Koch Brothers Feel the Heat In DC, as Broad Coalition Readies Creative Action to Quarantine the Billionaires Gathering in California Desert

As the right-wing Koch brothers get ready for their billionaires' strategy session in Rancho Mirage, Calif. on Sunday, Jan. 30, big questions are being raised in Washington about the Kochs' relationship with radical conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Charges of conflict-of-interest -- particularly in the infamous Citizens United decision that opens the floodgates to anonymous corporate money in elections -- have been raised by Common Cause. Both Scalia and Thomas have admitted, according to a newspaper in Palm Springs, to speaking at private dinners hosted by Kansas oil tycoon Charles Koch, who, along with his brother David, has funded a wide array of right-wing causes and spent many millions on behalf of right-wing candidates.

Common Cause, led by former congressional member Bob Edgar, with the irrepressible Robert Reich as chair of the board, has taken a leadership role in a broad, unprecedented coalition organizing the gathering and rally in the desert on Sunday. (Click here for information about the protest.) In addition to Common Cause, groups working the event range from the California Courage Campaign and California Nurses Association to the more rambunctious CodePink and the Ruckus Society. The broad coalition is testament to the fact that the Koch brothers, via dozens of fake groups and money funnels, have poured millions into efforts to undermine and block many issues important to a wide array of constituencies, including aging people, union members, environmentalists, and those fighting against corruption and for good government principles that enhance democratic processes. Especially infuriating to many were efforts to undermine campaign finance laws and unleash unlimited corporate money in elections via the Citizens United decision.

Quarantine This Corporate Sickness

The protester network is using the metaphor of sickness spreading across America to explain the impact of the Koch brothers and their co-conspirators. According to their press materials, "Families are in crisis. Jobs are down, foreclosures are up and folks are struggling to make ends meet. The middle class is under attack. For the first time ever, families in America don't believe their children will have a better life than their parents. This infection of the body politic is driven by a handful of big corporations and greedy billionaires like the Koch brothers."

The activists urge people to be "Be part of the cure! Help us quarantine this corporate sickness and stop it from spreading further and deeper into our democracy."

"Our take is that Americans are suffering," said Mary Boyle of Common Cause. "They're out of jobs, losing their homes, unable to afford health care and worried about the future. Meanwhile, an elite few like the Kochs are taking tighter control of our government by tapping vast corporate profits to influence public policy."

What exactly is going to happen at Rancho Mirage is a closely held secret. There will of course be a public meeting with top talkers like Reich, Van Jones and DeAnn McKewan of the California Nurses Association. And there will be a peaceful march. But with creative activists like John Sellers of the Ruckus Society, local officials, who by all accounts have been extremely cooperative, will be on their toes. (Sellers was once arrested and held for $1 million bail in anticipation of protests at the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia.)

As reported by Clare O'Connor at Forbes.com, "Part of Common Cause's agenda is pushing for campaign finance reform, so the Koch brothers and their ultra-rich peers can no longer get away with anonymous spending. Boyle cited the midterm elections, when the Kochs spent untold millions on right-wing candidates and causes. Publicly, only about $3.9 million can be traced to the brothers, some of it via their oil conglomerate Koch Industries. However, they may have given far more: the advocacy group David founded, Americans for Prosperity, gave $45 million toward Republican candidates and causes, but senate legislation means the group isn't required to disclose its donors. (David was at the opening of Congress earlier this month to witness the results of AFP's contributions.)"

O'Connor notes that "Common Cause's invitation for the rally refers to the Kochs' event as 'the Billionaires Caucus' and if the guest list from their last meeting is any indication, it will indeed be a Who's Who of Forbes 400 power players. According to a letter Charles Koch sent out to invitees, the last summit was attended by Phil Anschutz, Blackstone's Steve Schwarzman, Amway's Rich DeVos, Citadel's Ken Griffin, and Ken Langone, Home Depot's original investment banker."

The Koch Industries dinner appears to be one of many secretive right-wing gatherings where conservative justices schmooze with corporate donors and Republican operatives. Lee Fang of the Center for American Progress has uncovered more events attended by conservative Supreme Court justices, including events at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank in New York that produces right-wing policy papers as well as sponsoring speeches for judges and Republican politicians. In 2008, Justice Thomas headlined the Manhattan Institute's Wriston Lecture; last October, Justice Alito was the headline speaker for the same event.


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