American Family Voices Trolls Koch Brothers Group

In addition to my producing The Undercurrent, I am the executive director of American Family Voices, a progressive non-profit that advocates for working and middle class folks on issues like Wall Street reform, getting big money out of politics, and addressing climate change, to name a few. Thus, AFV does a lot of work to expose the Koch brothers, given that they sit at the nexus of all these issues, running a large oil conglomerate with business on Wall Street.

The largest organization in the Koch political network, Americans for Prosperity, has been key to building out long-term “grassroots” infrastructure for conservatives. In last year’s mid-term election, AFP planned to spend more than $125 million. According to Politico,

The projected budget for Americans for Prosperity would be unprecedented for a private political group in a midterm, and would likely rival even the spending of the Republican and Democratic parties’ congressional campaign arms.

Now, AFV has nowhere near the resources as AFP, so we really have to be creative in order to get our message out and educate voters. We have found that humor is key (and it’s also a lot of fun). At the Americans for Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit, we sent Koch puppets Jeb Bush and Scott Walker to crash the Koch group’s opening party. Hilarity ensued. Watch all of our antics in the video below, and subscribe to American Family Voices on YouTube for more just like it.

I Was Manhandled by a Koch Capo

Kevin Gentry is the top fundraiser for the Koch brothers’ right-wing political empire and a board member of its money hub, Freedom Partners. He emcees their twice-yearly seminars, where millionaires and billionaires convene to strategize on how to manifest a deregulated, libertarian, Ayn Rand utopia — or dystopia, depending on your viewpoint.

Gentry also laughs after physically assaulting women. I know because he did so to me and my friend, Tara Margolin.

But first some background. I am the journalist who released several hours of audio from the 2014 Koch summer seminar. Last Friday, Tara and I stayed at the St. Regis Monarch Bay Resort ahead of this year’s donor fest. I was recognized by their security staff early that morning – after breakfast, we were followed by a young man in a blue shirt with a buzz cut and a penchant for texting. We called him ‘blue shirt’ and later ‘BS.’

Tara and I purposely changed up our routes to see if BS would continue walking, or stop when we stopped. Sure enough, he was tailing us, so I called him out. “Who are you?” No response. “What do you want?” No response. And finally, “Stalking is illegal! Stop following us!”

Later Freedom Partners Executive Vice President of Communications James Davis approached us in the lobby. “Didn’t you cover our retreat last year?” When I responded in the affirmative and introduced myself, Davis offered to answer any questions I might have on criminal justice reform or ending corporate welfare. He declined to do so on camera.

2015-08-06-1438874484-5158542-Charles99Risecopy.jpg
Wearing a t-shirt for an organization, 99Rise, that advocates getting big money out of politics, working out next to Charles Koch.

Shortly thereafter, Tara and I went to the gym, where we ran into Charles Koch himself. I was side-by-side with the ruler of the Koch empire on the elliptical. I did not speak to him because I thought it would be journalistically inappropriate to accost the man mid-workout. Plus we had information that the hotel restaurant, Stonehill Tavern, was bought out for a private dinner for the network, and I didn’t want to jeopardize our ability to get in. Tara made small talk with Charles and one of his operatives, Steve Lombardo, the chief communications and marketing officer for Koch Industries.

Tara and I were able to get a table in Stonehill despite the buyout. At a table across from us was Daniel Garza, the executive director of the Kochs’ Latino front group, The LIBRE Initiative. We were seated in the perfect vantage point to see inside the private dining room, and were able to catch glimpses of Charles.

2015-08-06-1438874531-2726592-CharlesDinnerLogo.jpg
Charles Koch dines in background, at summer retreat.

When we began to see people exit the dining room, Tara and I closed out our check and went to wait by the bar. But Charles lingered inside. And we waited, in the bar, in the hallway, back inside the bar.

After spending some time talking to Koch security officer Randy Landen in the hallway, I returned to the bar to find Tara talking to James Davis. “James was just telling me about criminal justice reform and mass incarceration,” she said.

I turned to Davis and told him I thought we probably had more in common than he might imagine, as I am a libertarian – albeit a progressive one. I explained the difference to him, “You know how you guys want to eliminate the EPA? Well, I think my right to breathe clean air and drink clean water should supercede your right to pollute it.”

2015-08-06-1438874712-5520240-MeGentryDavisLogo.jpg
Left to right: Me, Kevin Gentry, James Davis.

Davis clammed up, and Kevin Gentry walked over, positioning himself in such a way as to block my ability to approach the private dining room door. He faux-congenially asked my name, and then pretended not to be Kevin Gentry, although I identified him immediately. As I saw Charles Koch exit into the bar area surrounded by a phalanx of security, I walked towards him, and Gentry grabbed my arm, forcibly detaining me.

2015-08-06-1438874795-9992695-CharlesDinnerWindowLogo.jpg
Charles Koch in the private dining room at Stonehill Tavern.

When I saw that I would not be able to get to Charles to speak with him, I shouted across the bar, “Mr. Koch!” He turned, and I continued. “We were at the gym with you earlier, I just have a couple questions!”

Charles turned and walked towards an alternate exit through the main dining room. I tried to make my way around the other side of the bar, but was held back, perhaps by multiple people – this all went down pretty quickly and they were behind me.

Once I could see that my efforts were futile, I turned around and walked over to Gentry. I told him if he ever laid hands on me again, I’d be filing a police report for assault against him. He replied, “Keep talking, honey. I’m recording you.” I said that he better not be, as California is an all-party consent state, and that I did not authorize it. Gentry blanched.

At that point I didn’t know what Gentry had done to Tara. They had been shaking hands, when this whole scene went into motion. He crushed her hand and twisted her wrist, also forcibly detaining her. Tara’s hand and wrist were hurt and incredibly sore. Gentry and Davis laughed off her injury.

2015-08-06-1438874634-2255641-GentryDavisLogo.jpg
Kevin Gentry, left, and James Davis, right.

We decided to file a police report for her assault after speaking with two lawyers. An officer with the Orange County Sheriffs Department came to take Tara’s complaint, and paramedics came to ice her hand.

In a statement for this article Tara said, “I was very surprised and disappointed that after the charming and polite conversation I’d had earlier with Mr. Koch in the resort gym that he would have his representative treat me in such a thuggish and frightening manner.”

This situation became a full-blown circus, but it didn’t have to end that way. Both security and Koch staffers knew who I and Tara were. If Gentry really thought we were a threat, then he should have had hotel security escort us out of the restaurant before Charles made his exit. That would have been the appropriate thing to do, and we both would have complied.

Instead, Kevin Gentry thought he would show us how much of a tough guy he is. As a private guest, not to mention a top Koch confidante, he appropriated the role of security when he laid hands on us – two women who were only trying to exercise their rights to free speech and the press. It’s shameful behavior from a network that claims to cherish the First Amendment.

Instead, Kevin Gentry thought he would show us how much of a tough guy he is. As a private guest, not to mention a top Koch confidante, he appropriated the role of security when he laid hands on us – two women who were only trying to exercise their rights to free speech and the press. It’s shameful behavior from a network that claims to cherish the First Amendment.

Mainstream Media Won’t Name Koch Donors, But We Will

David Koch CU
David Koch, clearly unhappy with the publicity, golfing with VIP donors on Saturday, August 1.

Nine news outlets, including Politico and the Washington Post, have been given access to the Koch brothers donor fest on the condition that they not report on the identities of donors without their permission.

Notes Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone:

The problem is that the ground rules could restrict journalists from reporting what’s right in front of their eyes. If, say, Rupert Murdoch, or even a lesser-known billionaire, walked by, they couldn’t report the person’s attendance without permission. So it’s possible journalists end up reporting largely what the event sponsors want, such as fiery speeches and candidate remarks criticizing Democrats, but less on the power brokers attending who play key behind-the-scenes roles in the 2016 election.

Calderone is on-the-money, but there is a further, perhaps bigger danger. The presence of major media companies at the retreat lends the Koch operation the appearance of transparency, essentially white-washing activities that are corrosive to American democracy.

The Undercurrent has been on-the-ground in Dana Point covering the retreat, and was not granted any special access. In fact, this reporter was stalked by the Koch security team and manhandled by top Koch operative Kevin Gentry. (More on that debacle to come.) Additionally, one of Undercurrent’s photographers was threatened by a guest who did not like having his picture taken. This man got out of his car and shouted angrily, “You don’t know who you’re f*cking with!”

