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Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
Investigative Report / Tea Party / April 20, 2011
By Mark Ames and Mike Elk


This article was first published in The Nation.

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

The election packet starts with a letter from Robertson dated October 4, 2010. It read: “As Koch company employees, we have a lot at stake in the upcoming election. Each of us is likely to be affected by the outcome on Nov. 2. That is why, for the first time ever, we are mailing our newest edition of Discovery and several other helpful items to the home address of every U.S. employee” [emphasis added].

For most Koch employees, the “helpful items” included a list of Koch-approved candidates, which was presented on a separate page labeled “Elect to Prosper.” A brief introduction to the list reads: “The following candidates in your state are supported by Koch companies and KOCHPAC, the political action committee for Koch companies. We believe these candidates will best advance policies supporting economic freedom.”

…Read the rest of this story at or click here.

Mike Elk is a labor journalist and third-generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. He writes frequently for In These Times, AlterNet, and the American Prospect. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeElk.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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Add your own

  • 1. Eschatos  |  April 20th, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I like the implied “We know where you live.”

  • 2. snarky Pollack  |  April 20th, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    “Read the rest here” link is broken. Am I the only one?

    The link you want is this one but it makes you enter an email to read the article:

    Nice update on the dicks. Please call for an intifada on them already.

  • 3. Aaron  |  April 20th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    MBNA was telling its employees how to vote as far back as 2001 — I know because I was there. Secunda, you’re a hick.

  • 4. Taho Hugh  |  April 20th, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Hey, no matter where I worked, I would never ever have some employer make my decision at the polls. How would they find out anyway?

  • 5. CensusLouie  |  April 20th, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    On one hand, secret ballots make it awfully hard to confirm fraud and fixed elections.

    On the other hand, fuck these guys.

  • 6. Mike  |  April 20th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Since the USA has no viable labor, social democratic, democratic socialist, communist, cooperative commonwealth, workers, or etc left party, whoever we vote for, the capitalist class wins.

  • 7. DrK  |  April 20th, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    And with the loss of ballot secrecy arising from an increase in mail-in ballots…

  • 8. Charlie & David  |  April 20th, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Hey, we are actually humble stewards of the land. In few words, “We’re here for you!”

    Just check out our cattle operations in Montana, Kansas, and Texas. And if you have a minute, feel free to shop on our online store.

    Buy the little woman a Ladies Reversible Pink Camo/Brown Vest, or ball caps for you and little Billy, the kid born prepackaged with Willie Peter burns over 98% of his body.

    Check out the killer hunting reservations available –

    To the first 25 clients to sign up for our predator pig hunt goes one (1) ea. Russian AK-630M2 CIWS system –

    Shit, Billy, you can’t beat a deal like that!

    Like me and David say, “We’re here for you!”

  • 9. TheLounge  |  April 20th, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Anyone else think the Kochs look like Michael Caine?

  • 10. ariot  |  April 20th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    you guys are awesome.

    ya know, you need to put up some merchandise and cash in on the pretend capitalism we have.

    I need a snazzy eXidle eXhole t-shirt or something. At least some way to share the URL. I don’t have any friends to email it to, so bumper stickers and hats have to do.

    oh and fuck the koch brothers, hard

  • 11. Mike C.  |  April 20th, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    We’ve got a country teeming with angry, unemployed young men. We’ve got Google maps and GPS. Tiny cameras, spy gear, tracking devices. Citizens are armed to the teeth. Only a small percentage of shipping containers are ever checked at the ports.

    The Kochs wander into the public sometimes to get their much-deserved praise for supporting effete, bourgeois ballets (while people die in the street like stray dogs). They don’t always go where they’re welcome. With any luck, a geography that’ll be shrinking as they’re dragged from the shadows, exposed like the writhing tapeworms they are.

    In the ’20s, this dude detonated a horse carriage bomb (before cars; so badass) on Wall St.

    Thousands wear Guy Fawkes masks to their protests; the guy who tried to blow up the House of Lords. Legendary, epic shit. And he didn’t even succeed.

    Just some random observations.

  • 12. Victorvalley Villain  |  April 20th, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I was reading this bit earlier today:

    When I came across this word:

    Remor’a are sharksucker fish.
    That got me wondering if occasional eXiled contributer Yahweh knows of any nasty parasites that exclusively feed off of predators?

    I am thinking there might be a few evolutionary missing links for the modern day Koachsucker.

