“Charitable Organization” Controlling Kansas Politicians
KSAL Staff - August 5, 2013 9:01 am
Alan Jilka is a businessman and former Mayor of Salina
With their approval ratings in the mid and low thirties respectively, Sam Brownback and Kris Kobach are two of the least popular politicians in Kansas. So why have they been so successful in getting their agendas through the Kansas Legislature? On a recent Saturday afternoon a group of twenty-five or so area residents gathered at Martinelli’s Restaurant in downtown Salina looking for an answer to this question.
The presenter was Louis Goseland, the Director of Organizing for the Sunflower Community Action Group. His principal focus was a group named A.L.E.C., the American Legislative Exchange Council, one of the many libertarian-leaning groups bankrolled by David and Charles Koch. The group’s membership is known to include prominent members in leadership positions in our Legislature as well as at least two known adherents from the local legislative delegation.
Mr. Goseland appropriately started out his powerpoint presentation with photos of the Koch Brothers and then proceeded to a list of the many front groups that they bankroll with innocuous-sounding names such as the Kansas Policy Institute, The Heartland Institute, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, etc. All of these groups receive Koch funding and direction.
He then proceeded to focus in on A.L.E.C., a group of state legislators dedicated to conservative causes founded nearly forty years ago by political activist Paul Weyric. Weyric, for example, was an early champion of voter suppression laws long before anyone had heard of Kris Kobach. One can watch an old video clip of Weyric on YouTube expounding on how “our leverage in elections goes up as turnout goes down.”
A.L.E.C.’s profile has been elevated in recent years because the Koch brothers and other like-minded libertarians and corporate interests perceive State Legislatures as a path of least resistance in terms of implementing their legislative agendas.
What is their agenda? It starts with a shifting of the tax burden from the wealthy to the middle and lower classes and proceeds through a laundry list of libertarian causes – defunding public education, voter suppression, anti-immigrant laws, extreme gun laws, the privatization of public services, weakened environmental laws and efforts to strip teachers and workers of bargaining rights. Hundreds of pieces of model legislation have emerged from A.L.E.C., much of which has been introduced verbatim in state legislatures across the country.
Prior to the last election, there were at least forty-six known members of A.L.E.C. in the Kansas Legislature. The wrap-up session of this year’s Legislature was reportedly delayed a week so that a large group of members could attend the A.L.E.C. convention in Oklahoma. Those returning from the meeting tried, among other things to push through an A.L.E.C. proposal to suspend implementation of federal Common Core standards for public education, a push that almost succeeded.
Attention was then shifted at the seminar to State Senator Tom Arpke and State Representative Jeremy Claeys, the best-know local legislators who have attended A.L.E.C. conferences, and their voting records. Not surprisingly the two have voted lock-step with both A.L.E.C. and the other Koch front groups during their Legislative tenures. The role of outside money in Senator Arpke’s primary victory last fall is now widely known locally. Not as well-known is the fact that Claeys won his 69th district house seat without a single 69th district resident’s name appearing on his campaign donor list during the calendar year 2012.
One thing can be said for these two local politicians. They have been loyal in the Legislature to those who funded their campaigns – the Koch brothers and their front groups, including A.L.E.C. Whether that agenda reflects the desires of local residents is an open question.
It should be noted that A.L.E.C. enjoys a 501(c)3 tax status as a charitable organization. Groups with such a designation are required to refrain from political activity. Clearly our tax laws have loopholes that the Koch brothers want to maintain.
The push to improve our democratic process will involve similar efforts to put the spotlight on groups such as A.L.E.C. More transparency is required so that citizens know what and who they are really voting for when they enter the voting booth.