April 24, 2018

Cortez Masto: Kochs' Dark Web of Money Flows Through the LIBRE Initiative to Deceive Latinos

“The Koch brothers and their web of dark money organizations like LIBRE are deceiving Latinos and supporting the very same politicians who are working against Latino families.”

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor to shine a light on the Koch brothers’ work to spread falsehoods aimed at undermining American democracy. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:  

There’s an old saying that, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” But what about other things? What about free Spanish-language driver’s education classes? Free backpacks, notebooks, pencils, and school supplies in the month before school starts? Free financial wellness workshops? Free turkeys on the week before Thanksgiving?

These things were all given away at events hosted by the LIBRE initiative, a self-described grassroots organization dedicated to a “free and open society.” The events were held in Latino communities throughout the country, including Las Vegas, Miami, and Orlando. People attending these events were asked to fill out a questionnaire.

  • Questions included: “Are you more likely to vote for a Republican or a Democrat in the 2016 election?”
  • “Do you feel the government should increase or decrease federal spending in order to improve the economy?”
  • “What is your name, email address, and telephone number?”

People had to hand over their personal data in exchange for the free stuff. So the stuff wasn’t really free after all. But close enough, right? In a career spent as a prosecutor, I’ve learned one thing: always follow the money.

If you follow the money just one step back, you learn that LIBRE is a shell organization funded by Charles and David Koch, two of the most powerful men in American politics. Charles and David Koch are the owners of Koch industries, a massive energy company that manufactures, distributes, and refines petroleum. Koch industries is one of the largest privately held companies in the nation, with estimated annual revenues of over $100 billion.

What does all this mean?

It means the Koch brothers are two very, very rich men. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what is wrong is the way the Koch brothers use their money: to hijack our democracy for their own benefit. The Koch brothers are self-described “radicals” who believe that the government should play no role in Americans’ lives.

The Kochs believe in a world with no Medicare; no social security; no federal minimum wage; no public programs that support families when they fall on hard times; and no rules preventing Koch Industries from polluting our air, drinking water, or our public lands. The Koch brothers hate environmental regulations because Koch industries is one of the top ten worst polluters in the United States.

Fewer environmental regulations means the Koch brothers can obtain bigger financial gains. To keep their empire afloat, the Koch brothers are not just polluting our environment. They’re polluting our political system. And they’re polluting our airwaves with false advertising.

The Kochs want Americans to believe that climate change is a conspiracy, despite the global scientific consensus that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels. Why would they want to cast doubt on scientific fact?

Because the Kochs sell and burn fossil fuels for a living, and they believe protecting our environment is bad for their bottom line. To protect their bottom line, the Kochs funnel money through a network of non-profit organizations, foundations, and shell companies. These companies lobby the government, produce fake research reports, and run ad campaigns to manipulate and deceive the American people.

Buying a democracy does not come cheap, but the Koch Brothers are not stingy. In 2010, the year Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics, the Kochs spent $125 million to support Republican candidates who pledged to roll back environmental and consumer protections.

Since the 2010 elections, their influence has grown. They’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars supporting candidates who spread lies that climate change is a conspiracy; that immigrants cause crime; that more money in the Koch brothers’ pockets means more money in yours.

And now, the Koch brothers have big plans for the upcoming 2018 election. They have announced that they will spend $400 million in the upcoming election cycle—their largest midterm election investment yet. Much of that money will be spent directly targeting Latinos through advertisements, events, and workshops.

The Koch brothers think they can buy the Latino vote, just like they’ve bought the votes of the House Freedom Caucus and so many Republican politicians. But despite what their ads say, the Koch brothers are not advocates for the Latino community. They are advocates for more money in their own pockets. Nothing more.

The Koch brothers have supported some of the most anti-immigrant politicians in America, including Louis Gohmert, Mike Pompeo, Steve King, Russel Pierce, and Kris Kobach. These are the men responsible for policies like Trump’s Muslim Ban and Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070.

The Koch brothers support politicians who want to end government funding for Planned Parenthood. If they get their way, Latinas would be hurt the most. More than 23 percent of Planned Parenthood patients are Latinas. Latinas are more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than women in any other racial or ethnic group. Planned Parenthood gives them access to annual screenings, so they can stay healthy and cancer free.

The Koch brothers support school choice, which they say gives Latino families more freedom in how they educate their kids. But school choice vouchers take money out of the public school system—causing many Latino kids whose parents can’t afford private schools to fall behind. And the Koch brothers are close allies of Betsy Devos, our current Education secretary. Her claim to fame is her role in dragging Michigan’s public education system to the bottom of national rankings and leaving thousands of students without access to a quality education.

To make matters worse, the Kochs are working to undermine access to health insurance for working people. Latinos are less likely to have health insurance than any other racial or ethnic group. Without health insurance, a trip to the ER can result in a bill so expensive that a family can’t pay their rent for months.

Organizations like LIBRE will tell you that their agenda is designed to promote freedom and self-sufficiency. They put out propaganda implying that Democrats don’t believe in “freedom” because we believe that government has a role in protecting access to affordable health care, clean water, air, and quality schools.

The Koch Brothers love freedom. But their freedom is to pollute our rivers, streams, and our air.

Democrats believe in a different kind of freedom:  the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water. The freedom to walk away from a trip to the ER without a medical bill that costs more than what you make in a year. The freedom to walk into Planned Parenthood, and walk out with information you need to make your own reproductive choices.

We don’t believe in the kind of freedom that allows Charles and David Koch to pull the strings of our democracy.

How can anyone call that freedom at all?

What the Koch brothers and their web of dark money organizations like LIBRE are really doing is deceiving Latinos and supporting the very same politicians who are working against Latino families.

So this year, as the Koch brothers are pulling out their checkbooks to fund their disinformation campaign, follow the money. Follow the money to find out who’s paying for the glossy ads you see on TV. Follow the money that flows through LIBRE and other Koch-backed organizations to politicians who vote against immigrants, Dreamers, and refugees.

The Koch brothers have spent millions of dollars funding Tea Party candidates in Congress, the main obstacles to immigration reform. What good are school supplies, driver’s education classes, and free health checkups if parents of American citizens are getting deported; if schools in our communities are being gutted; and if community health clinics are closing their doors?

The Latino community in Nevada, and communities of color across America, are strong, resilient, and diverse. We will not be fooled by false advertising. So many of our family members came to this country because they knew what it was like to live under the rule of oligarchs and elites. They came here because they wanted to have the freedom to pursue their dreams.

Charles and David Koch want to buy Latino votes. Buy our voices. Buy our democracy, which folks like my dad, Manny Cortez, worked all their lives to protect. But I believe in the wisdom of the American people. I believe in the wisdom of our voters who will fight the lies – just like they did in Nevada two years ago.

I’ve seen the Kochs’ power and influence first-hand. They spent $10 million trying to defeat me in 2016. They threw millions into LIBRE to buy off Latino voters in Nevada. But they failed because Democrats in Congress continued to beat the drum and make voters aware of the lies.

And I’ll keep fighting to do the same in the Senate.