Why Media Should Be Skeptical Of Koch Brothers' New Anti-Poverty Group

››› ››› PAM VOGEL

Officials from the Koch brothers' funding arm have announced a new "venture philanthropy" project called Stand Together, with aims of "strengthening the fabric of American society," and focusing on "poverty" and "educational quality," according to USA Today. Media should know that: previous Koch-backed poverty and education efforts have been coupled with ideological proselytizing, Stand Together's executive director is a Koch veteran and former Republican congressional candidate who repeatedly fearmongered about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the group's top collaborator is associated with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's sham "anti-poverty" efforts.

Koch Officials Announce New Initiative To "Make A Real Difference In People's Lives"

USA Today: "New Group Will Take On Poverty, Educational Quality." A January 29 USA Today article reported that top officials in the Koch brothers' "empire" confirmed the launch of Stand Together, a new nonprofit "venture philanthropy" effort that will aim to address "social problems." The group's "initial efforts will focus on poverty and educational quality," and the group will be run by Evan Feinberg, a long-time operative for Charles and David Koch:

The political and policy empire controlled by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch is building a non-profit wing its leaders say will work to address deep-seated social ills and "revitalize civil society." Its initial efforts will focus on poverty and educational quality.

The organization, known as Stand Together, is still in its start-up phase but aims to raise $15 million this year, top officials told USA TODAY in the first interview about the new organization. Organizers described Stand Together as engaging in "venture philanthropy" aimed at "strengthening the fabric of American society."

"The sole purpose of Stand Together is to make a real difference in real people's lives by actually solving the problems they have," the group's executive director, Evan Feinberg, said.

He said the group won't veer into policy fights but instead initially plans to focus on partnerships with private groups addressing social problems, such as gang violence and high recidivism rates.

Koch aides have worked internally for nearly a year on Stand Together, but the group will make its first public splash this week -- launching its website and broadly sharing its plans as an annual winter seminar for hundreds of Koch donors opens Saturday near Palm Springs, Calif. [USA Today, 1/29/16]

CNN Quoted Koch Official Saying Stand Together Would Try To Win Over Voters. CNN reported in September 2015 that a senior Koch official originally portrayed Stand Together as a "major effort" to win over "the middle third of voters":

Evan Feinberg, who since 2013 was the executive director of Generation Opportunity, the youth engagement arm of the Koch Brothers' political network, departed the organization in June. He will now lead a new group to be called Stand Together for America. Feinberg's move is the most high-profile loss in what people familiar with Generation Opportunity describe as a string of senior level departures that are roiling the nonprofit group.

[...]

A senior director within the Koch network said the group would be a "third leg" of the Kochs' organization focused on winning over moderate voters, along with voters generally disengaged from politics. Donors were briefed on the group at the last two conferences organized by Freedom Partners, the umbrella funding organization at the heart of the network.

"The goal of it going forward is reaching out to what is termed the middle third of voters," said the senior director. "It's going to be a major effort." [CNN.com, 9/1/15]

Koch-Funded Initiatives And Organizations Support Policies That Hurt The Poor

Koch-Backed "Libre Initiative" Purports To "Empower Hispanics," But Pushes Policies That Would Disproportionately Hurt Poor Hispanics. Libre Initiative, backed by more than $10 million in Koch funding, purports to "empower Hispanics," but experts say the organization supports policies that "disenfranchise Hispanic voters" and opposes programs that would help millions of Hispanics living in poverty. Libre opposes the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and minimum wage increases, both of which would disproportionately benefit the Hispanic community, especially those living in poverty, and supports voter ID laws that would "disenfranchise Hispanic voters, other minorities, and the poor." [Media Matters, 3/2/15]

Politico: Kochs' "War On Poverty" Comes With "A Side Dish Of Conservative Proselytizing." A December 2015 Politico report detailed the tactics of a new program housed under the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity Foundation called "Bridge to Wellbeing," which targets poor communities with social programs accompanied by an ideological push opposing federal poverty alleviation programs. The article opened:

The political operation created by the billionaire conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch is quietly investing millions of dollars in programs to win over an unlikely demographic target for their brand of small-government conservatism âۥ poor people.

The outreach includes everything from turkey giveaways, GED training and English-language instruction for Hispanic immigrants to community holiday meals and healthy living classes for predominantly African American groups to vocational training and couponing classes for the under-employed. The strategy, according to sources familiar with it and documents reviewed by POLITICO, calls for presenting a more compassionate side of the brothers' politics to new audiences, while fighting the perception that their groups are merely fronts for rich Republicans seeking to game the political process for personal gain.

