One year after major Supreme Court decisions on the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act, conservative leaders are still denying equal rights for all Americans by failing to address the issues raised by these cases. After the … Continued
Cliven Bundy’s racist rant and recent support from prominent Republicans like Rand Paul and Rick Perry may have made the front page of the New York Times, but lesser known is the support Bundy’s cause has received from the Koch brother’s primary political enterprise, Americans For Prosperity. AFP’s Nevada and Colorado affiliates have repeatedly come to the defense of Bundy’s cause, attacking the Bureau of Land Management and its actions via social media. Who will be next on AFP’s list of causes to defend?
Research after the jump.
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.
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.
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.