Mass transit is invaluable for society’s growth. Most obviously it reduces road congestion and helps curb global warming. With fuel efficient engines, the decrease in fuel emissions is multiplied. Public transportation also spurs economic growth, makes transportation accessible to those of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and research has shown that people who commute are healthier than those who simply get in and out of a car without the perk of exercise. So it seems counterintuitive that anyone should rally against it.
But that’s just what groups such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP), Freedom Partners, the John Birch Society, the Cato Institute, and others have been doing. All of these are funded by Charles and David Koch, more commonly referred to as the Koch brothers.
A recent New York Times article reports on how the Tennessee chapter of the AFP successfully stopped a yes vote on May 1 on a massive transit project that would have helped the increasing population in the city of Nashville.
Using an invasive technology from the data company i360, also owned by the Koch brothers, canvassers got aggregate information on voters who may swing their way. Founded to help free market candidates, i360 forms models by accessing consumer behavior, online activities, what people eat, watch, buy, and how they register to vote. Astroturfers have an idea of who they’re talking to or calling before even meeting them. Armed with this knowledge, they had a big impact on getting people to vote no.
Since 2015 member states of AFP have been furiously canvassing at a local and state level to sway voters against any ballot initiatives for mass transit improvement and gas hikes. They have also campaigned and lobbied officials to do the same. But the Koch brothers attack on public transportation goes back even further. For example, in 2011, Florida tea party Governor Rick Scott hired the Reason Foundation’s (another Koch-funded nonprofit) Wendell Cox to write a report about a proposed high-speed rail plan. Of course Cox determined it would be too costly and Scott stopped the project.
Infamous for their political influence and the millions of dollars spent furthering their agenda, the Koch brothers do not hesitate to destroy anything in their way. AFP was actually founded by David Koch, who previously served on its board. Its website keeps a “scorecard” to hold Congress accountable for votes that support its goals. In the category of “Energy & Environment” it laughably states:
“We must unleash American energy resources by removing regulatory barriers and keeping energy taxes low. Environmental quality improves with economic growth and prosperity. So, an overriding goal of environmental policy must be to avoid placing an undue burden on employers and entrepreneurs.”
If only it were true that “Environmental quality improves with economic growth and prosperity.” Unfortunately we’ve seen that these vital components of an evolved and successful society are consistently at odds. This isn’t a foregone result, but rather caused by the staggering amount of money tied up in fossil fuels. For the Koch brothers, protecting their fossil fuel money is seemingly their only concern.
The Koch brothers entered the ranks of the top ten wealthiest billionaires in the world through the fossil fuel industry and all of its trappings. They have their hands in oil, pipelines, petrochemicals, fracking, holdings, and derivatives associated with this industry. We don’t know all of the Koch Industry holdings because they refuse to disclose them. But we know that they’ve repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act and let millions of crude oil spill from 312 of their pipelines. A Rolling Stone article goes into detail on the Koch brothers nefarious falsifying of information, speculation, and price gouging as the economy was crashing in 2008. They pulled about 20 million barrels of oil off the market that year so that they could speculate on the highs/lows due to this withdrawal, and earn money as the economy tanked. Their concern for gas price hikes apparently didn’t extend to the taxpayers when they were the ones raking in the profits.
Infiltrating our elections and buying our representatives, the Koch brothers have found a way to protect their money. They cleverly disguise their agenda with non-profits that claim to fight for the welfare of the taxpayer as they pay to own the democracy they espouse. Their infiltration of our public transportation system is another way in which they will try to end all public works projects that could affect their profit. Democracy is not for sale. And if it is, it ceases to be democracy. It’s important for us all to fight for our representation, to keep money out of politics, and to vote for those who are doing the same.