The Nation, which as a good progressive the Bitch respects, values and reads (from time to time) has a slightly hysterical piece up about the Koch Brothers’ evil, undue and influential participation in the American electoral process. It’s slightly hysterical because it calls out the Kochs for doing what every sensible corporation, trade and/or membership association and labor union in America does before every federal election (and many local ones too): the Kochs mailed out a packet to a group of their employees in Washington State endorsing certain candidates for state and federal office. The packet, which the Nation has thoughtfully posted here (note: .pdf), lays out Koch Industries’ rationale for supporting these candidates and requests that the employees consider voting for them in the November general elections. Note that there are no threats; no way to track who got the document, or who answered the call to register to vote; lastly, the Kochs have no way of knowing who voted for whom. (The Bitch points out that Dino Rossi, Republican candidate for Senate who was supposed to take out Patty Murray in one of the country’s top-tier Senate races of 2010, lost, as did Koch-supported candidate for State Senate Jake Fey. So much for KochPAC’s GOTV efforts. Candidates Honeyford, Short, Kretz, Condotta, and Orcutt were all unopposed. The other nine Koch-supported candidates won.)
Now, in a past life, the Bitch was a director for both corporate and association federal political action committees, or PACs like KochPAC (although she hastens to point out that she never, ever worked for Koch Industries), so she knows whereof she speaks. What the Kochs did was not illegal, nor did the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United necessarily have any legal bearing on the contents or the timing of the KochPAC material…although the Bitch assumes that the mere existence of CU made nervous government relations managers at Koch feel more comfortable sending out an amazingly frank explication of the Koch worldview, on which the Bitch has commented previously.
The Bitch hopes sincerely that Professors Paul Secundo and Kathrine Stone, quoted by Nation writers Mark Ames and Mike Elk, don’t have tenure at their respective universities, because their statements about Koch Industries’ political education efforts, federal election law and CU are alarmist and possibly wrong, depending on which employees received the mailing. Here are the facts about what organizations can say to their employees about elections and candidates. Bear in mind that the article does not say WHICH Koch employees got this packet, merely that it went out to Koch employees in Washington State.
Federal law, specifically the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (note: .pdf), regulates what organizations can communicate to their employees regarding political endorsements. Organizations which have political action committees, like Koch, can made endorsements like those contained in the Washington State packet, only to their ‘restricted class.” The “restricted class,” also known as the “eligible class,” consists of exempt employees, usually the salaried and managerial class, or those employees exempt from overtime; the company or association’s board of directors or trustees; any shareholders; and the families of all those stakeholders. These people are eligible to make voluntary contributions to a fund — the political action committee — used to support candidates for elected office. The organization can’t contribute directly to this fund, although it can pay the administrative costs of the PAC, like the Bitch’s salary, thank you very much. The company, acting through the agency of its PAC, can say anything about elections or candidates to this group of people, at any time. It can call, as does the Koch material, for the express election of any candidate. (It just can’t sit down with the candidates’ election managers and figure out what to say and when to say it, and it can’t use any of the campaigns’ own materials. This is called “coordination,” and it is bad.) This type of communication was completely legal long before Citizens United ever turned up on the Supremes’ docket. Many organizations, including labor unions, did — and do — communicate their endorsements to their eligible class, usually in the form of a voter’s guide containing a list of votes on relevant legislation. If the candidate had voted in a way that the organization approved, the candidate had a green check mark by his or her name. If the candidate had voted against the organization’s interests, they received a red “x.” All fairly straightforward — and perfectly legal, as long as it was not “coordinated” with the candidates’ campaign committees and, prior to the Citizens United ruling, as long as it didn’t go outside the eligible class. It’s possible the Koch packet went to all Koch employees in the state; it’s also possible it only went to its eligible class. We don’t know; the article doesn’t say (although it implies the broader distribution).
Citizens United has extended the allowable “pool” of people eligible to receive these kinds of electioneering communications from one company or industry’s restricted class to the universe. (All such communications will have to disclose who paid for it; and all sponsoring organizations will have to file with the FEC, just like political action committees and candidate campaign committees do already.) Increasing the number of political ads on the air will make dinner time during election season annoying, but it’s hardly upending democracy.
As to fears of “political indoctrination,” the Bitch only wishes it were that easy. Are Koch employees so stupid and child-like that they need voting direction from their CEO? The packet is amazing for its definition, and defense of, “economic freedom,” and has probably convinced not a few Koch employees that they work for nutjobs; and that it’s time to move on to saner employment. But the Bitch seriously doubts that, as a political indoctrination tool, it has any legs at all. If Koch employees voted for anyone on this list, it’s because they liked them prior to, and regardless of, the Big Brothers’ appeal. Most people, in this ex-PAC Director’s experience, are way smarter than that.