The Koch’s Mission to Make Katrina Victims Pay for Their Own Flood Insurance

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When Congress passed the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, the goal was to keep the National Flood Insurance Program afloat after insurance payouts from several devastating hurricanes, including Katrina, left the program in debt. However, lawmakers did not foresee the legislation’s impact on Louisiana homeowners: sky-high flood insurance premiums for some of the same families that had already suffered through the “single most catastrophic natural disaster” in U.S. history. The Biggert-Waters Act hit some Louisiana families with annual premiums as high as $18,000 and threatened to destabilize the state’s property values and housing market.

Yet when Congress, backed by a wide bipartisan coalition, was preparing to halt the harmful effects the flood insurance hikes were having on Louisiana, the Koch brothers tried to intervene and kill the legislation. Their Tea Party-affiliated group, Americans for Prosperity, backed plans to end all federal flood insurance subsidies for property owners and preserve “the crux” of the faulty Biggert-
Waters Act despite its harm to Louisiana homeowners. Although opposition from conservative groups like AFP caused House leaders to delay a vote on the fix, Congress passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act in March 2014, staving off Biggert-Waters’ extreme premium hikes despite the Koch Brothers’ efforts.

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How Conservatives Took Over Wisconsin

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Wisconsin’s current political landscape looks wildly different than it did just a few years ago. Long a state with reliably Democratic leanings, everything changed in 2010 when conservative outside groups helped flip the state legislature and governor’s office from blue to red.

Led by Governor Scott Walker, the state’s new Republican leadership quickly set about imposing its extreme conservative agenda. They introduced an assault on collective bargaining rights that effectively cut public workers’ pay and destroyed their ability to negotiate over health coverage, safety, or sick leave. The severity of the bill prompted impassioned protests centered around the state capitol and forced Republican lawmakers to use underhanded measures to pass it without a single Democrat. Although a judge initially blocked the law because of the Republican tactics, it was reinstated by the state Supreme Court, which had maintained a conservative majority thanks to a narrowly re-elected justice whose campaign got significant support from right-wing interest groups.

In 2011, Republicans enacted one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country – although it was later placed on hold due to court challenges – as well as a Stand Your Ground-style gun law and a measure allowing concealed weapons in public parks, bars, and near schools. They also passed a budget cutting taxes for businesses and the wealthy, increasing the burden on low-income families, and slashing $800 million from K-12 education in a way that hit high-poverty districts the hardest. The next year, they passed an abstinence-only education bill and limited certain types of abortions. In 2013, Walker signed one bill forcing medically unnecessary ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and another – currently under injunction – imposing requirements that could force some of the state’s abortion clinics to close. So far this year, Republicans have stalled a minimum wage increase, interfered with local minimum wage laws, and further limited voting opportunities.

The unpopularity of Walker’s anti-worker bill sparked a movement to recall the governor, lieutenant governor, and several state senators. However, an all-out assault of cash and support from conservative groups helped nearly all of them survive their recalls. Just a few months after the final recall contests, thanks in large part to partisan gerrymandering that occurred after their 2010 victories, the GOP repeated its success in the 2012 general elections. The Republican Party’s good fortune in the Badger State wasn’t merely a mirror of the Tea Party wave that benefited Republicans across the nation in 2010; it was part of a strategy crafted on the national level and carried out with the cooperation of prominent conservative interest groups and donors, including Charles and David Koch.

The Koch brothers’ company heavily supported Walker’s 2010 campaign and spent on behalf of 16 Republican state candidates, all of whom won their elections. Yet the Wisconsin branch of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-founded and -financed group, made an even bigger splash, reportedly spending $10 million to support Walker’s policy agenda and buying ads during his recall election.

Along with the Kochs, the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation helped fuel the surge in Wisconsin by doling out money to a wide variety of conservative advocacy groups. As Bradley Foundation president Michael Grebe, who also chaired Walker’s gubernatorial and recall campaigns, put it, “In some way or another, most (local) conservatives, I guess, would have a connection to us.”

The state-based groups working to support the right-wing agenda include Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America (funded almost entirely by Wisconsin Club for Growth), Wisconsin Right to Life, the DeVos-linked American Federation for Children, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Driving the plot from the national level were the Republican State Leadership Committee, which planned and largely bankrolled a nationwide strategy to control redistricting, and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

According to news reports, a number of the above groups are involved in an ongoing investigation into whether they illegally coordinated with Republican candidates during Wisconsin’s recall elections.

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The Conservative Attack on Contraceptive Coverage

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Today, the Supreme Court will hear a new challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement. Two companies are arguing that obligating businesses to provide insurance plans that cover contraceptive services free of charge intrudes on their owners’ religious rights. A victory for the companies could open the door for any private for-profit employer to interfere with its employees’ health care on the basis of the employers’ personal beliefs.

In this case, the plaintiffs are challenging commonsense public policy. The costs associated with birth control interfere with women’s ability to use it consistently and effectively, leading to higher numbers of unintended pregnancies. That leads to more abortions and negative outcomes for mothers, babies, and families who do go through with an unplanned birth.

