Three New Ways the Koch Brothers Are Screwing America

The fourth-richest men in America target low-wage workers, minority voters and unions

David Koch
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
David Koch
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"They are truly cowards in the worst way," says filmmaker Robert Greenwald, of the notorious billionaires Charles and David Koch. And he should know. After he released his 2012 documentary, "The Koch Brothers Exposed," Koch-funded organizations took out ads trying to discredit Greenwald and his work, yet the brothers still declined his repeated offers to debate the topics covered in the film, like the re-segregation of schools and the defanging of the EPA. "I wanted to engage in a policy debate," he says. "But they won't engage." 

For most people, an attack from the fourth-richest (and perhaps most politically conniving) men in America would slow them down. But instead Greenwald, who became interested in the powerful duo when he read Jane Mayer's 2010 New Yorker profile, decided to double down, and began work on "The Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition." The update, which is now available free online, is centered on their influence in (and outpouring of money since) the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. While researching and producing it with his small staff at Brave New Films, Greenwald says he was "surprised by not just the sheer numbers, but the extraordinary lengths they go to legally to hide the amounts they're giving." Here, three of the fights to which these undocumented millions flow:

Suppressing the Minimum Wage 

Not only do the Koch brothers not want to raise the minimum wage – now a federal $7.25 – they say it creates a "culture of dependency" and would like to see it abolished altogether. "One of the facts I've been most struck by is that it would take a full-time minimum-wage earner 76 years to make $1.8 million," says Greenwald. "Or, about what each Koch brother earns in an hour." But bottom lines are more important than bottom workers for the Kochs – since the early 1990s, they've given at least $23.3 million to think tanks that have published over 4,000 articles, papers, studies, and media projects targeting the minimum wage. "They want to abolish the concept of minimum wage," Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) said at the film's D.C. premiere. "So people can work for free."

Breaking Unions

"Really, what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees, so they don't have the resources to fight," says Scott Hagerstrom, the Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity – a group heavily funded by the Kochs – in a damning clip from the film. And it seems to sum up the Kochs' approach to unions: Americans for Prosperity were integral to the 2011 union-busting fight in Wisconsin, and American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC, which works closely with the brothers) has drafted the model anti-union legislation used to slash collective bargaining rights for workers in 36 states. "They do not want to have safety regulations," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in the film. "They do not want workers to be able to negotiate wages and benefits."

Read Rolling Stone's feature on the GOP war on voting

Disenfranchising Voters

During the 2012 election, an organization called True the Vote called itself a "citizen-led effort to ensure free and fair elections." Their tactic? Placing mostly white "poll-watchers" in polling places, many of them in minority areas, which led to complaints of voter intimidation. The funding came from Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. What's worse, ALEC, which counts roughly 20 percent of all state legislators as members, also drafted a model Voter ID bill and used its ranks to disseminate it across the country. Now, 41 states have introduced more than 180 such bills, which could mean that over 21 million people could be denied their most basic right as a citizen. "The reason that you target somebody's voting rights," Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, says in the film, "is it makes it easier to take away the rest of their rights. You come for that first, and the whole house of cards starts to fall."