The Koch brothers are coming to Maine

The Koch brothers are coming to Maine

Last year, Charles and David Koch, the oil tycoons who have helped to found and fund much of America’s conservative infrastructure, said they planned to spend a billion dollars to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential race. But following the nomination of Donald Trump, they made a dramatic change in direction.

According to an in-depth report by the conservative National Review, the Kochs have cancelled their national spending plans and will instead shift money to “important public-policy initiatives at the state and local levels,” which they believe will pay “greater long-term dividends.”

This change in focus puts Maine squarely in the Koch’s crosshairs, both as a small state where their money can go a long way in influencing policy and as a jurisdiction where one of the issues they oppose most vehemently, increasing the minimum wage, will be up for a public vote in November.

The Kochs don’t just oppose raising the minimum wage, they believe it should be eliminated entirely. As far back as 1980, David Koch ran for Vice President for the Libertarian Party on a platform of abolishing the minimum wage “so that people can once again be free to compete.”

More recently, Charles Koch called the minimum wage an obstacle that he wanted to clear out and the Kochs’ chief political strategist was recorded claiming minimum wage increases lead directly to fascism.

Just yesterday, the Kochs were fined by the FEC for illegal contributions to an anti-minimum wage group called “Americans for Job Security.”

The influence of the Koch brothers has already begun to be seen in Maine in opposition to Question 4. If passed this November, the initiative will raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 in 2017 and then by a dollar a year until it reaches $12 in 2020. The wage would thereafter increase with the cost of living.

The Koch-funded Maine Heritage Policy Center has been forcefully attacking the referendum for months, publishing more than thirty articles, columns and reports and making a series of baseless claims that raising the wage will harm the economy. (In fact, the balance of research on the subject and the best and most recent studies show no detrimental effect on employment, and indicate that raising the wage will instead put money in the pockets of families struggling to get by on poverty wages and who spend their paychecks locally, boosting community businesses.)

MHPC has been joined in the anti-minimum wage effort by a Koch-funded fake think tank called the “Employment Policy Institute,” run out of a Washington D.C. Lobbying and PR firm. Last year, the owners of two family businesses who support increasing Maine’s minimum wage, Jim Wellehan and Adam Lee, called out the group in an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News for peddling their misinformation in Maine.

The influence of the Kochs, now mostly represented by the activities of these and other dark-money organizations, will likely become even more obvious as the campaign increases in tempo this fall. A sudden, late influx of millions of dollars for “No on 4” advertising could have a significant impact on the election while giving supporters of a minimum wage increase little time to respond.

With that possibility in mind, Mainers for Fair Wages, the coalition supporting the referendum, has been working to build a broad base of grassroots support to offset the resources of the Kochs and other deep-pocketed minimum wage increase opponents. Through the last campaign finance filing period, MFW had raised more than $265,000 from almost 8,000 individual contributors in Maine, giving an average of just $39 each.

It will take a lot more than that to match the Kochs, but it’s a solid start and shows how strongly so many Mainers feel about the need to raise the minimum wage for 159,000 workers and their families.

Make a contribution to Mainers for Fair Wages

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