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Classic Koch: How California's Prop. 32 Could Enrich Two Billionaires

They are the moneyed heads of a sophisticated and organized political machine that serves to back one thing and one thing only—their profits.

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The Kochs’ most conspicuous foray into California politics—prior to their Prop. 32 support –came in 2010, when the Koch Industries subsidiary Flint Hills Resources donated $1 million to  support Proposition 23. Had voters ratified it, Prop. 23 would have overturned California’s landmark climate change prevention statute, AB 32. Flint Hills didn’t chip in out of climate change denial. The company has a substantial investment in Canadian tar sands oil, whose extraction and consumption creates a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint. Robust clean emissions standards, Koch Industries complained on its website, “would cripple refiners that rely on heavy crude feedstocks.”

In addition to their attempts to cripple the state’s environmental laws, the Kochs seem to have a keen interest in opening up California’s waters to new offshore drilling. The Koch-backed American Future Fund, which supplied the recent $4 million lump-sum to Prop. 32, is a vociferous  “drill, baby, drill” backer. In 2008, the group went after Colorado Congressman  Mark Udall in a series of ads for supposedly “blocking American energy” by refusing to support opening up protected waters for oil exploration. The pressure appeared to get to Udall, as he ultimately switched his position.

In August of 2008, the Koch-backed FreedomWorks organization also helped fund such  pro-drilling, proto-Tea Party outfits as the Sam Adams Alliance and DontGo Movement. The combined Astroturf efforts of these groups helped convince the U.S. House and Senate to lift longstanding federal restrictions on new offshore oil and gas drilling.

Had the British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico not occurred in 2010, forcing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (a  major recipient of Georgia-Pacific campaign contributions) to rescind his efforts to open up California waters to new oil exploration, there’s a good chance the Koch’s national efforts would have been successful here too.

Now, with lessons of the BP spill two years in hindsight, the idea of offshore drilling in California has resurfaced. Koch Industries recently donated $5,000 to the Congressional campaign of Santa Barbara Republican  Tony Strickland—who, in various campaigns over the years, has  routinely advocated opening up waters off the coast of California to  drilling.

Though they don’t yet appear to have their feet in the door financially, there’s no reason to suspect that, with their army of lobbyists at the ready and history of campaign contributions in the state, the Kochs couldn’t maneuver to profit off of California’s offshore oil.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Koch Industries took advantage of California’s public resources.

Georgia-Pacific, for instance,  leases public land along the San Joaquin River in Northern California. In 2011, it was discovered that, for years, the understaffed California State Lands Commission failed to monitor and appropriately raise rents on Georgia-Pacific’s lease as well as other public properties under their watch. This error cost taxpayers a cool $8 million. Such are the benefits of small government.

Georgia-Pacific has also taken advantage of taxpayer-funded  worker training subsidiesprovided by California’s Employment Training Panel. Between December of 2005 and December of 2007, Georgia-Pacific received $680,394 in taxpayer subsidies under the ETP program. One could attempt to explain these subsidies as the legacy of the previous owners–the Kochs  bought the company for $13 billion in 2005. But in 2009, Georgia-Pacific went back to the taxpayer well, requesting $25,200 to train workers at its San Leandro gypsum paper mill and Antioch wallboard plant.

The Koch brothers are no weekend fishermen when it comes to reeling in legislators and government officials. They are the moneyed heads of a sophisticated and organized political machine that serves to back one thing and one thing only—their profits. Since 2010, the brothers have reportedly sank anywhere from $2.5 to $20 million into developing an advanced  conservative voter database called Themis—which, by many press accounts, was crucial in defeating the effort to recall Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker.

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