  • 13. Victorvalley Villain  |  April 20th, 2011 at 5:02 pm


  • 14. Victorvalley Villain  |  April 20th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Fucke me, nix the ‘s.

    /me Stepping away from the computer.

  • 15. google  |  April 20th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    It looks like the one on the left looked through a pair of trick binoculars.

  • 16. conradmoney  |  April 20th, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I’m sort of surprised all these law professors haven’t even read citizens united or probably any other Supreme Court cases relating to Corporations right to freedom of speech. The holding in citizens united was very narrow – it merely held an obscure federal law unconstitutional that prevented corprations from electioneering within a certain amount of days before a primary election. Corporations were free to create subsidiary companies known as PACs to do their electioneering before. There is no actual change in how things are done because of citizens united.

  • 17. Dude  |  April 20th, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    If you want to find out some weird shit, just start interviewing former employees of various Koch companies. Their market-driven management model and the way the companies run internally is bizarre and even some very conservative voters who’ve worked there hate it and have stories to tell. It’s more like an Amway cult from the inside than it is like a typical energy company (or whatever the particular arm of the conglomerate you work for does). They’ve got entire books on their management philosophy, so it’s not exactly secret, but no one seems to ever talk about it and how hated it is. It’s sort of like ENRON’s famous system on steroids.

  • 18. TheLizard  |  April 20th, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Now that you mention it, I think I do see some similarity in the bone structure. They sort of look like Michael Caine might if he’d been hit with dioxin poisoning.

  • 19. GhostUnit  |  April 21st, 2011 at 1:04 am

    aren’t ballots secret? what’s the point of threatening your employees to vote for someone if you can’t verify their actual voting choice?

  • 20. Ganryu  |  April 21st, 2011 at 6:46 am

    This piece was linked to Yahoo’s Opinion section. You’re in the big time now. I don’t know if this will make you feel happy or violated. Have a Scotch in any event.

  • 21. wYSe Guy  |  April 21st, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Where iss that fat slob Brecher with his update?

  • 22. Daddy  |  April 21st, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Nigga didnt work for their money so why should we. this real F up not everyone perfect so you saying you just want to put the handycap out on their butt’s you guys got all the money but want you dont got is love. you try to like in a ghetto ass neighbor hood. you dont know want it like out their you think we poor but that yall fault’s because you guy’s got the money to do some thing with your life and we dont. we realy didnt grow up in a rich family

  • 23. Charlie & David  |  April 21st, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Hey, we are actually humble stewards of the land. In few words, “We’re here for you!”

    Just check out our cattle operations in Montana, Kansas, and Texas. And if you have a minute, feel free to shop on our online store.

    Buy the little woman a Ladies Reversible Pink Camo/Brown Vest, or ball caps for you and little Billy, the kid born prepackaged with Willie Peter burns over 98% of his body.

    Check out the killer hunting reservations available –

    To the first 25 clients to sign up for our predator pig hunt goes one (1) ea. Russian AK-630M2 CIWS system –

    Shit, Billy, you can’t beat a deal like that!

    Like me and David say, “We’re here for you!”

  • 24. hearsay  |  April 22nd, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I’ve met some Koch Industries employees as one of the Koch Cos. does work with my fill-in-the-blank bank/hedge fund/law firm/accounting/IT/masseuse/mousetrap company.

    They seemed like perfectly nice people, but they lived/breathed/identified themselves with their Koch Company…as their lives in literal middle-of-nowhere Kansas revolved around Koch Co, church and their dysfunctional family.

    From my conversations, I can easily imagine a corporate environment that’s like junior high on steroids—lots of groupthink, peer pressure, everyone knows everyone else’s business.

    Not an environment conducive for independence.

  • 25. Alex Winter  |  April 26th, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    All they have to do is have their mgrs ask
    the rank and file who they’re voting for, take their temperature. If they don’t volunteer that they’re voting for Koch’s preferred they assume they’re not and thats
    when your life becomes hell. How easy it is
    to circumvent the cliche of “Freedom”.

  • 26. Jame  |  April 27th, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who kept thinking “how the hell would they find out anyway?” the whole way through reading that piece.

  • 27. Amos  |  May 5th, 2011 at 6:00 am

    Fucking lame. The vote is secret, your employer can’t know who you voted for so there is no intimidation.

    Christ Ames, your pathological hatred for societies ‘winners’ is a pathetic and childish spectacle. Your supposed to be a grown man for fuck sake..

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