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Arizona’s state legislators, many with Koch campaign funds, pass a budget that creates a “right-wing laboratory”, says independent investigative journalist Alex Kotch

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SHARMINI PERIES, PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. With funding from Charles Koch, the state of Arizona will be dishing out five million dollars a year to free-market academic centers like colleges and universities. Arizona’s governor and legislature seems to have very close ties with the Koch political network. Our next guest, Alex Kotch, just authored a piece on Alternet, titled: “The Koch brothers are using this state as their right-wing laboratory”. Alex is an independent investigative journalist based in Brooklyn. KOTCH: Well thanks so much for having me. PERIES: Well Alex, Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey, seems to have very close ties with the Koch’s, what are those ties? KOTCH: That’s right, and there’s many of them. To begin with, he’s attended many of the Koch donor summits. This is where a lot of the billionaire conservatives gather in various resorts and discuss their strategy to continue spreading their wealth into politics around the country. So, at various summits Ducey has attended he’s praised the network, so it’s invaluable to what the conservative agenda that he shares is. And even before he became governor in 2012, as the state treasurer, a group called Americans for Responsible Leadership spent close to a million dollars backing his initiative to oppose a tax to fund schools. So the Americans for Responsible Leadership was actually nearly entirely funded by a Koch backed group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights. And it was also run at the time by Kirk Adams who is now Ducey’s chief of staff, as he’s governor. So they laid the groundwork for Ducey becoming a strong political figure in Arizona even before 2014 when he ran for governor. And in that year we saw that the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which rebranded itself as American Encore, spent around a million and a half dollars supporting Ducey’s governor’s race. The 60 Plus Association, which is deeply tied to the Kochs, spent another 1.4 million and was actually funded in part by American Encore and a couple other Koch groups. And then, American Encore continued to spread the wealth around, giving money to various other groups, such as the Legacy Foundation, Action Fund, Veterans for a Strong America, and these groups also spend money, independent expenditures as well, in the 2014 Arizona governor’s race. So eventually with all of this Koch money and these Koch connected groups, Ducey became governor at the beginning of 2015. PERIES: Interesting. So now, we have a budget that the governor has signed off on May 10, which includes funding, in spite of the funding that we were just talking about, the 5 million in terms of universities and colleges receiving it, in spite of the growing protests, mainly by students and professors concerned about how this is going to effect their academic life, particularly the ties to big business, what did you uncover about this and what is the reaction of the governor’s office to the protest? KOTCH: Well Ducey is fully behind the 5 million dollars that’s going to three free market focused centers, that are housed at two public Arizona University campuses. He seems to think this is a very common thing, to have a line item in the state budget that directly funds these centers, although experts at UnKoch My Campus, which is an activist group that’s been working really hard for many years to uncover all the Koch connections at colleges and universities. Connor Gibson, who is one of the UnKoch members has never seen this before, so I’m not sure if Ducey is unaware that this is unprecedented or if he’s lying through his teeth. The point is that the governor’s office is very supportive, he signed it very willingly on the 10th. PERIES: And you have called this, or titled this, article you did on Alternet that Arizona is being used a laboratory, what did you mean by that? KOTCH: Well, yeah, I mean it’s a laboratory, not just because Doug Ducey the Koch candidate becoming governor, because of the whole state legislature, much of the legislature rather, got there with help from at least Koch linked groups. So, there are a number of groups that spend on state legislative elections, these are outside, independent expenditures, that are not supposed to be coordinated with the candidates. So there is an interesting group that I discovered, and that a lot of Arizona local reports have done a great job of exposing, it’s called the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. So they in fact lobbied heavily for this 5 million dollar provision of the budget that gives money to free market centers. In fact, this group gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to American Encore and to 60 Plus Association, so we’re seeing a state based group that’s actually funding some of the Koch groups further, but also received money from the Koch groups, so there is a money funnel back and forth. So, what I also discovered was one of the founding directors of this group, Arizona Free enterprise club, is a woman by the name of Randy Kendrick, that she is a major Koch ally. She’s been to these donor summits I mentioned earlier. She donated 2.5 million dollars to help start the University of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, one of the centers that is getting the state money now. She also helped solicit 1 million dollars from the Charles Koch foundation to start that center as well. So this group, bringing it back to the state level elections, spent almost 350 thousand dollars on independent expenditures in the Arizona state legislative contests from 2010 to 2014. As well as 150 thousand supporting governor Doug Ducey. So the Koch ties go from the top, from governor on down, into the state legislature, and now the universities. PERIES: All right Alex, finally, 5 million a year isn’t a lot of money especially spread out over several different universities and plus a lot of the programs have multiple sources of funding. Why do you think it’ll have such a tremendous impact at the universities and colleges? KOTCH: Well I think 5 million may not sound like a lot at once, but this is an every year contribution. There’s no telling, it might go up each year, I think that’s what a lot of the legislatures, and governor Ducey, and certainly the Kochs and the Kendricks would like, so I think that this is starting a pretty dangerous precedent where you have private, ideologically opinionated people like the Kochs, like the Kendrick’s putting money in to start these centers, but then letting the state pick up the tab for years to come. I think that’s actually the ideal scenario for what these billions are planning. It’s not just Arizona, it’s over 53 centers around the country are funded by Charles Koch and his foundation and they all espouse the same laissez-faire economics. Philosophies, they’re teaching undergraduates, they’re teaching graduate students who go on, in fact, to join this very large network of Koch-funded professors. And a lot of this network actually meets once a year at the Association of Private Enterprise Education Conference. And if you can check out my article on Alternet, it’s also republished on Salon and a couple other publications, I have a map that outlines this very tight network of professors, many of whom have gotten their doctorates at various universities like George Mason University, Florida State University, where the Kochs have funded those economics programs, and they’re going to these others schools and they’re founding centers, and they’re part of, I can’t emphasize enough, a very tightly knit network that collaborate on things like, say, how to start a new free-market center, or how to divert state resources into that center once it’s established. PERIES: Good work Alex, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we hope to have you back very soon. KOTCH: I do too. Thanks so much for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Alex Kotch is an independent journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. He has written stories about money in politics, elections law, the environment, education reform, and social justice for Alternet, DeSmogBlog, Facing South, Vocativ and The Brooklyn Rail, and is also a medical writer for Yale University.