Election 2016

10 Frightening Promises by GOP Senate Candidates Secretly Taped at Koch Brothers Summit

Excerpts show what's at stake in November if GOP wins control of both chambers of Congress.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was one of several top Republicans making promises to donors at the Koch brothers annual right-wing summit in June.
Photo Credit: www.mcconnell.senate.gov

When politicians talk, money listens. So it was this past June when Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and three other 2014 Republican senate candidates told the millionaires in Charles and David Kochs' anti-government network exactly what the return would be on their political investments if they bankrolled their electoral campaigns.

Politicians running for national office aren’t blunt. But from McConnell on down, these office holders and candidates made it clear that investing in the prospect of a Republican Senate majority would mean an end to immigration reform; a broad attack on regulations (at the EPA, SEC, IRS and others); gutting Obamacare; keeping student loan interest rates high; no minimum wage hikes; and no unemployment insurance extensions.

These were some of the promises made to donors, who were urged to bankroll “independent” front groups campaigning on their behalf, as revealed by a series of recordings obtained by several news organizations and published Wednesday, including transcripts, at the Nation, the Undercurrent, a YouTube channel, Huffington Post, LadyLibertine.net and Salon.

“I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you,” said Senator McConnell, speaking in June at the Kochs' annual retreat for wealthy right-wingers at the St. Regis Monarch Bay resort in Orange County, California.

Three other GOP U.S. senate candidates—Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Colorado’s Cory Gardner—also praised the Koch network for inspiring and underwriting their rise to lower office on their panels, saying that they were beneficiaries of the $400 million the Koch network spent in 2012.

What follows are excerpts from transcripts of their remarks, including comments from a session for donors to U.S. senate campaigns. That session, moderated by Jeff Crank, an ex-candidate turned political consultant for the Kochs, was unusually revealing, with Crank pushing the candidates to say they’d certainly remember who helped them get elected if they made it to the senate. The session began with Crank testing their commitment to a right-wing agenda.    

1. Will they be real right-wingers? Jeff Crank: “You know we have a range of donors here. Some are the sort of traditional Republican donors who give money to those sorts of causes, and others are more purist Libertarians, who question really the efficacy of getting involved in politics. And many, quite frankly, feel burned by supporting Republicans in the past. So, Tom, what would you say to those who are skeptical?”

2. A GOP Senate will stop Obama. Tom Cotton: “They [Democrats] claim that the House Republicans are the party of no....If we win six, or I hope seven, eight, nine Senate seats, in a smash victory, the kind the Democrats had in 2006, how can the President legitimately claim anymore that the problem is in the Congress? What he’s really saying is the problem is the people who elected that Congress and that Senate… That’s not going to sell with this electorate.”

3. I’ll do whatever you want me to. Joni Ernst: “The first time I was introduced to this group was a year ago, August, in New Mexico, and I was not known at that time. A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.

“So really, the folks in this room that got my start, so having folks that backed me in this election cycle and primary… .We were able to capitalize on my strong record in the state senate, rolling back taxes in the State of Iowa, removing burdensome rules and regulations, and doing the right thing for the Iowa people… It started right here with all of you folks, this wonderful network, and we’re going to continue that on through the general election. So thank, thank you so much for having me today.”

4. We’ll know you are bankrolling us. One of the biggest lies in politics is that candidates somehow don’t know the people and interests spending big money on their behalf. That charade is at the heart of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that watered down the legal definition of political corruption and expanded the electioneering role for front groups. At the Senate session, the moderator asked the candidates what front-group spending would work best for them.

Jeff Crank: “Now, this morning we heard from a lot of different presentations the opposition is throwing everything they have at holding on to the Senate… How are third-party groups in this network, particularly that are focused on issue (inaudible) and out mobilizing, mobilizing voters, how are they making a big difference? And uh, you know, cite some examples of that.”

Cory Gardner: “There were two people who were really excited when I announced for U.S. Senate. The first one was the station manager at Channel 9 in Denver because he knew the activity [TV ads] that would be taking place on the airwaves. The second one was somebody right on stage with us, Tom Cotton, because he knew some of the air war would be moving into Colorado….

