fact, phony “grassroots” organizations fronting for industry are so common a part of the political landscape that there is even a name for them:  astroturf groups.

 Below is a letter sent by the Obama administration to a typical astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, established by the oil billionaire Koch Brothers but claiming to be a “grassroots” organization.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dear Mr. Ellender:

I am writing in response to your letter, in which you portrayed the oil and gas executives you represent as average citizens trying to make their voices heard. Having built a campaign across the country from the ground up, one in which we encourage all Americans to engage in the political process, I believe that is an admirable goal.

But it is a cynical stretch to describe the political activities of your employers as furthering democracy when they are courting huge checks from special interest donors to pay for negative ads, with no public disclosure of the identity of those donors.

You argue that Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization of everyday citizens. But its emphasis on rolling back environmental protections and blocking a clean energy economy appears to be nothing more than an effort to promote the corporate interests of your employers and others who lavishly, and secretly, fund its operations.

Moreover, the negative ads AFP has run have been challenged as false by independent fact checkers.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that in 2010, Koch Industries and its employees marshaled hundreds of thousands of dollars behind the election of their Republican allies on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who have pursued their interests in Congress. In fact, nine of the 12 new Republicans on the committee signed AFP’s pledge to oppose President Obama’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases.

And now it’s been reported that your employers and those close to them intend to spend $200 million in an attempt to defeat the President. You note in your letter that Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members and contributors from all walks of life across the country, suggesting that this is the source of AFP’s funding. There is one way to verify your point: disclose those donors for the public to make that judgment.

What is known about the Kochs’ agenda and business practices would give most Americans pause. According to the Kansas City Star, Koch Industries has enriched itself by keeping oil off the market, storing it in offshore tankers and waiting to cash in when the cost of oil rises. The Koch brothers have also been vocal critics of the administration’s investments in clean energy alternatives. Our energy strategy cannot be set by what’s best for the pocketbooks of politically-connected oil and gas executives. It must be driven by what’s best for the American people, our economy, and our energy security.

In your letter, you expressed the Kochs’ concerns about debt. We share your concern. That is why the President introduced a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion and put us on a path to solvency. The Kochs must be concerned about the tax and budget plans the Republican candidates have proposed. Those plans would add trillions of dollars to the deficit by massively increasing defense spending to an arbitrary level, and extending and expanding unaffordable and unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

There is no campaign in the country that believes more in the active participation of Americans in the electoral process than this one. When you attempt to drown out their voices through unlimited, secret contributions to pursue a special-interest agenda that conflicts with what’s best for our nation, you must expect some scrutiny of your actions.


Jim Messina

Campaign Manager

Obama for America


Posted in: environment, politics