In the spirit of Sunshine Week, I want to honor two “accidental whistleblowers” that helped expose secretive plutocratic influences on our government: a Republican Florida state representative, Rachel Burgin, and the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. Sunshine Week, March 11-17, was the week we celebrated “the importance of open government and freedom of information,” which is essential for the success of any democratic-republic. Governments tend to be very secretive and don’t want the people to know what they need to know to make informed decisions.
When the government persists in needlessly denying the people’s “right to know,” we often rely on a whistleblower, like Mark Felt (Watergate) or Daniel Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers). We’ve always had individuals who at great personal and professional risk have decided that the public’s right to know was too important to remain silent.
On the other hand, there are those who really want to keep the public in the dark but accidentally let the sun shine in. Rep. Burgin and Gov. Christie are two such people. They helped to further expose the great influence that the billionaire Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have on our political and legislative system. The Kochs and ALEC are not our official government, and they don’t want the people to know how much control they have over our elected officials.
Here we are, supposedly out of the Great Recession but definitely still in the Great Jobs Depression. We need our elected officials focusing on modernizing our decaying infrastructure systems thereby creating vast numbers of jobs. Employing workers to build and rebuild our highways, bridges, dams, parks, public schools, electricity grids, factory and power smokestacks, et al. will help revitalize our economy now and in the future.
But all across the country, wherever we have states with Fox-Republican-TEA Party governors and legislatures, what do we see? Laws are proposed and passed that attack women’s rights, labor’s rights, public servants’ rights, teachers’ rights, gay rights, Hispanics’ rights, voters’ rights, and the public’s rights to clean air and water. Laws are proposed and passed that cut funding for education and cut corporate taxes. The middle class is under constant siege and is in retreat. What’s going on? Is irrationality in the water in those states? Is some madness-virus in the air? It may seem so, but that’s not the answer.
When I wrote about the growing significance of Charles and David Koch in January 2011, they each had $21 billion. Now, they each have $25 billion. As the rich get richer, their money comes from the rest of us. We are experiencing the widest gap between the haves and have-nots since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and the “Roaring Twenties,” which led to the Great Depression. The Koch brothers are working “behind the curtain” to return us to the past. That’s why I call them the Wizards of Was.
Koch money is a driving force behind a number of right-wing think tanks and organizations that concoct justifications to promote laissez-faire capitalism: an economic system in which the government gives handouts and incentives to Big Business with a hands-off policy – that means that it grants corporate welfare with no regulations, conditions, or accountability. The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute (formerly the Charles Koch Foundation), Americans for Prosperity, the TEA Party (the wealthy are Taxed Enough Already Party), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are all sponsored by Koch.
About 300 corporations, including Koch Industries and EXXON, use ALEC to “help” legislators write our laws. About one of every three state legislators pays a membership fee to join ALEC, which provides them legislative templates that promote corporate interests. Many laws ALEC wants enacted, such as anti-voter registration bills and anti-contraception/anti-abortion bills, are intended to suppress potential Democratic voters or to galvanize evangelical voters. This is intended to increase the number of the Fox-Republican-TEA Party representatives on the local, state, and federal levels. These legislators are then expected to pass other ALEC-written bills that benefit Big Business and the plutocracy (those who are very wealthy). Tax cuts for the wealthy, anti-worker bills, bills for de-regulating industry and finance, and anti-environment bills are typical.
Rachel Burgin, a state legislator in Florida, messed up. ALEC expects its members to tweak its templates to make it look like each legislator wrote it herself or himself. Ms. Burgin forgot to remove “American Legislative Exchange Council” and its mission statement from her Nov. 17, 2011, resolution to encourage the federal government to reduce corporate taxes. Within 24 hours she realized what she had done and removed her bill from consideration. She then re-submitted it without the tell-tale evidence of the real authors, but it was too late to hide the truth.
Gov. Chris Christie unintentionally called attention to a highly secretive strategy session of the American plutocracy. It was June 26 at the Koch Brothers’ 2011 Summer Seminar at a resort near Vail, Colorado. Between two days of television appearances, Christie sneaked out of his state without telling anyone. Governors are supposed to tell someone, like the lieutenant governor, whenever he’ll be out of the loop. Even a governor of North Carolina didn’t disappear without pretending to be “taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail.”
Nobody was ever supposed to know that he was the Koch brothers’ secret keynote speaker. David Koch introduced him by saying that after having a two-hour secret meeting with him months before, he found Christie to be “my kind of guy.” Christie’s job as keynoter was to fire up the plutocratic crowd to get them to pledge mucho bucks to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 anti-democratic but pro-plutocratic Citizens United ruling, that’s going to be a lot of money!
Neither Christie’s New Jersey constituents nor anyone else would have ever known about his clandestine mission had someone in the audience not secretly recorded his speech and leaked it to the media. Since we still don’t know who that someone is, we should give Gov. Christie credit for blowing the whistle on the Kochs and himself. If he did not possess such a gargantuan stature among the new Republican governors, the Kochs’ plutocratic 2012 election fundraiser-strategy session may never have been considered newsworthy enough for many people to have paid attention.
Some people know how much power the Koch brothers and other Wizards of Was have but don’t care. Others care about the decline of the American middle class but don’t know why it’s happening. So here’s a “thank you” to Rachel Burgin and Chris Christie for inadvertently shedding some light on why our democratic-republic has been regressing for the past thirty years into the plutocracy of yesteryear.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published March 24, 2012, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.