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What Do the Kochs Want? Would It be Good for West Virginia?

GRAPHIC: The campaign ads already are running in West Virginia's 3rd congressional district, many paid for by a network of groups started by the oil and chemical billionaire Koch brothers. What do the Kochs want? Screengrab from an ad by Nick Rahall for Congress.
GRAPHIC: The campaign ads already are running in West Virginia's 3rd congressional district, many paid for by a network of groups started by the oil and chemical billionaire Koch brothers. What do the Kochs want? Screengrab from an ad by Nick Rahall for Congress.
June 26, 2014

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The Koch brothers have become an issue in the race between West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall and State Senator Evan Jenkins.

But what do the brothers, who made billions in oil and chemicals, want?

Michael Beckel, a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity, says the Kochs' big-money political network is designed to promote hard-core libertarian policies - such as privatizing Medicare and Social Security, and opposing a minimum wage.

"The Koch brothers are advancing a particular ideological agenda. They would like to see more lawmakers adopt those types of policies," says Beckel.

Most Koch political organizations say their objective is to increase economic growth through free-market policies. But according to Robert Maguire, an investigator at the Center for Responsive Politics, the groups funnel millions into other groups, that produce attack ads on hot-button social issues the Kochs have said they don't really care about.

Maguire points to a group called the Center to Protect Patients' Rights, which changed its name to American Encore after receiving unflattering media coverage.

"It granted money to the National Rifle Association, to Americans United for Life. It granted to, I believe, The American Values Coalition," says Maguire.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, warns that ending the minimum wage and privatizing Medicare would be especially destructive moves in West Virginia.

"Privatizing Medicare would not only push a larger share of health costs onto seniors, but it would dramatically increase total health-care spending by reducing the bargaining power of Medicare," says Boettner.

He points out that West Virginia has a high proportion of low-income seniors, which he believes would make privatizing Social Security a disaster.

"Privatization is not a plan for Social Security; it's a plan to dismantle Social Security," he says. "Privatization means increased retirement risk, severe cuts in Social Security benefits, and a large increase in our federal debt."

The state branch of the Koch group Americans For Prosperity didn't return a call requesting comment for this story.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV