Keep Your Eyes on Pence

Two days after the election, the New York Times ran a feel-good editorial.  It was called “Being American in the Trump Years.”  The basic message?  Let’s bury our hatchets, all work together and assure a peaceful transfer of power.  Hey, it’s a democracy.  Way down in the text were the words: “Trump owes nothing to the traditional powers in his party — not the Koch brothers, not the leadership in Congress.”

Really?  Trump owes nothing to the Koch brothers?  That’s a statement the veracity of which can’t be tested – unless Donald releases his tax returns (which, of course, is not going to happen).  The assertion also rests on the words of Charles and David Koch and those of Donald Trump.  Not words one can necessarily trust.

Let’s dig a bit deeper here.  Back in July, 2016 there was a big, splashy announcement.  The Koch brothers, who are famously rich (about $84 billion between the two), said they would not be supporting Donald Trump for President.  Instead, they’d focus on down-the-ticket races.

Clearly, the Kochs (pronounced COKE) wanted to distance themselves from an apparently reckless and bizarre candidate.  Still how much of that distance was/is real?  And how much superficial damage control?

The Kochs are tied-in very closely to Trump — through the back-door.  Just think Pence.  Mike Pence, Vice-President-elect of the United States.

Pence has long been a favorite of the Kochs.  Pence received substantial support from Koch for his run for Governor of Indiana in 2011.  Before that he’d received support for his aggressive and sustained battle in the US Congress to de-fund Planned Parenthood and for his tax-slashing agenda in Indiana.  In fact, Pence was so happy about the Koch support that a 2014 headline in Politico said “Pence Grateful Koch, AFP.”  AFP stands for Americans for Prosperity one of the Koch brothers’ political action groups.

There’s more.  According to Politico, as of January 2016, Pence was the Koch brothers’ pick for a presidential run.

Think about it.  The Kochs wanted Pence as President.  Pence declined.  Yet now he’s poised to be a very powerful Vice-President.  Probably one with the kind of power Dick Cheney had during the George W. Bush years.

Back in July when Pence as Vice-President-elect was first announced, Donald’s son-in-law Jared Kushner (a trusted advisor) said Trump “would be leaving all democratic and foreign policy up to the VP”.  A stunned press person asked, “Then what will Mr. Trump be doing?”  The answer: Trump would be traveling around the country having rallies.

Uhhh, doesn’t that mean Mike Pence is running the show back in DC?

Interesting isn’t it?  During the campaign, Pence was almost invisible.  No razzmatazz.  No media hype.  Just a kinda quiet, handsome, hoosier.  Nothing to write home about.

Bingo!  Once Trump is in, Pence is in the news.  Chris Christie is side-lined and Pence is taking over the transition team.  You know the team that decides who is going to be in the Cabinet and in the West Wing. The team that will select the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney-General, the…

What about the other claim by the New York Times:  Trump owes nothing to the traditional powers in his party?  Well, besides Pence, there’s another way the Koch brothers will loom large in the Donald’s presidency.  The media focus on Trump’s consistently outrageous behavior shifted attention away from key Senate races.  Yet these will shape Donald’s time in the Nation’s Capitol – and over-turn the world as we know it.

The Senate will be controlled by Republicans, very conservative right-wing Republicans. This might not have happened if the Koch empire, through its various subsidiaries, hadn’t in the last weeks of October and early November pumped $42 million into key states.

The last minute TV and digital buys helped to knock out Democrats Russ Feingold (WI), Katie McGinty (PA), and Evan Bayh (ID).   Also on the receiving end of this largess was the Republican Senatorial candidate in NC.

We don’t know exactly how much money the Koch brothers put into these particular Senatorial races – and we may never know – because of the complex network of companies the Koch’s control.

What we do know is that back in 2015 ABCNews carried the story that the Kochs and their network of donors planned to spend close to $900 million on the election in 2016.

Hmmm.  That’s almost 1 billion dollars.  Later, in June 2016 the figure for their planned giving was adjusted downwards to $750 million.  Whether this money included plans for the late September $42 million ad buys we don’t know.  But those millions came after millions and millions lavished on other races throughout the year.

The Koch money doesn’t just go for media buys.  The Kochs have had a sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort on-going for several years.  In Florida, for example, there were 165 staffers and 16 field offices run by Americans for Prosperity.  There were similar canvassing efforts all over the country.  Early on in the summer the Washington Post said this on-the-ground campaign was “likely to benefit Trump.”

Question:  Did any of those canvassers say they worked for the Koch brothers?  Did they mention that their bosses had a huge stake in a climate-destroying tar-sands operation in Canada?  Huge – as in somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 million acres. ((It’s extremely difficult to estimate the total acreage of Koch lease-holds in Canada, due to the prevalence of companies with obscure names like 45612A. According to the mapping service GeoScout the Koch holdings are larger than those of Exxon or Conoco Phillips.))

Whether we identify as progressives, Democrats, Republicans, members of Black Lives Matters, citizens, independents, Marxists, Buddhists, foodies or none of the above, we need to have a very clear analysis of what just happened.  Before we decide how we are going to respond we’d better be very clear regarding who has the reins of power and how they snapped them up.

Mina Hamilton served on the Board of Directors of Greenpeace, USA. She was a co-founder and co-director of the Sierra Club Radioactive Waste Campaign and President of the Delaware Valley Conservation Association. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones magazine, the Progressive, the Nation and is a frequent contributor to She lives in Western Massachusetts. Read other articles by Mina.