Last month, the Congressional "Freedom Caucus" was instrumental in defeating a health bill put forward by Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. That bill would have deprived an estimated 26 million Americans of health coverage to provide a tax cut for the wealthy, but the Freedom Caucus' far-right members were demanding even harsher provisions and they haven't given up the fight.
The travails of the bill known as "Trumpcare" have been covered extensively in the media, but another aspect of the story has not: the overwhelming majority of Freedom Caucus members have received campaign funding from a PAC funded by the Koch Industries. The Kochs' unpopular and extreme agenda is reflected in Caucus efforts to make a bad bill even worse.
Perhaps it's time to start calling the extremist crew--that wants to throw Americans under the bus and strip them of their emergency care--the Koch Caucus.
The Koch Caucus
While it can be difficult to penetrate the veil of secrecy surrounding "dark money" in politics, some contributions must still be publicly disclosed by law. CMD analyzed those to create a profile of the Koch family corporation's support for Republican candidates in 2016.
This author cross-checked these contributions against known members of the Freedom Caucus. After discounting for House members who left the Caucus, retired, or attempted to run for higher office, that analysis shows that "KochPAC"--the political arm of Koch Industries--provided funding to more than 80 percent of the Freedom Caucus' members.
Kochs Bankroll Faux "Grassroots" Uprising Against "Obamacare"
The Kochs have a long history of funding efforts to crush the Affordable Care Act and end government's role in American healthcare.
The Koch brothers have contributed large sums of money to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and have invested heavily in the "Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce," an organization that has funneled millions of dollars to far-right Republican politicians.
Both groups have devoted considerable effort to dismantling the Affordable Care Act. As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) first reported in 2015, Freedom Partners largely functions as a political operation. It presents itself as a business association, but its fundraising cycles are closely tied to election schedules. As we reported in January, it has also funneled millions of dollars to two groups working to overturn the ACA--including the "60 Plus Association" and the "Center to Protect Patient Rights" (CPPR)--which funneled money to yet other groups.
ALEC presents itself as a legislators' group but receives only about 1 percent of its funding from legislative dues. In 2013, the group heavily promoted an "Obamacare kill bill" that would have suspended the license of any insurance company that accepted the ACA's federal subsidies. Its health issues page and "Obamacare" subject page list a number of measures designed to thwart the ACA while maximizing profits for medical fields that include dentistry and Big PhRMA. ALEC supported an early version of the Republican repeal bill in May of last year.
Another Koch group, Americans for Prosperity, has also been pushing an anti-Obamacare agenda. AFP spent a fortune in 2012 and 2014 on election ads that attacked Democrats over the ACA and painted the private-sector insurance plan as an example of big government run amok. The AFP told the New York Times that its ultimate goal is to undermine public faith in the ability of government to solve big problems, by tarring the Affordable Care Act as a "social welfare boondoggle" so that there will be less support for addressing the biggest problem of all--climate change. (Koch Industries is a major polluter.)
Today, the AFP is telling donors, in emphatic capital letters, that its three-part agenda for health care consists of "1. REPEALING OBAMACARE; 2. FIXING OUR BROKEN TAX SYSTEM"--that is, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy--and, "3. CUTTING FEDERAL SPENDING."
An Unpopular Agenda
Those three points provided much of the foundation for the unsuccessful Republican repeal bill that came to be known as "Trumpcare." That bill was extraordinarily unpopular with the American people. A poll taken shortly before its legislative defeat showed that only 17 percent of voters supported it, while 56 percent opposed it.
The Kochs' political messengers are even less popular. A Fox News poll conducted at the height of the GOP healthcare debate measured approval for a number of politicians and organizations. The Freedom Caucus came in dead last, winning the support of only 19 percent of voters--less than one in five.
Despite its harmful provisions, "Trumpcare" wasn't harmful enough to win support from most Freedom Caucus members. Their key demand was the removal of so-called "essential benefits" from the bill, crucial provisions such as emergency care and pregnancy coverage that protect American families from financial catastrophe.
When Trump threatened reluctant representatives with primary challenges, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners immediately promised to create a "seven-figure" campaign fund for lawmakers who toed the extremist line. In an attempt to mollify the Koch-based far right, House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed to strip "essential benefits" from the bill, but it was too late. Conflict between the Koch extremists in the House and the more liberal Republican senators doomed the bill.
Unfortunately, the struggle isn't over. Politico reported last week that the Freedom Caucus is hoping to play a larger role in redrafting the legislation.
"My hope is the president will be inclined to allow the negotiations to go forward and we will be allowed to get a better bill than we did before," said one Freedom Caucus member.
They may succeed. The New York Times reports that Caucus members met with White House staffers late Monday evening to discuss stripping the Republican "repeal and replace" bill of its protections for people with chronic health provisions. Those provisions, which many experts consider inadequate, would make it somewhat more affordable for people with pre-existing conditions to purchase insurance that provides coverage for their treatment.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), head of the Freedom Caucus, told the Times that the bill's new provisions were not yet finalized. (KochPAC contributed to Meadows' 2016 campaign and provided additional funding to his "House Freedom" fund. Meadows was also endorsed by the Koch-backed Concerned Women for America, a right-wing social values organization that has been designated as "anti-gay" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
These three interconnected stories--of the Koch brothers, the Freedom Caucus, and the Affordable Care Act--paint the larger picture of money's corrupting role in American politics.
In this case, that role may lead to tens of thousands of deaths and financial misery for millions.