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The Kochs and Arkansas


Apart from frequent rants on our Arkansas Blog, the Koch family's huge investment in electing friendly Arkansas politicians has gotten mostly passing mention in Arkansas media.

But the Washington Post saw the big picture in a major news feature this week. Reporter T. W. Farnam joined a bus tour in Arkansas sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity, a political lobby founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, who've made an industrial fortune in fields from energy to timber holdings including Georgia-Pacific.

The Post reported that AFP, whose Arkansas operation is headed by Teresa Oelke of Rogers and includes several paid staff members, including the wife of Republican Rep. Nate Bell, will spend $1 million to flip enough Arkansas legislative seats for Republican control.

AFP is sending mass mailings attacking Democratic candidates. Its bus tour also visited districts where the AFP hopes to pick up Republican seats. The draw included free food and a paid appearance by John Ratzenberger, who played a barfly on the "Cheers" series.

AFP has also bought TV ads depicting Arkansas, inaccurately, as a high-tax, high-debt state with a dismal economic record. This is to counter the Democratic Party's strategy of running candidates behind popular Gov. Mike Beebe.

Beebe lashed out at AFP for "trashing Arkansas" in his weekly radio address last week. He said, "Why would any group spend money trying to trash Arkansas's image? I can't answer that. The funding for Americans for Prosperity remains a secret and originates mostly from out-of-state, and its organizers don't answer questions about their benefactors."

It's not just Arkansas. The Post reported the Koch-related groups are prepared to spend $100 million this year on legislative races in 35 states. Opposition to federal health care legislation is a key part of the strategy to oppose work of Congress from the ground up.

The Post found a classic example of Arkansas thinking in Paragould, where a former supporter of Democratic Sen. Robert Thompson said he probably would vote a straight Republican ticket this year.

Daniel Ray, the 35-year-old father of four, told the Post he was "ashamed to say" he took a state government job for the benefits it offered his family. But he said he was sick of federal government spending. As a low-paid finance department employee, Ray likely qualifies for many federal benefits, from tax preferences to safety net food and medical programs. Koch-backed tax cuts for the wealthy would likely bring a dramatic reduction in the state payroll, probably including Ray's agency.

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