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Controversial WV Legislation Tied to Shadowy Billionaires' Network

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Watchdogs say controversial West Virginia legislation is tied to Kansas oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. (CMD)
Watchdogs say controversial West Virginia legislation is tied to Kansas oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. (CMD)
February 8, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - The right-to-work bill and prevailing-wage repeal just passed by the Legislature have ties to Kansas oil billionaires Charles and David Koch and their shadowy network, watchdogs say.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the bills were based on model legislation from the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Lisa Graves, executive director of CMD, says ALEC is part of a national network of funders and front groups carefully designed to promote a pro-corporate agenda.

"The Kochs playing a ventriloquist role through these different organizations," says Graves. "Cookie-cutter ALEC bills, cookie-cutter talking points, ad campaigns by Americans for Prosperity and willing, pliable politicians who want to please these billionaires."

CMD says Senate President Bill Cole is a member of ALEC. The Charleston Gazette reported he attended what Graves called "Koch Fest," an annual closed-to-the-public donors retreat at a resort in Palm Springs, California. Cole's office said he attended in his "official capacity" and denied it was a "political event."

Graves says the Kochs have promised to raise and spend nearly a billion dollars in this election cycle. Cole says he did not collect any donations for his campaign for governor while at the Palm Springs event. But Graves says hundreds of billionaires and multi-millionaires attend the donor's retreat.

"They don't necessarily write the check at that meeting, but they're the connections," she says. "This is a network, and that produces big dividends. This is really a network where you're plugged into future funders of your campaign."

Cole's office says he did tell the donors in Palm Springs he was working to make West Virginia the 26th right-to-work state. According to the National Journal, Koch organizations such as Americans for Prosperity have supported that effort with expert testimony, advertising and door knocking and phone banking, like you might see during an election. Graves says they haven't said how much they have spent.

"What is certain is they've spent a lot," she says. "It's a real blanketing effort - ads and mailers, and spending a big sum in a small media market. The Koch brothers through AFP has been known to really inject more cash than almost any other group."

The right-to-work and prevailing-wage bills are likely to become law.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV