Religious Groups and Koch Bros. Target Voters
Editor’s Note: The Mudflats team has been reporting on a developing story here in Anchorage (LINK, LINK) . Zach Roberts, whose journalistic efforts on this topic have been recognized on a national level has this piece cross-posted at TruthOut.org.
In audio obtained from a Family Council fundraiser in Anchorage, Alaska, Truthout has learned that a number of right-wing religious groups, including Focus on the Family, have been working with the Koch brothers to target voters across the country using their multimillion-dollar voter database known as Themis.
At a fundraiser held at the Anchorage Middle Eastern restaurant Aladdin’s last week, Focus on the Family-associated Alaska Family Council President Jim Minnery laid out his plans for the future of the religious right – and why there was a movie-size poster of the arch-conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch on an easel by the door.
The Alaska Family Council (AFC) is a Focus on the Family-related group, as the AFC explains on its own web site: “Throughout each stage of its development, the Alaska Family Council has worked closely with Focus on the Family, one of the most respected and effective pro-family organizations in the country.” AFC’s Minnery is a relative to Focus on the Family’s Senior Vice President Tom Minnery. Tom Minnery is not only the VP of Focus, but also runs its affiliate, the advocacy organization CitizenLink.
Focus on the Family has been at the forefront of fighting LGBT rights across the country, from the Defense of Marriage Act to calling the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell a “cultural time bomb, strapped on the backs of the men and women who honorably serve this country.” Locally, the AFC in 2010 successfully pushed for a controversial proposition that would require parental notification for abortions; without the parent’s consent, the child would need to go before a judge to ask for the procedure.
The new move from the AFC, which calls itself a “Christian public policy organization,” was explained last week at the fundraiser: it is to form a 501c4 – political action group that will work hand in hand with not-for-profit religious groups.
Thanks to the Citizens United ruling, political and religious groups can work together more easily than ever. AFC and now Alaska Family Action (501c4) president Jim Minnery explains in an exclusive recording that I obtained at the event last week: “And so, the organization Alaska Family Action has the same board; I’m still the person in charge of that organization. We literally have to switch the light switch off and on when [laughter from crowd] we have a board meeting, because we have to be a separate nonprofit corporation according to IRS regulations.”
The crowd he was speaking to included former Alaska Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and, later in the speech, the Alaskan Gov. Sean Parnell, along with a myriad of other local political figures.
According to Minnery, this is not a just local idea, but a national movement. Thirty-eight states with “family healthy councils” across the country are in the midst of forming action groups and working with the Koch brothers’ Themis database to target voters.
“So with things like Iowa, and Florida, and Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana, are the ones that come to mind initially, they had such success in bringing together social conservatives as a c4, and partnering with the fiscal conservatives in their state that they were able to turn the entire legislative chamber and had phenomenal success in passing pro-family, pro-life legislation,” said Minnery. “So, the rest of us said, we want to do the same thing.”
Once Minnery laid out the scope of the plan, he finally explained why the Kochs were placed so prominently in the room, referring the audience to The Guardian for more information on the billionaire brothers.
Many of you may have seen on the easel I had a poster made of the Koch brothers, and I think it’s important to mention that it’s nationally known, internationally known. For a good read, about a page and a half, I would recommend googling, when you have an opportunity, “Koch brothers” and “UK Guardian.” It’s one of their very liberal papers in the UK and essentially what they did was, after the Kerry race, the Obama administration folks became very, very diligent and technically superior to the Republican party and conservatives in terms of identifying data and really getting good solid information on what makes their constituencies and what makes them tick and what gets them to the polls. The first time it was actually utilized, and this is a multibillion-dollar project on a national level, was during the Obama first term, and we can all vouch that that was successful. And so what happened was that the Koch brothers realized that we have the ability to do the same. There’s no reason why conservatives should be left behind – and that’s always been the case, technically.
The Koch brothers had indeed done the same. Themis pulls together information from marketing databases across the country. The technology is something the brothers have spent at least (experts estimate) $50 million building.
At some point in the past year, there was a meeting of several right-wing religious groups. The idea of religious groups coming together to share information and politicize it is not a new one – Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition did it back in the 1990s – but the new ability to pull in marketing research and religious groups’ data seemed to surprise and excite Jim Minnery. “It was an unbelievable experience for us to come, as with Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council, and Susan B. Anthony, and National Right to Life – groups that came together, basically for the first time it had ever occurred that these groups got together, and said, We want to bring our data together, in a blind gathering of that information,” he said.
As investigator Greg Palast discusses in his book Billionaires & Ballot Bandits,alliances such as this one represent the return of the evils of using data-mining, which first began with abuses by the Christian Coalition.
“We know that Republican operatives from [former Florida secretary of state] Katherine Harris to Karl Rove have used databases to challenge legal votes and legal voters,” said Palast in an interview with Truthout.
“The use is now more sophisticated, better funded and more dangerous than ever to Democracy,” Palast said. “The tricks that will be used in this election will be the practice-run for a full-scale attack threatening voters by the millions in the 2014 and 2016 elections.”
AFC President Minnery, on the other hand, told the crowd of 25 or so religious and political figures not to be paranoid.
“So, they introduced this project to us by basically saying, ‘Listen, we know more about you guys than you could ever hope to know, but the good side is, we’re going to be able to use this for the glory of God and to get conservatives in power, because this is not something you should be afraid of.’ Now, some people are going to have the black helicopter syndrome, and always wonder why all this information is had on them and what can be done with it. I’m personally not concerned about that because I don’t really have anything to hide.”
While Minnery may be concerned only for the “glory of God,” it wasn’t the Koch’s concern. They were charging for the access. “And they haven’t given it away, I can tell you that. We’ve been able to get the information, but there’s been somewhat of a cost, and that’s why we’re having this fundraiser, so we can utilize the data we have now and micro-target some of these races.”
The AFC was able get information on “close to 50,000″ people ” – 14 percent of Alaska’s population – “much, much more information than we’ve ever had in terms of what are their passions, and what districts they’re in, and what motivates them. And so we have a real opportunity to utilize this information.”
The AFC’s fundraising goal for the night was $40,000. In a media market as cheap as Alaska’s, that’s the equivalent of $800,000 in Texas.
Governor Parnell closed the speaking engagement part of the evening with a request:
I wish to thank you for your support of Alaska Family Action and Alaska Family Council. They provide an important voice not only for the unborn, but for that perfect love that casts out all fear, that he was speaking to. This goes beyond just your politics. It goes to who we are as a people – if we are willing to stand for life as firmly as we are willing to stand for liberty. That is something that we each share in common, and that we each will do together.
I urge you to give, and give heartily, tonight. Thank you.
Zach D. Roberts is a photojournalist whose work has been seen in The Mudflats, The Guardian, Truthout, BBC Television and Portfolio.com. Roberts most recently contributed to Greg Palast’s groundbreaking Nation investigation, “Mitt Romney’s Bailout Bonanza” and the bestselling book Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.