The efforts include a healthy dose of proselytizing about free enterprise and how it can do more than government to lift people out of poverty. [Politico, 12/14/15]

Kochs Seek To Weaken Teachers Unions And Push Their Ideology On College Campuses

Koch-Backed Center For Individual Rights Is Challenging Teachers Unions At Supreme Court. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Koch-funded Center for Individual Rights is representing 10 California public school teachers challenging the state teachers union's ability to charge agency fees to cover the fair share of bargaining benefits for those who choose not to join the union. Some media have noted that the case could severely weaken all public-sector unions, as well as teachers unions specifically. Research shows strong teachers unions benefit students as well as local communities. [Media Matters, 1/11/16, 12/22/15]

Center For Public Integrity Investigation: Koch Higher Education Donations Come With "Strings Attached." A 10-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that Koch-led charitable foundations donated "more than $19.3 million across 210 college campuses in 46 states in 2013," and that these donations often had "some strings attached," such as targeting donations to fund specific classes or positions for specific faculty members affiliated with the Kochs' political leanings, requiring students in Koch-funded classes to provide email addresses to the Charles Koch Foundation, or asking institutions to consult the foundation prior to speaking to the press. The investigation concluded, "The Koch brothers use donations and key connections to amass clout on college campuses. The money often helps forward their political goals and to build a 'talent pipeline' of libertarian-minded students" (emphasis added):

During 2013, a pair of private charitable foundations Charles Koch leads and personally bankrolls combined to spread more than $19.3 million across 210 college campuses in 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Internal Revenue Service tax filings.

That represents a significant increase from the $12.7 million the Koch foundations distributed among 163 college campuses in 41 states and the District of Columbia during 2012. It's also exponentially more than what the Koch foundations together spent directly on higher education a decade ago.

The Center for Public Integrity reviewed hundreds of private documents, emails and audio recordings that, along with interviews with more than 75 college officials, professors, students and others, indicate the Koch brothers' spending on higher education is now a critical part of their broader campaign to infuse politics and government with free-market principles.

[...]

The Kochs' giving, however, has a laser-like focus on a specific, politically relevant discipline -- free market economics -- unmatched by other political mega-donors. Koch officials routinely cultivate relationships with professors and deans and fund specific courses of economic study pitched by them.

Detractors argue the Koch brothers' college-focused money, by helping advance a philosophy of economic liberty, is eroding a fundamental aspect of higher education: academic freedom. [Center for Public Integrity, 10/30/15]

In 2014, Koch Donations To Higher Education Reached New High. The Center for Public Integrity reported in December 2015 that the Koch philanthropic arm had further boosted its donations to institutions of higher education in 2014, according to new tax documents. [Center for Public Integrity, 12/15/15]

Stand Together's Executive Director Ran Fearmongering Anti-Obamacare Media Campaign And Touted Extreme Positions In Failed Congressional Run

Feinberg Published Op-Eds In Numerous State Newspapers As Part Of Campaign To Scare Young People Away From Enrolling In Obamacare. During the 2013-2014 Obamacare enrollment period, Generation Opportunity, a youth-focused Koch brothers initiative headed by Feinberg at the time, placed an op-ed by Feinberg in several state newspapers in Florida, Michigan, California, and Wisconsin, discouraging young people from enrolling in federal exchanges under the ACA and calling the law "a total rip-off." Before that, in September 2013, a fearmongering Feinberg op-ed had run in more than six states, pushing a series of debunked ACA myths to encourage young people to "opt out and purchase a non-Obamacare policy on the private market," and calling the Affordable Care Act "a bad deal for young people." [Media Matters, 1/15/14, 9/30/13]

Feinberg's Generation Opportunity Ran "Creepy Uncle Sam" Ads -- Deemed "Irresponsible And Dangerous" -- To Deter Millennials From ACA Enrollment. In 2013, MSNBC reported on an "anti-Obamacare web ad" produced by Generation Opportunity, which featured a "creepy Uncle Sam" performing a gynecological exam on a young woman. Reporter Irin Carmon described the ad (emphasis added):

A young, blonde white woman is ushered into a doctor's office by a grim-faced black nurse, and then left alone in the doctor's office, feet in stirrups, by a similarly unsmiling doctor. A maniacal Uncle Sam emerges between her legs, wielding forceps. (Or, as the official text puts it, "Creepy Uncle Sam.") The tagline flashes: "Don't let government play doctor."

No, it's not ill-advised pro-choice agitprop - it's a right-wing campaign to get young people to "opt out" of signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. (In the male version, a Ken-doll like young man curls up for a prostate exam as Uncle Sam wiggles plastic-gloved fingers.) As Yahoo News reported this morning, Generation Opportunity's plan is to hit 20 college campuses and to spend up to $750,000 on the campaign, as "part of a coalition of right-leaning organizations with financial ties to billionaire businessmen and political activists Charles and David Koch." It's the grassroots counterpart to defunding Obamacare in Congress, the battle currently tearing Republicans apart, since part of the Affordable Care Act model is to get young, uninsured people to sign up to offset the new costs, or risk the penalty of a small fine.

[...]

