Following the Money: A Template for Oppression

David and Charles Koch Image courtesy of Forbes.com

David and Charles Koch
Image courtesy of Forbes.com

These days, it seems everyone is familiar with the billionaire conservative Koch brothers (to some level or another). Their influx of excessive cash into our political system has resulted in both the Tea Party as well as Citizens United. At their basic level, David and Charles Koch are libertarians who back measures which will allow them to conduct business with as minimal government regulation as possible.

So why have they spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the anti-choice cause? Especially considering they previously have donated large sums of money to stem cell research?

The answer is simple and shouldn’t be all that surprising: it’s good for business.

While the Kochs may not really believe in the rights of medically non-viable fetuses, by claiming this belief with organizations such as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, the Kochs gain access to far more support than they would if they limited their agenda to their primary cause of business deregulation.

A report by Adele M. Stan of RH Reality Check details the complex and secretive flow of millions of anti-choice dollars coming from the Koch brothers, which then go through pass-through organizations [also known as “secret banks” due to their 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) statuses], and eventually filter down to anti-choice organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), Americans United for Life Action (AUL Action), and the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC).

Just as important as the investigative details provided by Stan are the overarching implications of such behavior. We would be mistaken to view this flow of money as an isolated problem, unique to the reproductive health realm of human rights. Rather, this one instance is indicative of a larger problem. From reports like Stan’s, we can begin to build a template that helps us better understand both the mobilization of conservative voters and the subsequent disenfranchising of women, children, and many types of minorities.

When “philanthropists” or any sort of big spenders give money to politically driven (and overwhelmingly conservative) groups in order to forward their own agendas, they unleash such groups’ ability to spend as freely as they care to. Such spenders enable organizations which might otherwise struggle to gain footing, allowing them to better mobilize, advertise, self-promote, donate, and support candidates and campaigns. This generally ensures their political message will be widespread. These organizations, already apt at appealing to the religious beliefs of prospective supporters, can now use their wallets to do so as well.

The Kochs and others are opportunists. As was observed during a recent phone conference centered on Stan’s report, “[religiously driven voters] are going to take their pound of flesh, and the Koch brothers are happy to enable them.”

The collateral of these practices is truly devastating. At the feet of the Koch brothers, we see women stripped of their basic right to healthcare. When looking towards other areas of social justice, we should consider this: virulently anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a 501(c)(4) and currently under IRS investigation; almost half of the National Rifle Association’s programs are 501(c)(4)s; and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS [also a 501(c)(4)] spent over $20 million on ads during the 2010 Senate elections.

This all leads to the question: what can we do to stop this? The IRS is already looking into many of these organizations, but their progress is slow due to accusations this past summer that they have specifically targeted Tea Party aligned groups.

There is still work that can be done outside of the IRS by the public.

Research
Investigative research and reports like Stan’s help inform the public about the inner workings and manipulative behavior of donors like the Koch brothers. We need substantive details in order to understand the larger picture. Every time behavior like this is uncovered and thoroughly researched, we have another opportunity to better understand the way the system is being used to both profit the abusers and harm others.

For example, an emerging consistency is larger organizations starting “action” arms that are specifically 501(c)(4), while the organization as a whole remains a 501(c)(3).  Among others, the Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, Americans United for Life, and the Family Research Council do this.

Legal Fights
Organizations like Freedom Partners and CCAP have not always been able to keep their donors anonymous. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is the primary thing that allows corporations to file for tax-exempt statuses under which they do not have to reveal their donors. Applications for 501(c)(4) status more than doubled after this ruling. The 501(c)(4) Reform Act of 2013, which has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, would amend the 2010 ruling in hopes of ensuring that such corporations cannot heavily influence politics as they have been for the past three years. Urging support for this is essential.

Personal
Information is power. Ideally, people should look into a groups’ financials and inner workings before they give their money or any other form of support. This folds back into both the research and legal standpoints because the two are essential tools that promote the ability to make empowered decisions. It may be quite obvious, but the more widespread and available this information is, the more empowered people there will be.

Perhaps most important to take away from all this is to always remain curious and question the source of money—whether it is where it is coming from or where it is going, the devastating impact is undeniable.