The third-party efforts know that is what it’s going to take to win Colorado. We’ll raise somewhere between $10 and $12 million in my campaign. The—my opposition is going to raise somewhere between $15 and $20 million. But just the other day I heard the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee telling a reporter that they believe the race for Colorado will cost $75 million in total. So that’s the gap we need to make up by, by people from different parts of the country.

5. The goal is pushing the GOP to the right. Political donors, especially from the anti-regulatory corporate sector, want to know what the short- and long-term return is on their investment. That always leads to a patronizing dance between the donors and the recipients, which we see when the candidates talked about how the Koch network was bringing libertarian, anti-government values into the Republican Party and government at various levels.

Tom Cotton: “Americans for Prosperity [the biggest Koch-funded operation] in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state... That people who were not involved became voters in 2010, and became activists in 2012, and now they’re running for the county commission, or the state house, or the state senate. It’s that kind of sustained, continuous organization that third-party groups really can help.”

Joni Ernst: “We are setting the stage for Iowa as the first in the Nation’s caucus that all of our presidential hopefuls come to. We’re setting the stage in 2014 with a Republican victory, so that likelihood is in 2016 we can go red as a state and assist any Republican nominee from Iowa. So we’re setting the stage for the presidency.”

Cory Gardner: “If we win Colorado, we overturn the narrative the Democrats are trying to build about the interior Rocky Mountain states, that you can’t win statewide in the Rocky Mountain west anymore. We can defeat that notion. We can flip it upside down in Colorado by winning in 2014, making the pathway for whoever our nominee is in 2016. We can win Colorado. We can win Arizona. We can win New Mexico. The Rocky Mountain states, they’re not blue.”

6. No major immigration reform under GOP. Another concern of the Koch donors, echoing Crank’s opening remarks testing their right-wing credentials, is that once in office, Republicans will compromise in the guise of governing instead of sticking to ideology. In this reply, Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, a congressman, says that was former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s big mistake—particularly on immigration reform.  

Tom Cotton: “The major reason that Eric lost that race is as the Majority Leader... The specific issue that came up, that boiled to a head during his race was immigration, and he endorsed immigration principles and supported a version of amnesty. And we have the immigration crisis on the border because of the President’s administrative actions. And candidates like [Colorado Democratic Sen.] Mark Udall and [Arkansas Democratic Sen.] Mark Pryor voted for the Senate (inaudible) immigration bill.”

7. A GOP Senate will mean war on Democrats. In contrast to the senate candidates, Senator McConnell is in an entirely different league. He would become the Senate Majority Leader if the GOP held more than 50 seats after November. He told donors exactly what they would get from Republicans should they take control of both chambers in Congress, staring with a sweeping rejection of priorities and government programs long-embraced by Democrats.

Mitch McConnell: “In the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board... All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”

8. The GOP would oppose all social safety nets. Mitch McConnell: “We’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that's a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse. These people believe in all the wrong things."

9. The Supreme Court wants your money in elections. Mitch McConnell: “So all Citizens United [the Court’s 2010 campaign finance deregulation case] did was to level the playing field for corporate speech….We now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times. The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government.”

10. Government regulation is radical, not the GOP. Mitch McConnell: “This [Democratic Party belief in the virtues of government regulation] is an act of true radicalism. It shows how far they’re willing to go to quiet the voices of their critics…The IRS, the SEC and the FEC. They’re on a full-tilt assault to use the power of the government to go after their critics…

“The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold [campaign finance reform bill] into law in the early part of his first administration.”

These transcribed excerpts will not be entirely surprising to readers who have followed the right-wing’s political antics for years, from recent federal government shutdowns, efforts to overturn Obamacare in the courts, or attempts to drive moderate, compromise-inclined Republicans out of the GOP.

But they do show, clearly, what is at stake in the November 2014 election should the GOP win control of both chambers of Congress. In the first instance, the issue agenda is clear: end any government regulation that impinges on private profits or somehow create a safety net for the middle-class or poor. Looking further down the road, should these senate candidates win and McConnell become Majority Leader, one can easily imagine the newly open doors in Congress awaiting the GOP’s top patrons.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World