Modern-day robber barons Charles and David Koch inherited a glut of cash that their father Fred made in part by building a Nazi oil refinery for Adolf Hitler, according to New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer's landmark 2016 book Dark Money. Charles and David later turned their father's company into Koch Industries, an oil-refining giant that produces more greenhouse-gas pollution than all but 21 other companies in America.
The Kochs also maintain a massive network of libertarian lobbying firms dedicated to helping Koch Industries' bottom line — and this week, the flagship lobbying wing of the so-called Kochtopus released a report bragging about how much it loves the Florida Legislature.
The Florida chapter of the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) released its 2017 "Economic Freedom" scorecard, a personal breakdown of how often each state senator and representative voted in line with Americans for Prosperity's libertarian, pro-business platform. (AFP denies it's simply a lobbying arm dedicated to promoting policies that help the Kochs' private agenda, but decades of reporting disputes that assertion.)
Legislators who voted in lockstep with the Koch network 100 percent of the time were awarded a "Champion of Economic Freedom" badge — and 50 Florida lawmakers earned their Koch-approved stripes this year. Among them is, notably, state Sen. Greg Steube, whom New Times has repeatedly called out for acting like a deranged wahoo and proposing bringing guns basically everywhere in Florida, earned a 140 percent rating from AFP because he both voted in step with the Koch agenda 100 percent of the time and proposed a ton of bills that AFP endorsed.
Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran also earned A+ ratings.
Other Koch "Champions of Economic Freedom" included 11 state senators — Miami's Anitere Flores among them — and 39 state representatives, such as Miami's Jose Felix Diaz, Jose Oliva, Manny Diaz, Carlos Trujillo, Rene Rodrigues, and Bryan Avila.
Predictably, progressive Democrats didn't score well. Miami state Reps. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Kionne McGhee each received an F from the Kochs.
"At its heart, an economically free government has low taxes, limited scope, low government spending, limited government regulations, protections for individual rights, and competition instead of cronyism," the report says.
How those principles translated exactly to the bills that AFP supported and opposed is anyone's guess. The report includes a breakdown of how AFP instructed lawmakers to vote on each bill this year: The group fought every single measure aimed at increasing the state minimum wage or teacher salaries, as well as a bill that increased safety and staffing regulations in hospitals.
Instead, AFP said it was in favor of a bill that would have crippled Florida Medicaid funding by turning it into a system of fixed annual "block grants" that the state would have burned through rapidly each year. (Gov. Rick Scott loves this idea.) Americans for Prosperity also pushed a gross bill that would have required Medicaid recipients to work in order to receive medical care — and AFP justified the bill using language that can be described only as Orwellian.
"By taking measures to ensure that temporary cash assistance remains temporary, research shows that more Floridians would enjoy the dignity and extra income that comes with work," AFP wrote this week.
The Koch-backed group also pushed a bill that the Miami teachers' union, United Teachers of Dade, warned would have crippled the union and possibly dissolved it. AFP instead couched this bill as "labor reform." AFP-Florida also pushed hard for the deeply controversial HB 7069, which allocated huge portions of public money for Florida charter schools. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has since debated suing the state over the measure. During the debate over HB 7069, the Libre Initiative, another Koch-founded-and-funded lobbying group aimed specifically at Hispanic people, sent out mailers and ran social-media campaigns in favor of the bill.
(The Kochs are also apparently in favor of legalizing "personal delivery drones.")
A few of the A+ legislators haven't exactly made their love for the Kochs secret: Earlier this year, Corcoran and Oliva were the only two state lawmakers in the nation to attend the Koch Donor Summit, a gathering of conservative lawmakers, lobbyists, and cash-bundlers that the Kochs founded in order to push their legislative agenda through to politicians. The summit is deeply secretive, and recording or publishing any information about meetings is prohibited.
The Florida Legislature is often, and correctly, cited as a morass of staunch conservatism and lunacy, but the influence of outside groups such as the Kochs (and other megadonors like them) is underreported. Multiple A+ Koch lawmakers are either running for higher office or floating the idea of running: Jose Felix Diaz recently won a GOP primary for state Senate, and Corcoran has long been debating a gubernatorial bid. An A+ rating from AFP likely means some Koch-network money is coming in the near future.
Oddly, AFP's demonstrated connection to the Kochs is sometimes not even recognized: Multiple prominent political blogs, including Florida Politics and Sunshine State News, reported on the AFP scorecard this week without one mention of the group's link to the brothers.
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