The Libre Initiative: A Koch-Funded Group Being Passed Off As Empowering Hispanics

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Fox News is passing off the Koch-funded Libre Initiative as a grassroots organization founded "to empower Hispanics" and advance "liberty, freedom and prosperity." In reality, the group urges Hispanics to support policies that experts say go "against their own interests" and "disenfranchise Hispanic voters."

The Libre Initiative was founded in 2011 and claims to be a "non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advances the principles and values of economic freedom to empower the U.S. Hispanic community." The group "has a presence in eight states" and "plans to expand to Wisconsin and North Carolina this year and increase its staff by about 30 percent ahead of 2016."

Fox has portrayed the group as the product of "a coalition of Hispanic leadership organizations." But Libre is staffed by veteran Republican operatives, and the group has received over $10 million in funding from oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. Libre has admitted its message "aligns more with Republicans" and "with the principles and ideas of Charles and David Koch."

The group promotes the agenda of people like the Kochs at the expense of Hispanics. Libre opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which helps Hispanics get health insurance. They oppose a federal minimum wage increase, which would help more than 6.7 million Hispanics. They support voter ID laws that serve "to disenfranchise Hispanic voters." They've joined Fox News in pushing misinformation about "illegals" and immigration. Libre has also campaigned against politicians that support immigration reform due to those politicians' support of the Affordable Care Act.

In this report about the Libre Initiative and the media:

Fox News Presents Libre As Representing And Empowering "The Hispanic Community"

Fox News has repeatedly endorsed and portrayed Libre as a pro-Hispanic grassroots group even though Libre takes positions that experts say hurt Hispanics. Fox has also regularly failed to mention that the group is actually staffed by Republican Party veterans and receives heavy funding from the Koch brothers. For example: 

Fox News: Libre A Product Of "Hispanic Leadership" That's "Advancing Liberty, Freedom And Prosperity." Fox & Friends Saturday co-host Juliet Huddy began a February 18, 2012, segment by saying "a coalition of Hispanic leadership organizations announcing a brand new initiative for Hispanic and Latino Americans. The goal is to increase economic freedom by putting forth a free market message." On-screen text claimed Libre is "advancing liberty, freedom and prosperity." During the segment, executive director Daniel Garza claimed the group was started because of a "groundswell within the Hispanic community." Fox did not mention Libre's Republican or Koch connections.

Fox: Libre Was Founded "To Empower Hispanics." A July 12, 2013, Fox & Friends segment promoted the #MsLIBRE initiative, Libre's conservative response to the Obama campaign's Life of Julia campaign. Co-host Gretchen Carlson told viewers to visit Libre's website to learn more. On-screen text during the segment said the group was "founded in 2011 to empower Hispanics" and is "inspiring women to be self-reliant." The segment also encouraged viewers to "learn to be libre" and "live like a #MsLibre now." Fox did not mention Libre's Republican or Koch connections.

Fox News Presented Libre As The Voice Of "The Hispanic Community." Fox News presented Libre as representing the views of "the Hispanic community" during a December 10, 2013, report about the ACA. Reporter Peter Doocy said on America's News HQ that the ACA Spanish website was launched late "and that's something that the Hispanic community apparently noticed." Fox then ran video of Libre executive director Daniel Garza claiming the Obama administration has "sort of marginalized or, you know, shoved" Hispanics to the side. Fox did not mention Libre's Republican or Koch connections. 

Experts: Libre Is "Trying To Get People To Vote Against Their Self-Interests"

While Fox News has presented Libre as empowering Hispanics, the group campaigns for policies that would hurt Hispanics. As UCLA political scientist Matt Barreto said, Libre is "definitely trying to get people to vote against their self-interests."

Libre opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which helps Hispanics obtain health insurance; opposes a federal minimum wage increase, which would help more than 6.7 million Hispanics; supports voter ID laws that serve "to disenfranchise Hispanic voters"; and campaigns against Democrats who support immigration reform because of their support for ACA.  

Libre Opposes ACA, Which Has Decreased The Uninsured Rate For Working-Age Hispanics. Think Progress noted that Libre has been campaigning against the Affordable Care Act, which has "decreased the uninsured rate for working-age Latinos from 36 to 23 percent."

"They're just not seeing the benefit [of health care reform]," [National Coalitions Director Michael] Barrera said of Latino Americans. "And actually, support for it among Hispanics has dropped considerably."

The data, however, suggests otherwise. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the Affordable Care Act has decreased the uninsured rate for working-age Latinos from 36 to 23 percent, with young and low-income people benefiting the most. And in states that chose to expand Medicaid, the uninsured rate for Latinos decreased from 35 to 17 percent. The study's authors wrote: "The full implementation of the ACA...has the potential to be one of the most important developments affecting Latino health care."