To his point, no, we don’t, and we need your help. The Undercurrent and its sponsor, American Family Voices, are committed to doing what the mainstream media won’t: exposing Koch donors. If you know the identity of the aforementioned man below, please let us know in the comments section, and stay tuned for more independent, on-the-ground political reporting from The Undercurrent.

UPDATE

The nine news organizations and their journalists in attendance are:

Associated Press: Julie Bykowicz
Bloomberg News: Zachary Mider
CNN: Maeve Reston
Politico: Mike Allen, Ken Vogel
Time Magazine: Philip Elliott
USA Today: Fredreka Schouten
Wall Street Journal: Patrick O’Connor
Washington Post: Matea Gold, James Hohmann
Washington Times: Ralph Z Hallow

Barry Troll

Koch Donor Fest Underway in Monarch Bay

Skew ViewDonors and staff of the Koch brothers political network are descending on the St. Regis Monarch Bay Resort for their yearly summer seminar. Tables have been brought out onto the Grand Lawn; security personnel roam the halls; and Charles Koch himself has arrived.

The hot-ticket political event will host GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, and network favorite Scott Walker in moderated discussions with beltway media insider Mike Allen of Politico. These candidate Q&As are to be streamed online to media.

After audio obtained by The Undercurrent from their summer seminar last year was released, the famously secretive Kochs and their fundraising hub, Freedom Partners, increasingly made efforts to appear more transparent. Their January meeting featured a live-streamed presidential candidate panel; they are openly working with Democrats on criminal justice reform; and Koch Industries has undertaken a big PR campaign called “We Are Koch.”

That transparency, though, does not go very far. Earlier this afternoon, Freedom Partners’ Executive Vice President of Communications James Davis approached this reporter in a passive aggressive manner offering answers to questions on their pet issues of criminal justice reform and ending corporate welfare. When asked to do so on camera, Davis declined. Perhaps he did not want to talk about this reporter’s pet issues: the corrosive effect of big money in politics and climate change.

The welcome parties start tomorrow and the actual conference runs from Sunday through Monday. According to OC Weekly, the Kochs will receive a different kind of welcome from the left: a protest by supporters of progressive presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Republican Senate Banking Chair to DOJ: Prosecute Bankers

Shelby Thumb

Dodd Frank financial reform legislation celebrated its fifth birthday on July 21. Nearly seven years after the financial crisis, much of the law has yet to be enacted; not a single banking executive has been prosecuted; and too-big-to-fail banks are even bigger. The Heritage Foundation marked the occasion with remarks from Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and a panel entitled “Five Years of Dodd Frank: ‘Too Big to Fail’ Still Unresolved.”

Shelby hails from Birmingham, in Jefferson County, a place infamously victimized by Wall Street in a corruption scandal involving massive bribery of local officials and the financing of the county’s sewer system through muni bonds and exotic financial derivatives called interest rate swaps. The 2008 meltdown sent the county reeling, pushing it into bankruptcy.

Before Detroit, Jefferson County was the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country. JP Morgan Chase ultimately lost $1.6 billion in the sewer deal, and former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford was sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison. Jefferson County slashed capital expenditures, and still faces major unfunded liabilities for its sewer system.

This reporter asked Sen. Shelby whether he supports prosecuting criminal bankers and regulating the very derivatives that inflicted so much damage on his home state. Watch Shelby answer these questions in the video below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground political reporting from Lauren Windsor.

Is JP Morgan’s CEO Banking on Dodd Frank Repeal?

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post, on July 8, 2015.

As the fifth anniversary of the Dodd Frank financial reform law nears, Wall Street remains defiant at worst and flippant at best to addressing its malfeasance in the 2008 meltdown. A couple of weeks ago, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon gave career advice to young financiers at a UJA Federation fundraiser in New York.

Now, keep in mind that Dimon oversaw the bank through record-setting fines from the Department of Justice for a variety of financial frauds in 2013, including the now infamous London Whale fiasco. Subsequently his board rewarded him with a 74% raise.

Dimon regaled the crowd with an anecdote on the London Whale: how he ended up receiving a pep talk from New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, who told him that everybody goes through rough patches. Dimon concluded, “Shit happens. Okay. And it’s going to happen to you.”

