March 16, 2018; Boston Globe
Charles and David Koch are going to “extraordinary lengths,” according to an article this weekend in the Boston Globe, to spread the message to Latinxs in Florida about the “tax benefits” of the Republican tax plan, the key priority for the billionaire brothers. Their plan seeks to “woo swing-state” Latinx voters, who are among those who will ultimately suffer most from the plan.
This is not the first time that NPQ has written about this courting of that voting bloc by the Koch Brothers in Florida. In January, NPQ’s Jim Schaffer profiled the Koch-funded Libre Initiative and its sister nonprofit, the Libre Institute. Schaffer noted that the two groups are “seeking to roll out social services to help migrants, with the hope that they can also ‘educate people about the principles that are close to our hearts,’” as David Velasquez, deputy state director for Florida for the Libre Institute puts it.
In 2016, the two Libre groups had a combined budget of $13.5 million. (The Koch network seeks to increase funding tenfold.) Their task is to provide Latinx-friendly programming like résumé writing, English-language classes (the most popular), and immigration issues, where they highlight the differences between them and the president (e.g., support for DREAMers, arbitrary caps, and lack of support for an end to family reunification, or the more negative “chain migration”). They avoid many of the issues that Latinx organizations, like UnidosUS, highlight as important to Latinxs: e.g., the rise in the cost of health care and cuts to safety net programs, like food assistance.
The organizations also provide what they call “seminars” but are really political education. The tax bill events focus on highlighting the comparably meager savings low-income families will receive from the recently passed federal tax cut bills. For example, a person making $35,000 a year will save $1,050 in taxes; after all, as Omar Santiago, a participant at one of the new Koch-funded town halls hosted by the Libre groups, says, “Who doesn’t want more money in their pockets?” Boston Globe reporter Annie Linskey elaborates, “They’re not just selling the tax cut, they’re providing a host of Spanish-language events infused with the free market, limited government philosophy the Kochs hope will appeal to [Latinxs]—and help them look past the many offensive comments made by the president.”
Though the nonprofits stay clear of explicit partisan politics for this tax-exempt work, the states they chose for their efforts—in addition to Florida, there’s Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and New Mexico—are “politically important states that have had close elections.” Libre doesn’t register people to vote. Instead, it requires all participants to its events to provide contact information, ostensibly to build deeper relationships. According to Linskey, while “the Kochs are swimming upstream in this effort,” anecdotally it seems they’re making some inroads; as another participant, Carlos Hernandez, says, “You build a network.”
Puerto Ricans are particularly important because they can vote in the US and an estimated 300,000 have moved to the Sunshine State since Hurricane Maria. Trump won Florida by 120,000 votes in 2016, and his life-and-death inadequate response to Puerto Rico is well-documented by US media. Nevertheless, Linskey writes, “This effort is being eyed with some measure of concern among Democrats in the state.” While Latinxs are well aware of the president’s anti-immigrant zeal, Mayia Belloli, a participant from Colombia, may reflect shared sentiments when she says that Republicans “hold more family values.”
Linskey concludes that the Kochs are “playing the long game” with “their tangle of nonprofits, super PACs, and politically oriented nonprofits.” And this rings true; another article last week in The Root, reveals that the Koch brothers are also behind the educational nonprofit Bill of Rights Institute, “a 501c3 nonprofit educational organization that works to engage, educate and empower individuals with a passion for the freedom and opportunity that exist in a free society.” The nonprofit provides social studies educational resources reporter Michael Harriot writes are “free of cost…right-wing brainwashing.”
What it really is, is an education arm of a network of right-wing charities funded by the ultraconservative Koch brothers in conjunction with a number of other conservative philanthropic individuals and organizations. It takes millions of dollars in donations and claims to have taught the Bill of Rights to more than five million students and 50,000 teachers, including directly training 22,000 educators through its constitutional seminars.
The lessons stress limited government, religious freedom, free-market economics and—worst of all—a revisionist version of the history of slavery that paints it as a necessary evil to further freedom and democracy.
Harriot notes that while “according to the New York Times, the Kochs planned to spend close to a billion dollars on the 2016 election cycle, more than the entire Republican National Committee…it is the Koch brothers’ quiet philanthropic efforts that garner them the most bang for their buck. They use foundations and corporations to funnel their money to organizations under the cover of anonymity.”
Like Linskey, Harriot notes that the Koch brothers are pushing their political agenda through nonprofits.