Barrera is correct, though, that the support for Obamacare has declined. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that just 42 percent of Latinos currently have a favorable view of the law, down from a high of 73 percent in 2010. But they remain much more supportive than non-Hispanic white Americans, only 29 percent of whom approve of the law. Furthermore, social scientists Matt Barreto and Gary Segura have found that the souring view of the law isn't because it goes too far, as LIBRE claims, but because it doesn't go far enough. 67 percent of Latinos they surveyed believed everyone should be eligible for coverage regardless of citizenship status, while 74 percent favored a public option. [Think Progress, 9/30/14]

Hispanics Have The Highest Uninsured Rate Of Any Racial Or Ethnic Group. Pew Research wrote that "This year, one-in-four (25%) Hispanics lack health insurance, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group, according to the Current Population Survey's March 2014 Annual Social and Economic Supplement. About 14% of the general U.S. population is uninsured." [Pew Research Center, 9/26/14]

UCLA Professor: Hispanics "Have The Most To Benefit From Health Care Reform." The El Paso Times interviewed UCLA political scientist and pollster Matt Barreto, whose clients include Univision Noticias and National Council of La Raza, for a February 2014, article about Libre. Barreto, formerly of the University of Washington, argued that Libre is "definitely trying to get people to vote against their self-interests":

Garza claims to be speaking in the interest of Hispanics, but in opposing Obamacare, he's flying in the face of Hispanic opinion, said Matt A. Barreto a political scientist at the University of Washington. Barreto directs the Washington Poll and studies political participation by minorities.

"There's overwhelming support for a government role in health care among Hispanics -- it's probably the highest of any group," Barreto said Friday. "It's also the group with the greatest percentage of uninsured. They have the most to benefit from health care reform."

[...]

Barreto was asked if the Libre Initiative is a Hispanic twist on the tea party groups.

"I would say that it's definitely something to get people to vote against their own interests," he said. "I don't know if it's the same sort of rhetoric as the tea party -- the name calling and the divisiveness -- but they're definitely trying to get people to vote against their self-interests." [El Paso Times, 2/9/14]

Libre Opposes Minimum Wage Increases, Which Would Disproportionately Help Hispanics. Libre opposes minimum wage increases, calling it a "gimmick" that "will only harm people in the end."

However, the progressive Economic Policy Institute notes that "Increasing the minimum wage would substantially benefit both minority and nonminority workers" -- 24.6 percent of workers who would be affected are Hispanic. The AFL-CIO wrote in 2014 that "more than 6.7 million Latino workers would be helped by raising the minimum wage to $10.10." University of Maryland associate professor Stella M. Rouse wrote that "43.3 percent of Latinos were employed in jobs earning poverty level wages (compared to 23.4 of whites and 36 percent of African Americans)." 84% of Hispanics support raising the federal minimum wage, according to Pew Research.

Libre Supports Voter ID Laws That "Disenfranchise Hispanic Voters." The Libre Initiative supports voter ID laws. During an October 27, 2014, appearance on Fox News, Libre spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy called such laws "important ... for our democracy and our freedoms."

The Atlantic legal analyst and editor Andrew Cohen wrote in 2012 that "the larger purpose and effect of the [voter ID] laws is to disenfranchise Hispanic voters, other minorities, and the poor -- most of whom, let's also be clear, vote for Democrats." Department of Justice lawyers noted that in Texas, "according to the state's own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification."

It is difficult for many Hispanics to obtain voter ID. New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice wrote in a July 2012 report that "500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. People of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by these laws since they are less likely to have photo ID than the general population."

In 2014, Libre Ran Campaigns Against Pro-ACA, Pro-Immigration Reform Politicians. Griselda Nevarez, a reporter for the Hispanic-American site VOXXI, wrote in September that Libre "is going after Democrats who are strong supporters of immigration reform":

The ads go after six members of Congress--all Democrats--for supporting the Affordable Care Act and "unnecessary spending" by the federal government. Among those attacked by the ads are Reps. Joe Garcia of Florida and Pete Gallego of Texas.

[...]

Robbie Sherwood, executive director of ProgressNow Arizona, also criticized the ads. He said the ads take aim at Democrats who back immigration reform--an issue that the LIBRE Initiative strongly supports--and end up benefiting candidates who only support immigration enforcement.

"They're looking to punish people who actually support their one signature issue that they say they support in favor of politicians who don't want to touch immigration reform with a ten-foot pole," Sherwood said in an interview with VOXXI, referring to the LIBRE Initiative.

