Koch west

Report examines billionaires in Silver State

A report by the liberal American Bridge Project throws a spotlight on the Koch brothers’ in Nevada.

A report by the liberal American Bridge Project throws a spotlight on the Koch brothers’ in Nevada.

Photo/Dennis Myers

Column note

An 89-page American Bridge Project report on the billionaire Koch brothers’ activities in Nevada has been obtained by the Reno News & Review.

The American Bridge Project was formed in 2012 by author David Brock, noted for starting his career as a conservative critic of liberals and evolving into a liberal critic of conservatives. He wrote The Real Anita Hill, a 1993 attack on the witness in the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, and followed it up three years later with The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, a volume sympathetic to the then-first lady.

In 2014, Newsweek described Brock’s American Bridge Project this way: “A super PAC and affiliated nonprofit, American Bridge has become one of the left’s most innovative and successful ventures.”

It is an indication of how the political and journalism climates have changed—and merged—that a political journalist could form his own political organization, including a political action committee arm, without experiencing much criticism.

The Project has shown particular relish in going after Charles Koch and David Koch, billionaire businessmen with a record of polluting and an announced intention of spending $900 million in next year’s election to throw it to conservative candidates. David Koch appeared on the Nevada ballot in 1980 as the Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate (his ticket placed fourth, just 165 ballots ahead of “None of these candidates”). Americans for Prosperity, a political action committee founded by David Koch, has an arm in Nevada.

In June, American Bridge Project issued a study, Banking on Obstruction: Koch Profits Behind Opposition to Ex-Im Bank, that argued the Kochs were promoting abolition of the Export-Import Bank because their corporations have received only $16.2 million in subsidies from it while Koch competitors have received a whopping $19.4 billion. The Bank was effectively shut down the next month after an eight-decade history. National Public Radio in Las Vegas subsequently reported anger by Nevada businesspeople over the shutdown of the bank. “America very much enjoys seeing small business succeed, and I think this program has shown that 90 percent of its benefit has gone to small businesses,” said North Las Vegas executive Rex Jones. Adam Jones, director of the Koch group Americans for Prosperity Nevada, wrote that the bank “loses taxpayer money, picks winners and losers in the economy and endangers American jobs. Nevadans would be better off without it.”

The American Bridge Project report on the Kochs in Nevada is not easy to read. It lacks a narrative to tie all its information together and make sense of it for the reader. It begins with a single page of text and then follows with what amounts to 87 pages of footnotes to substantiate its textual claims. It certainly makes a serious case of the influence of the two billionaires in the lives of Nevadans.

The report, which can be read at http://bp21.co/Nevada, notes that the Kochs have business interests in the state:

“The Kochs expanded their corporate empire into Nevada with their 2005 purchase of Georgia-Pacific, which maintains a facility in North Las Vegas focused on the manufacture of drywall. The … facility has spent several recent quarters in violation of the Clean Air Act [and] was the focus of lawsuits in 2009 when tainted drywall that affected homeowners throughout Nevada and the rest of the country was traced back to Georgia-Pacific, which eventually settled a lawsuit.”

The report also says that last year Koch Business Solutions announced it would come to Reno after the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada dangled tax incentives. We were unable to confirm that the Koch corporation had been granted welfare to come to Reno.

The American Bridge Project report links a longtime Nevada organization, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), with the Kochs.

“But Koch Industries’ involvement in Nevada pales in comparison to the reach of the brothers’ political empire. NPRI, which has received extensive Koch-network funding as a member of the State Policy Network, has spent years pushing the Kochs’ agenda in the state, attacking the state government as bloated even as it ranked as the ’leanest state government in the country,’ and lobbying to fight business taxes and cut education spending while the government starved for resources and students struggled. At one point, NPRI suggested offering businesses tax credits to set up on-site schools, such as ’Harrah’s High School.’ NPRI’s contributions to Nevada’s policy debates have been described by Democrats, Republicans, and independent commentators alike as ’idiotic,’ ’thoughtless,’ ’snarky sneering,’ and ’ideological hackery’ from ’narrow minds’.”

Asked for comment, NPRI’s Victor Joecks said in an email message, “For the last 24 years, the Nevada Policy Research Institute has advanced individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government by providing ideas and information that empower people. … These include Nevada’s passage of the nation’s best school choice program, near-universal education savings accounts, providing government employee salary information on TransparentNevada.com, earning nearly 3 million page views last year, and authoring comprehensive analyses on economic development, improving Nevada’s tax structure and dozens of ways to improve education without spending more. … Unable to discredit NPRI’s research and ideas on their merits, many leftists have resorted to ad hominem attacks of our organization. It’s sad, but not surprising, that some leftists would prefer to call us names, instead of addressing the research that clearly shows how free-market ideas and policies improve the lives of Nevadans. NPRI is proud of all the research and work we’ve done over the last two decades, but especially excited for [education savings accounts], which will help parents … select the best schools for their children.”

The report describes NPRI as a mouthpiece for the Kochs (“The Koch brothers have long had a voice in Nevada through the … Nevada Policy Research Institute”)—but the report also says NPRI “relentlessly attacked” tax breaks for corporations sought by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

Of the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity Nevada, the report reads in part, “One focus of the Koch network’s Nevada efforts is a vicious attack on public lands, which polling shows is clearly more of a corporate priority than one held by Nevadans. Together with the American Legislative Exchange Council and the American Lands Council, which received Americans for Prosperity funding, Koch-backed NPRI pushed for the transfer of federally controlled lands to state governments, where the lands would then be sold to private corporations for whatever their billionaire owners desire; the Kochs, for instance, own several companies focused on natural resource extraction and would love to get their hands on this land. This opportunity for more profits led the Americans for Prosperity affiliate in Nevada to quickly praise the anti-government extremist rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to recognize federal land ownership, only to scrub their support after Bundy offered some antiquated (to put it mildly) thoughts on the upside of slavery.”

Adam Jones, head of Americans for Prosperity Nevada, did not reply to messages seeking comment.