Financial crimes happen, as though there’s no personal culpability whatsoever. This is the gold standard to which young bankers aspire.

Jamie Dimon didn’t become Wall Street’s Wonder Boy by accident — he can be both brash and charismatic in defense of his proud, but beleaguered institutions. But he’s also frequently out of touch. Softly acknowledging fault for Wall Street’s role in the “catastrophe,” he said public ire was “somewhat” deserved and “a little bit understandable.” His analysis: “I do think it’s incumbent on all of us to do a slightly better job, so we don’t cause additional problems in the future.”

Slightly. 20 billion dollars in fines for financial crimes warrants more than a slight adjustment in behavior.

This flippancy to assuming meaningful responsibility, coupled with the drive to make as much money as possible, underpins the psyche of Wall Street. One would-be banker wanted to know just how lucrative a career in finance could still be:

I was wondering what the future of banking looks like from JPMorgan’s standpoint. Could it possibly be as attractive in the future for shareholders and employees as it was in the past with all, you know, this huge amount of government intervention and supervision?

Dimon assuaged his fears with a prediction: record profits in the near-term and dramatic growth in the financial industry in the next 15 years, with double the number of billion-dollar companies and double or triple the number of billionaires in emerging markets.

That’s just what impoverished countries in the throes of overwhelming income inequality need: more billionaires.

The finance industry, already enormous by percentage of the economy and corporate profits, and presumably individual banks like JPMorgan, will be getting even bigger if Dimon is right, which begs the question: Is JPMorgan too big to fail?

This reporter asked the vaunted banker whether a recent assessment by Goldman Sachs that JPM should be broken up was valid, and he explained that the current discount on his bank’s stock was caused by the “astronomical” regulatory, political, and legal burden on his bank, which “will go away.” Dimon did not explain how he came to that conclusion.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of his desire to repeal Dodd Frank. Now that Republicans have control of both chambers, the senator just might succeed. Is Jamie Dimon banking on it?

A full transcript of Dimon’s remarks can be found here. Subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting from Lauren Windsor.

The Pope vs. the Koch Bros

Pope GOPClimate change has been a hot topic on both the left and the right, with ongoing controversy at the Smithsonian and the release of the Pope’s encyclical on the environment.

On June 15, environmental activists gathered at the Smithsonian Castle for the institution’s Board of Regents meeting, and marched to the National Museum of Natural History to protest climate-denier-oil-baron David Koch being on the museum’s advisory board. The campaign to oust Koch from the board is being led by The Natural History Museum, a mobile museum bus that seeks “to include and highlight the socio-political influences that shape nature.”

The campaign is part of a larger effort aimed at natural history museums by scientists and climate activists, to demand that scientific institutions cut ties with climate-science denying fossil fuel funders.

On June 18, Pope Francis released his climate change encyclical, Laudato Si, putting the heat on religious conservative politicians here in the U.S. At the Road to Majority conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition in DC, this reporter asked Sen. Ron Johnson and Governor John Kasich whether they agreed with the Pope that climate change is a moral imperative requiring action. Their answers were surprising.

Watch them in the video segment below. Featuring interviews with Sen. Ron Johnson, Rep. Steve King, Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich, Director of The Natural History Museum Beka Economopoulos, and climate expert Joe Romm. Subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground political reporting from Lauren Windsor.

Did John Kasich Just Call the Pope a Heretic?

Heretic

Ohio Governor, presidential aspirant, and Roman Catholic John Kasich took a swipe at the pope last Friday at a conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Asked if he agreed with Pope Francis that climate change is a moral issue requiring action, Kasich told me that he agreed that protecting the environment is good. However, he disagreed with the pope’s economic conclusions, characterizing them as anti-free-enterprise. But the pope’s remarks in his climate change encyclical, Laudato Si, weren’t so much anti-free-enterprise as they were anti-consumerism and anti-profiteering.

It appears that Kasich interpreted the encyclical as pantheistic, because he made a strange implication:

I read a great book on St. Francis Assisi, who the pope kind of models himself after. The environment was given to us by the Lord, and it needs to be taken care of, and it shouldn’t be worshiped; that’s called pantheism.

Who is worshiping the environment here? Pope Francis? Is Kasich implying that the pope is a pagan, a heretic?