Garza defended his group's decision to run the ads, saying the purpose of the ads is to show that there is a significant percentage of Latinos who oppose more government spending and increasing the role of government.

He also said the purpose of the ads is to highlighting how Latinos across the country are having a tough time making it from paycheck to paycheck. He said many Latino families are seeing their daily costs rising while their incomes are falling.

When asked why his group is going after Democrats who are strong supporters of immigration reform, Garza shifted the conversation to how the Democratic Party's agenda and policies on immigration are hurting the Latino community. [Voxxi, 9/26/14]

Libre Helps Fox Push Misinformation About "Illegals" And Immigration

Fox Used "Illegals" Slur During Libre Segments. Libre guests have participated in immigration segments in which Fox News referred to undocumented immigrants as "illegals." The Associated Press instructs its journalists to not use "illegals" and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has criticized using "illegals" as a noun since "Using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed."

Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade began an October 27, 2014, segment by fearmongering that "illegals" could tip the midterm elections. Libre national spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy did not refute Kilmeade, instead suggesting such voting could have an impact nationally. A September 2014 Fox & Friends segment with Campos-Duffy used on-screen text with the "illegals" slur, stating: "Border Battle; 130K illegals crossed border since last Oct."

"Very Important": Fox And Libre Hyped Dubious Study Claiming "Illegals Voted Between Two And Six Percent Over The Last Two Elections." In October 2014, political scientists at Old Dominion University released a study estimating roughly two to six percent of votes were by non-citizens in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Conservative media, including Fox News, picked up the study to fearmonger about undocumented immigrants.

Kilmeade picked up the study for an October 27, 2014, segment, claiming that "illegals voted between two and six percent over the last two elections," and the study "reveals a significant number of noncitizens casting votes alongside real citizens right here in the United States come election day." Campos-Duffy suggested she agreed with his conclusion, replying that such voting could have "national implications" and it's "very important." 

But academics have raised substantial questions about the study, and a co-author even backed away from part of the conclusion.

Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik noted that "Paul Gronke of Reed CollegeJohn Ahlquist and Scott Gehlbach of the University of Wisconsin, and Rick Hasen and Michael Tesler of UC Irvine express[ed] doubts that they made their case." Tesler questioned the study's "methodological challenges" in a blog at The Washington Post, and noted that "a number of academics and commentators have already expressed skepticism about the paper's assumptions and conclusions" which seemed to be "tenuous at best." Hiltzik also noted that the study's co-author "has already backed off his eye-catching conclusion about the potential for noncitizens affecting the Senate."

The Reno Gazette-Journal fact checked claims about the study and concluded that "it's a lone study on a controversial subject with data that even the authors admit is not ideal. It's fodder for discussion but not for fears of election fraud."

Libre Spokesperson's False Claim: Obama Silent About Unaccompanied Minors, "Personally Responsible For Whatever Violence Or Rape" Happens. During a July 5 appearance on Fox News' Huckabee, Campos-Duffy falsely claimed President Obama hadn't said anything to discourage unaccompanied minors from entering the country. She said: "I hold [Obama] personally responsible for whatever violence or rape, whatever has happened to these children on the journey up here. And also the deplorable conditions in these detention centers. This was entirely predictable. And through his silence, he has incentivized over the last two years this increasing number of children coming up here unaccompanied. He's responsible for it."

She later added "over the last two years, we saw this increasing number of children coming unaccompanied -- he had an obligation as a president and frankly as a parent to get on television, speak with the leaders of those countries, to stop children from coming alone ... there's just no excuse for the president not doing something."

Campos-Duffy's claim that the president was silent and "not doing something" is false. Obama said in a June 27 ABC News interview that "our direct message to the families in Central America" is "Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they'll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it." Obama gave a June 30 speech in which he said, "I've sent a clear message to parents in these countries not to put their kids through this. I recently sent Vice President Biden to meet with Central American leaders and find ways to address the root causes of this crisis.  Secretary Kerry will also be meeting with those leaders again tomorrow.  With our international partners, we're taking new steps to go after the dangerous smugglers who are putting thousands of children's lives at risk."

While Campos-Duffy laid the blame for the crisis on Obama, PolitiFact noted that "Many of the factors behind the surge of children lie outside the control of the administration," such as violence, unfounded rumors, and ineffective governments in Central American countries. 

Libre's Senior Staff Are Republican Party Veterans

Libre's senior staff includes professional Republicans who worked for the Bush White House, Republican National Committee, and numerous Republican politicians. The organization's executive director, Daniel Garza, ran for Congress as a Republican the year prior to founding Libre. Garza has admitted Libre's message aligns "more with Republicans" and they may "benefit" from his group.  

