Obama team fires back at Koch brothers

at 02:10 PM ET, 02/29/2012

President Obama’s re-election campaign is accusing the Koch brothers-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity of faking its grassroots support.

The claim, in a new letter from campaign manager Jim Messina, is part of a growing back-and-forth between the Obama team and the billionaire Koch brothers.

“You argue that Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization of everyday citizens,” Messina wrote in the letter, an early copy which was obtained by The Fix. “But its emphasis on rolling hack environmental protections and blocking a clean energy economy appears to be nothing more than an effort to promote the corporate interests of your employers and others who lavishly, and secretly, fund its operations.”


President Obama meets with Senior Advisor Pete Rouse, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Counsel to the President Bob Bauer, Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Senior Advisor David Plouffe, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Jim Messina (now Obama campaign manager) in the Oval Office, Jan. 7, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On Friday, the Koch brothers — oil magnates Charles and David — sent Messina a letter deriding a fundraising e-mail from the Obama campaign. The fundraising letter accused the Kochs of “jacking up prices at the pump” and committing as much as $200 million to defeating Obama’s reelection.

In the letter, Koch Companies president of government and public affairs Philip Ellender argues that Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization practicing democracy.

In Messina’s response, he scoffs at that notion, calling on the Koch brothers to disclose their donors if they want to prove their grassroots support.

“...it is a cynical stretch to describe the political activities of your employers as furthering democracy when they are courting huge checks from special interest donors to pay for negative ads, with no public disclosure of the identity of those donors,” Messina writes.

“There is no campaign in the country that believes more in the active participation of Americans in the electoral process than this one,” Messina added. “When you attempt to drown out their voices through unlimited, secret contributions to pursue a special interest agenda that conflicts with what’s best for our nation, you must expect some scrutiny of your actions.”

In the Koch’s letter Friday, Ellender argues that Messina and the Democrats were demagoguing private citizens simply trying to make their voice heard.

“...It is an abuse of the President’s position and does a disservice to our nation for the President and his campaign to criticize private citizens simply for the act of engaging in their constitutional right of free speech about important matters of public policy,” Ellender wrote. “The implication in that sort of attack is obvious: dare to criticize the President’s policies and you will be singled out and personally maligned by the President and his campaign in an effort to chill free speech and squelch dissent.”

The Koch brothers have proven a strong fundraising tool for Democrats, who regularly feature them in e-mails seeking financial support.

Here is the entire letter:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Dear Mr. Ellender:
I am writing in response to your letter, in which you portrayed the oil and gas executives you represent as average citizens trying to make their voices heard. Having built a campaign across the country from the ground up, one in which we encourage all Americans to engage in the political process, I believe that is an admirable goal.
But it is a cynical stretch to describe the political activities of your employers as furthering democracy when they are courting huge checks from special interest donors to pay for negative ads, with no public disclosure of the identity of those donors.
You argue that Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization of everyday citizens. But its emphasis on rolling back environmental protections and blocking a clean energy economy appears to be nothing more than an effort to promote the corporate interests of your employers and others who lavishly, and secretly, fund its operations.
Moreover, the negative ads AFP has run have been challenged as false by independent fact checkers.
The Los Angeles Times has reported that in 2010, Koch Industries and its employees marshaled hundreds of thousands of dollars behind the election of their Republican allies on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who have pursued their interests in Congress. In fact, nine of the 12 new Republicans on the committee signed AFP’s pledge to oppose President Obama’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases.
And now it’s been reported that your employers and those close to them intend to spend $200 million in an attempt to defeat the President. You note in your letter that Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members and contributors from all walks of life across the country, suggesting that this is the source of AFP’s funding. There is one way to verify your point: disclose those donors for the public to make that judgment.
What is known about the Kochs’ agenda and business practices would give most Americans pause. According to the Kansas City Star, Koch Industries has enriched itself by keeping oil off the market, storing it in offshore tankers and waiting to cash in when the cost of oil rises. The Koch brothers have also been vocal critics of the administration’s investments in clean energy alternatives. Our energy strategy cannot be set by what’s best for the pocketbooks of politically-connected oil and gas executives. It must be driven by what’s best for the American people, our economy, and our energy security.
In your letter, you expressed the Kochs’ concerns about debt. We share your concern. That is why the President introduced a plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion and put us on a path to solvency. The Kochs must be concerned about the tax and budget plans the Republican candidates have proposed. Those plans would add trillions of dollars to the deficit by massively increasing defense spending to an arbitrary level, and extending and expanding unaffordable and unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
There is no campaign in the country that believes more in the active participation of Americans in the electoral process than this one. When you attempt to drown out their voices through unlimited, secret contributions to pursue a special-interest agenda that conflicts with what’s best for our nation, you must expect some scrutiny of your actions.
Sincerely,
Jim Messina
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

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