Will out-of-state billionaires sway West Virginia elections this year? That question hovers as 2014 political struggles take shape.
The oil-rich Koch brothers — whom The Washington Post calls “the Republican Party’s biggest sugar daddies” — are pushing for GOP victories in the Mountain State through their front groups such as Americans for Prosperity, a tea party operation.
Their foremost goal so far seems to be defeat of Rep. Nick Rahall, the state’s only Democrat in the House of Representatives. Smear ads against him are bombarding television. Last month in Beckley, Rahall told supporters:
“There is a lot of outside money coming into this campaign from outside billionaires like the Koch brothers, who have created 17 different organizations, including Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance.”
A new state branch of Americans for Prosperity opened in January. It mailed notices that Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said seem designed to make some West Virginians mistakenly think they aren’t qualified to vote in the May 13 primary.
Presumably, the Kochs are working nationwide in hope of putting Congress into the hands of Republicans, who will reward the tycoons with tax giveaways, lax pollution controls and other federal benefits.
The Koch story is fascinating: In 1927, Fred Koch invented a better method of refining crude oil into gasoline. The U.S. oil industry ostracized him, so he went to the Soviet Union and helped build 15 refineries. But he returned to America a bitter foe of communism, and helped launch the crackpot John Birch Society, which taught that President Eisenhower and his brother were secret communists.
“The colored man looms large in the communist plan to take over America,” Koch wrote. In a 1963 speech, he warned that Reds would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the United States until the president is a communist, unknown to the rest of us.”
The father created Rock Island Oil & Refining in Kansas and grew rich. After his death in 1967, his four sons inherited a fortune, but quarreled over it. They fought in court for two decades, until Charles and David Koch bought out their siblings and renamed their empire Koch Industries. It expanded to acquire Georgia-Pacific lumber, Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Stainmaster carpet and other firms.
In a speech, David Koch once explained how he got rich. He said he bought and sold apples in increasing numbers, “until my father died and left me $300 million.”
Having a rich daddy evidently was the only qualification that put the Koch brothers in position to try to buy elections across America.
A University of Massachusetts study listed Koch Industries as one of America’s top 10 air polluters. Greenpeace says the firm is a “kingpin of climate science denial.” It backs GOP resistance to scientific findings that air pollution is creating a greenhouse effect that warms Planet Earth.
A long New Yorker report said the Koch brothers funnel millions into the tea party movement as a strategy to elect Republicans. “They’re smart,” one insider told the magazine. “This right-wing redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.”
Will it work in West Virginia’s elections this year? They answer may become clear in coming months.