Libre Executive Director: "Our Message Aligns More With Republicans." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

In an interview at St. Anthony High School, Garza stressed that Libre is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, not affiliated with a political party.

"Our message aligns more with Republicans because it's conservative and libertarian, and if Republicans benefit, so be it," he said. [Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel, 2/23/14]

Libre Grew Out Of The Bush Administration. Garza has attributed the launch of the group to working in the Bush administration. Garza said on CSPAN in October 2014: "I served in the Bush administration at the White House and I served with a lot of folks that were very talented. I think had vast capacities who we felt we could leverage their talents and their voice ... we helped to launch [Libre]."

Libre's Senior Staff Is Made Up Of Republican Party Operatives. Here's a brief overview of the Libre Initiative's senior staff and their ties to the Republican Party:

Executive Director Daniel Garza. Garza served in the Bush White House from 2001 to 2006. In 2010, he unsuccessfully ran in the Republican primary for Texas' 15th Congressional District. Garza also worked for Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA).

Chief Operating Officer & Chief Of Staff Andeliz Castillo. Castillo worked for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the House Republican Leadership, and the Republican National Committee.

National Strategic Director Jose Mallea. Mallea worked for Bob Dole for President, Jeb Bush for Governor, George W. Bush for President, and Marco Rubio for Senate. He also served in the George W. Bush administration.

National Field Director Mario J. Beovides. Beovides worked for Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), the Republican Party of Florida, and Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo.

Communications Director Brian Faughnan. Faughnan worked for Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).

Marketing Director Judy Pino. Pino worked in the George W. Bush administration, and for the Republican National Convention.

National Spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy. Duffy is a parenting author who is married to Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). 

Libre Is Backed By Over $10 Million In Koch Funding

The Koch brothers have given the Libre Initiative over $10 million in funding since its founding, according to available public documents. Libre, which isn't required to publicly disclose its donors, has said they "fully embrace" their association with the Koch brothers, and "we do align very much with the principles and ideas of Charles and David Koch."

The Kochs are responsible for "a broad network of nonprofit groups that control hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into politics." During the 2012 elections, their network reportedly raised over $400 million for conservative causes. Politico reported that the Koch network "has in many ways surpassed the reach and resources of the" Republican National Committee, and they plan on spending nearly a billion dollars for the 2016 elections.

Libre Has Received Over $10 Million In Koch Money. In September 2011, Garza told the Center for Public Integrity that he approached "representatives of the Koch family" for funding, but declined to say whether they committed any funds. However, CPI reported that "Two GOP operatives familiar with the initiative say Garza told them he has already secured commitments for about $1 million -- including funds from Koch family interests."

Libre has received over $10 million in Koch funding through Freedom Partners and TC4 Trust, according to a Media Matters search of public IRS documents:

  • Freedom Partners gave Libre $9,312,000 between 2011 and 2013, according to the group's IRS 990 forms. [FreedomPartners.org, accessed 2/9/15; accessed 2/9/15; accessed 2/9/15]
  • TC4 Trust gave Libre $693,000 from 2011-2012, according to the group's 990 form.

Politico has called Freedom Partners the "Koch brothers' secret bank" which serves "as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the mysterious Koch brothers." The group's board includes several senior members of Koch Industries, Inc.

TC4 Trust, which is now defunct, served as a conduit for Koch money. ProPublica reported that TC4, along with Freedom Partners, were "[a]t the top of the network" of the Koch's complex web of non-profit distribution.

Libre Says It "Fully Embrace[s]" Its "Association" With The Kochs. In an October 2014 appearance on CSPAN, Garza was pressed by a viewer to explain the group's connections to the Koch brothers. Garza responded by acknowledging Libre is "associated with Freedom Partners" and "the association with Mr. Charles Koch and Mr. David Koch, I fully embrace it. I align with their values and what they're trying to do." From the appearance:

GARZA: We are associated with Freedom Partners. We very much align with a lot of the principles and the ideas of other organizations like AFP, Americans for Prosperity. Citizens For A -- Concerned Veterans of America. So I don't have any -- I don't apologize for advancing the principles of economic freedom, of the free market, to try to advance more prosperity to the Latino community through the free market. That is what made America strong and prosperous and we will continue to do that. And the association with Mr. Charles Koch and Mr. David Koch, I fully embrace it. I align with their values and what they're trying to do. These are successful Americans who achieved great things, who created 70,000 high paying jobs in their own company and then of course indirectly provide a lot of jobs to other Americans and contractors, you know, through their association. So I don't know what her [CSPAN viewer] objections are about the Koch brothers, but we're proud to associate with Freedom Partners.

Garza also said on CSPAN that "we do align very much with the principles and ideas of Charles and David Koch." 

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