Allowing women to plan their pregnancies yields healthier babies, more stable families, and better economic and social outlooks for women. There’s also evidence that covering contraceptives saves insurance companies, employers, and taxpayers money; one study suggested that unintended pregnancies cost taxpayers $11 billion each year.

Yet leading conservative politicians and right-wing groups insist on slapping a scarlet letter on contraceptive care, painting this sound health care policy as a question of religious intrusion. According to Rep. Steve King (R-IA), for example, “preventing babies from being born is not medicine.” And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) insists that the controversy over women’s access to contraception “is not about women’s rights or contraception, this is about the religious liberties that our country has always cherished.” However, these Republican critics are out-of-step with the mainstream. Polling shows that 99 percent of women – including most Catholic women – have used birth control, and most women approve of the contraceptive coverage rule.

A look at some of the groups supporting the plaintiffs reveals their real priority: advancing a conservative culture war. Some of the parties weighing in against the mandate – the Family Research Council and the American Center for Law and Justice – are among the country’s most viciously anti-gay advocates. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents one of the plaintiffs, has board members with ties to right-wing interest groups and extreme views on Muslims and gay rights. The Susan B. Anthony List’s biggest issue is ending abortion, but it maintains a remarkably hostile attitude to family planning, with president Marjorie Dannenfelser betraying her extreme beliefs by pitting “religious freedom” against the “ideology of reproductive health care.” Phyllis Schlafly, who leads Eagle Forum, believes that “the feminist movement is the most destructive element in our society.” Groups like the American Civil Rights Union, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and Judicial Watch keep a more measured tone, but work through the legal system to further right-wing policies and legal interpretations.

Click here to read the full report.

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How Conservatives Took Over North Carolina

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Once a more moderate state amid the South’s sea of red, since 2010 North Carolina’s state legislature has pushed one of the most aggressive right-wing agendas in the country, advancing the interests of the Tea Party and big business at the expense of the middle class. Republicans in charge of the General Assembly have introduced legislation on a wide set of conservative priorities and managed to enact increasingly extreme policies. Republican lawmakers made it harder for minorities and students to vote, reduced a woman’s right to choose, opposed the minimum wage, slashed unemployment benefits, and gave tax cuts to the wealthy while raising them on the working class, small businesses, and seniors.

Republicans hold such power in North Carolina thanks to changes that began with the 2010 elections, when an influx of outside cash helped the GOP obtain control of both halves of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Their majorities gave them power over once-a-decade redistricting, and with assistance from national groups and Republican operatives, they redrew North Carolina’s federal and state districts in a way that all but ensured Republican victories in 2012. In the next election cycle, the state’s new districts and some additional outside spending delivered to Republicans the governor’s mansion, a majority of the state’s U.S. House seats, and a supermajority in the state House to complement the one they had earned in the state Senate in 2010.

The GOP’s success in North Carolina wasn’t merely a mirror of the Tea Party wave that benefitted Republicans across the nation in 2010; it was part of a strategy crafted on the national level and carried out with the cooperation of prominent conservative interest groups and donors, including the Koch brothers. Chief among these are the Republican State Leadership Committee, which planned and largely bankrolled a nationwide strategy to control redistricting; Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed group that made North Carolina a ‘model state’ for its political efforts; and the network of conservative North Carolina-focused super PACs and advocacy groups funded almost entirely by longtime political operative and Koch ally Art Pope. Using his personal, family, and business money, Pope created and sustains groups including the Civitas Institute, the John Locke Foundation, and Real Jobs NC, which collaborate on electoral strategy and public policy to advance conservative reforms.

After the 2012 election, North Carolina’s new Republican governor, Pat McCrory, repaid his political debts by appointing Art Pope to his cabinet, where he oversees the state budget. Then, with the assistance of Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, this conservative quartet began enacting the Tea Party’s wish list into law.

Other groups that played a role in North Carolina’s conservative takeover include Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and ALEC.

Download the full report here.

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Conservative Transparency: A Look At The Organized Right In 2014

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In the last election, conservative outside groups spent more than $800 million attempting to defeat President Obama and secure Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. The unprecedented flood of cash failed to produce results on Election Day, but right-leaning donors and conservative groups have not given up on their efforts to obstruct progressive governance and implement a right-wing agenda.

Heading into the 2014 midterms, the network of well-funded organizations that comprise the “conservative movement” is larger than ever. Led by Charles and David Koch, the conservative donor class has increased its investment in the think tanks and advocacy groups charged with formulating conservative policy ideas and electing a government that will implement them. However, while the Koch brothers are well known to most political observers, it can be difficult to keep track of all the relevant players.

Bridge Project is committed to keeping a watchful eye on the conservative movement – and Conservative Transparency, an interactive database that tracks the flow of money on the right, is central to that mission. In addition to documenting the reported political contributions of major individual donors, Conservative Transparency uses the publicly available tax filings of conservative foundations and charities to provide hard-to-find information about the money behind think tanks and politically active nonprofits that do not have to disclose the sources of their funding.

While the database is frequently updated as new information becomes available, we have compiled details about many of the main players on the right in this report to help paint a clearer picture of the conservative movement in 2014.

Download the full report here.

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