America’s Favorite Billionaires

The Koch Brothers Exposed

Robert Greenwald (2014)

Film Review

The Koch Brothers Exposed examines the myriad of ways America’s favorite billionaires are using their inherited wealth to make themselves the dominant players in the US political system.

Their father Fred Koch made his fortune in the 1920s by helping Stalin establish the Soviet oil industry. On his death, Charles and David Koch used their inheritance to found Koch industries, the second largest privately* held corporation in the US. It has holdings in oil and gas, coal, paper products, plastic and consumer goods.

Koch Industries is notorious for breaking environmental laws (and other crimes, such as stealing 2 million barrels of oil from Indian reservations**). They have paid millions in fines in seven states for criminal pollution. Thanks to their generous campaign donation, George W Bush reduced the 97 counts in one federal indictment to one count – lowering their fine from $370 to $20 million.

Their Georgia Pacific plant in Crossett Louisiana, which discharges toxic chemicals to natural streams (illegal under the Clean Water Act), is responsible for more than a dozen cancer deaths. Yet instead of stopping the toxic discharges and cleaning up the streams, the Koch brothers bribe Republican politicians (through campaign donations and other perks) to weaken and discredit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the entity responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act.

Determined to roll back the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the minimum wage, labor rights, electoral financing reform, environmental protection laws and federal and state workplace safety laws, the brothers have spent more than $80 million creating and funding conservative and libertarian think tanks and Astroturf organizations – such as Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party. They are also the primary funders, along with Exxon, of the climate denial movement.

They provided the financial backing in the Citizens United case***, in addition to sponsoring the attendance of two Supreme Court justices at an Americans for Prosperity conference. The prior involvement of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in this Koch brothers group posed a clear conflict of interest. Both had an ethical and legal obligation to recuse themselves. Obviously they didn’t.

The Koch brothers are also major funders and backers of Canada’s tar sands industry and the Keystone pipeline, as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The latter writes model legislation for state legislators to use in creating vote suppression, labor rights and workplace safety legislation, as well as laws promoting anti-immigrant campaigns and prison privatization.

Meanwhile the Koch Foundation uses educational grants to over 150 cash-strapped colleges and universities to influence their educational policies. The grants are always conditional, ie dependent on hiring professors who share the Koch brothers conservative philosophy.


*A privately owned corporation is one in which partners provide the capital and share the profits, as opposed to publicly owned corporations in which shareholders provide the capital and share in the profits.
**Charles and David’s younger brother Bill blew the whistle on this operation in 1999.
***Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a constitutional law case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations and labor unions. According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, a major agenda behind the decision was to retroactively decriminalize extensive past donations the Koch brothers had already made to Republican campaigns – in other words to keep them out of jail.

How Citizens United* Kept the Koch Brothers Out of Jail

The video below is an interview with Investigative reporter Greg Palast regarding his 2012 book Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps. Palast is best known for exposing the fake “ex-felon” scrub list that illegally disqualified tens of thousands of law abiding Florida African Americans from voting in the 2000 presidential election.

According to Palast, the real agenda behind the Citizens United decision was to keep the notorious Koch brothers** out of jail for illegal corporate donations they had made to Republican campaigns. In other words, the ruling decriminalized extensive lawbreaking by the Republican Party’s favorite billionaires. Apparently it’s was no accident that Ted Olsen, the Citizens United attorney, also happens to be legal counsel for Koch Industries.

The Koch Brothers’ Long History of Flouting the Law

As Palast reveals at the beginning of the interview, he was an FBI investigator prior to becoming an investigative journalist. During the late eighties, he was directly involved in investigating Charles Koch for illegally siphoning oil (beyond what Koch Industries had paid for) from Indian reservations. According to Palast, the FBI had videos of the whole operation, as well as numerous witness statements, including one from David and Charles’ younger brother Bill. The US attorney in Oklahoma went so far as to file an indictment against subject 67C (their code name for Charles Koch), when Koch leaned heavily on Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles (Rep 1988-2005) to have the federal prosecutor replaced and the indictment quashed.