"It is hard to tell if this is real or if it's a 'Saturday Night Live' parody about the hypocrisy of extremists who want to be in every exam room in America but don't want to expand access to quality health care," said Eric Ferrero, vice president for communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "These are the same extreme Koch-funded political groups who have tried to pass transvaginal ultrasound laws and other laws allowing politicians to interfere with people's personal medical decisions. These videos are the height of hypocrisy, but more importantly they are irresponsible and dangerous, designed to spread misinformation and discourage people from getting access to high quality, affordable health care." [MSNBC.com, 9/19/13]

Feinberg's 2012 Congressional Campaign Called For Repeal Of Obamacare, Elimination Of Key Federal Programs, And Abolishment Of Four Federal Agencies. A policy paper released by Feinberg's failed 2012 Pennsylvania congressional campaign called for the elimination of the federal departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as 233 federal programs. Among the programs Feinberg proposed cutting back or moving under state control were public housing, rental assistance, the economic development administration, the minority business development agency, public health and emergency preparedness programs, several nutrition programs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Labor Relations Board, and workforce investment funding. Feinberg's plan also called for the "immediate repeal" of Obamacare. [Evan Feinberg For Congress, accessed via PoliticsPA on 2/1/16]

Feinberg Was Endorsed By Koch-Founded FreedomWorks PAC In Congressional Campaign. According to an archived version of Feinberg's campaign website from his 2012 bid for a Pennsylvania congressional seat, he was endorsed by the Koch-founded FreedomWorks PAC, which cited Feinberg's "deep commitment to fiscal responsibility." [EvanFeinberg.com, archived from 4/14/12, accessed 2/1/16]

Stand Together Is Also Affiliated With Paul Ryan Sham "Poverty Plan" Supporter Bob Woodson

USA Today: Group Will "Team Up With Bob Woodson," Prominent Conservative And Ryan "Anti-Poverty" Ally. USA Today reported that Stand Together will "team up" with prominent conservative figure Bob Woodson, who has close ties to Speaker Paul Ryan and his right-wing media-fueled "anti-poverty" push (emphasis added):

In one of its first ventures, the group will team up with Bob Woodson, a prominent black conservative who trains grass-roots leaders as president and CEO of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. Woodson, an architect of President George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives, has traveled with House Speaker Paul Ryan to poor neighborhoods around the country as Ryan seeks support for a new "battle plan" in the war on poverty.

[...]

Woodson said he finds Koch's "philosophy and operating principles ... 100% compatible with the way we help the poor."

"All liberals talk about is protecting a failed safety net. I don't know how having a safety net gets you out of poverty," he said. "What makes Koch unique is that he is the only person with money that has come to us and not dictated to us what we should do but wants to help us build on what we already do." [USA Today, 1/29/16]

Mother Jones: Woodson -- Ryan's "Anti-Poverty Guru -- Thinks "Real Source Of Social Ills" Is "Moral Failings." In a May 2014 profile, Mother Jones reported on the extensive ties between Woodson and Ryan, dating back to when Ryan was 22 years old and worked with conservative former Sen. Jack Kemp (R-NY). Reporter Stephanie Mencimer highlighted Woodson's conservative views on federal poverty alleviation programs and belief in "self-reliance" as a tool to combat poverty in communities of color:

Woodson has been called one of the godfather's (sic) of President George W. Bush's faith-based initiative, which Woodson helped inspire when Bush was still governor of Texas. In the tradition of Booker T. Washington and other champions of African-American self-reliance, Woodson is a conservative who believes in the need for low-income and minority communities to help themselves. He thinks that the real source of social ills like crime, substance abuse, or out-of-wedlock births isn't racism, poverty, or inequality but rather moral failings.

Ryan has been crossing paths with Woodson since he was 22, when they both worked in various capacities with Jack Kemp, the Republican congressman from New York who dubbed himself a "bleeding heart conservative" and who was known for his outreach to minority communities.

Ryan reached out to Woodson in October 2012 as his vice presidential ambitions were imploding. Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percent" comments, denigrating nearly half the country as moochers on the government dole, were dominating the headlines. And those remarks were merely the capstone of a campaign that had experienced a number of cringe-worthy moments surrounding issues of inequality and the poor.

Since late 2012, Woodson has introduced Ryan to grassroots leaders around the country who are running programs that Woodson believes hold the key to solving the problems plaguing America's poor communities. Together, they have toured anti-violence programs in Milwaukee, drug-treatment centers in San Antonio, and foster care placement programs in Somerset, New Jersey.

Woodson believes that traditional, governmental approaches to poverty--such as welfare and federal disability--harm the people they're trying to help. He maintains that's because the government relies on elitists who claim to know what's best for the people they serve. "We must be open to accept a new brand of 'experts' whose authority lies in their effectiveness rather than in professional accreditation or advanced academic degrees," he wrote in his 1998 book, The Triumphs of Joseph (itals).

The concept sounds good in theory, especially to Republicans who are ideologically opposed to entitlement programs and government bureaucracy. [Mother Jones, 5/5/14]

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