Countering the pope’s economic conclusions, the governor defended free enterprise as a solution for global poverty, perhaps suggesting that he worships the markets instead. Kasich did profess a desire to develop renewable energy, but that belies the fact that last year, he signed H.B. 310 into law, becoming the first governor to freeze his state’s renewable-energy standards. Many in Ohio believe the freeze will lead to a full repeal.

According to Mark Shanahan, an energy-policy adviser to Ohio’s previous governor, Ted Strickland, “On renewable energy, Kasich has good rhetoric, but his actions have seriously damaged renewable energy in Ohio.”

Gov. Kasich followed up on the renewables freeze by signing legislation that dealt a crippling blow to wind farms. Because it was a budget bill, the governor had the power to line-item veto the wind-farm provision, but he chose not to use it. If Kasich supports developing renewables, he has a funny way of showing it.

When I asked him what legislative action he would take with regard to climate change, Kasich said, “Let’s not get carried away.”

“Kasich saying he’s for renewable energy is like Kasich saying he’s for the letter Z,” said State Rep. Kent Smith (D-OH 8). “He’s OK if it exists; he just doesn’t want it used that much.”

Watch the exchange with Kasich in the video below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting.

Jeb Bush: I Embrace Carbon Reduction

The encyclical on climate change released by Pope Francis this week is wreaking havoc for conservatives. At the Road to Majority conference hosted by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, climate has been the top question on reporters’ lips.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) claimed to be an environmentalist; Rep. Steve King lost his temper with the executive director of Catholics United, James Salt; and Jeb Bush said that he embraces the reduction of carbon emissions.

Bush, a devout Catholic, made headlines earlier in the week for saying that he doesn’t take economic policy advice from the clergy. Watch the exchange with Bush below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting.

Financial Foxes Are Guarding the Wall Street Henhouse

SEC Commissioner Slams SEC, and CFTC Commissioner Denies Role of Excessive Speculation in 2008 Crisis

2015-06-15-1434399440-7402669-CatoSummitPhoto.jpg
“Capital Unbound: The Cato Summit on Financial Regulation in New York City,” Tuesday, June 2, 2015, New York City 

Wall Street regulators recently spoke at a libertarian financial conference alongside economists advocating for abolishing the Federal Reserve, FDIC deposit insurance, and Dodd-Frank financial legislation.

Asked if the Securities and Exchange Commission had ever reduced investor losses in its entire history, SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar replied, “Excellent question. The answer to that question can be answered in three words: I don’t know.” He also told the crowd that the job of the SEC should be to promote not investor confidence but investor skepticism.

Citing a lack of demonstrable data, Commissioner Giancarlo denied that overspeculation was a factor in the 2008 financial meltdown. He went on to say that it was less important what he thinks and more important what Congress thinks — that Congress could have found that excessive speculation caused the 2008 crisis but did not.

Á la Tony the Tiger, the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, George Selgin, said with unabashed glee that bank runs are “great.” This remark came during an extended schtick mocking George Bailey, the protagonist of the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Selgin concluded that Bailey’s bank should have been run on because he spent too much time talking to angels rather than managing his investment portfolio.

After the conference, I asked Selgin to explain why bank runs are a good thing, given that most people would find that assertion counterintuitive in the post-2008-crisis era. He said that bank runs are a natural response by consumers and a needed penalty for bankers, and that federal deposit insurance should be eliminated. Without the backstop of the FDIC, consumers would be forced to thoroughly research bank balance sheets — regardless of the financial savvy it would require for the average American to do so.

And Selgin thinks this is actually feasible — according to his worldview, any investor or consumer dumb enough not to have thoroughly researched his investments deserves whatever losses he may incur. The problem with that line of thinking is that even savvy investors get taken for a ride. Remember Bernie Madoff? Collateralized debt obligations? AIG and credit default swaps? If so-called “smart money” investors get scammed in a regulated market, imagine the field day Wall Street would have on the dumb money in a deregulated market.

From the libertarian praise heaped upon these regulators, and from their own statements, it appears that they are big fans of deregulation. These men are charged with creating and enforcing the financial rules of the road, but they are anti-rule. Or, to put it another way, they are financial foxes guarding the Wall Street henhouse.