With the possibility of criminal prosecution off the table, brother Bill Koch filed a civil lawsuit over the oil theft under the False Claims Act. The latter private plaintiffs to sue, on behalf of the government, companies and individuals which have defrauded it.

In December 1999, the jury found that Koch Industries had stolen oil it didn’t pay for from federal land, and the company paid a $25 million settlement to the federal government.

The FBI next turned its attention to 350 criminal violations of environmental law, mainly due to faulty pipelines dumping oil sludge into rivers. After George W. Bush became president in 2000, the US Justice Department dropped 88 of the charges. Two days before the trial, Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed to a plea bargain. The company pled guilty to falsifying documents. All major charges were dropped, and Koch and Ashcroft settled a civil lawsuit for a fraction of the criminal penalty.

The FBI – and Congress – Investigate Illegal Corporate Donations

Next on the FBI list of crimes was the smear campaign Koch Industries secretly funded, through the Campaign for Our Children’s Futures. This was in 1994 when corporate campaign donations were still illegal. The campaign, caused 25 incumbent Democrats to lose their seats, which meant Clinton lost Congress in the 1994 midterm election and again in 1996.

The illegal campaign donations were funded through an entity called Triad Management Services. Senator Fred Thompson, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee attempted to undertake an investigation into Triad. According to Palast, it was shut down the same day (ethically challenged) Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a deal with President Bill Clinton not to investigate his illegal campaign donations from the Indonesian billionaire James Riady.

*In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that setting limits on campaign expenditures on corporations and labor unions violates their first amendment right to free speech.

**The Koch brothers are major funders of several conservative think tanks and lobbies, such as the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, the CATO Institute, and right wing Astroturf groups, such as the Campaign for America’s Future, the Campaign for a Fair Economy and the Tea Party). They’re also the major beneficiaries of the Keystone Pipeline

Greedy Lying Bastards

greedy lying bastards

Greedy Lying Bastards

 Craig Rosebraugh 2013

 Film Review

The subject of the new documentary Greedy Lying Bastards is the multimillion dollar climate denial industry, which filmmaker Craig Rosenbraugh blames for the world’s failure to agree an international climate treaty. The title roles are played by Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, David and Charles Koch, who run Koch Energy, APCO, the same public relations company responsible for the phoney research and spin portraying smoking as perfectly safe, and Bonner and Associates, the astroturf* specialists who started phoney climate denial groups and forged letters to Congress from fictitious senior citizens.

As APCO themselves admit, they’re in the business of selling doubt. It only takes three seconds for a paid lobbyist to make an assertion denying any link between burning fossil fuels and extreme weather events. It takes fifteen minutes for a climate scientist to lay out the evidence disputing the assertion, especially when the corporate media neglects to disclose their so-called expert is a paid lobbyist. The great majority of climate deniers paraded by the media aren’t even scientists, much less climate scientists.

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2011) by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway expands further on the science of marketing doubt.

Greedy Lying Bastards details how the release of so-called Climategate emails (which were doctored to suggest climate scientists had fabricated research) was deliberately timed to sabotage the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference. The principal aim of the conference was to draw up a new international climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Accord when it expired in 2012.

Thanks to Climategate, Kyoto expired without being replaced by a new treaty. The corporate media chooses not to report on the ten independent investigations that cleared the so-called Climategate scientists of any wrongdoing.

The film also highlights the 2010 Citizens United decision (which effectively decriminalized illegal corporate donations the Koch brothers had made to Republican candidates) and likely judicial misconduct on the part of Clarence Thomas. Thomas should have recused himself from the Citizens United decision. He had a conflict of interest, as the Koch brothers paid for him to attend a four day retreat of the (Koch brother funded)  Federalist Society in 2008.

The film has some profoundly moving scenes of the personal misery caused by climate related catastrophes – specifically wild fires, super storms and rising sea levels that are swamping Pacific islands. And a priceless cameo of David Koch discussing his views on climate change.

*The late senator Lloyd Bentson is credited with coining the term “astroturf lobbying” to describe the synthetic grassroots movements manufactured by public relations firms.

The New Plymouth Green Party will be hosting the New Zealand premier of Greedy Lying Bastards some time in June. A digital version can be rented for $3.99 from Amazon