The Koch brothers have done a lot to rehabilitate their reputation as Immortan Joe climate-destroyer/plutocrats by talking about criminal justice reform, a cause dear to the hearts of the libertarian right as well as the left. But when push comes to shove, the Brothers Koch would rather fund get-tough-on-crime politicians if it means attacking judges who give big awards to class action suits against giant corporations.
The Kochs' interest in criminal justice reform started when they lobbied GW Bush for reductions in the penalties for knowingly dumping the carcinogen benzene from a Texas refinery and then trying to hide the crime.
The political funding side of the Koch empire is funding GOP judicial candidates who've made longer sentences part of their platforms, especially where those would-be judges attack Obama's criminal justice reform initiative, which the Kochs have supported in other forums. The Koch-funded pro-prison ads are often highly racialized, featuring a narrator warning about "thugs being released onto the street" over visuals of menacing black guys in do-rags.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which is sponsoring the group behind the pro-Republican judicial ads, is funded this year by Koch Industries, General Electric, General Motors, Eli Lilly and other large corporations that have lobbied to minimize awards against them in class-action suits.
"What they're all concerned about is money," says Matthew Menendez, counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, which tracks judicial elections. But class-action issues don't sell well in 30-second campaign commercials, Menendez noted. So donors fund ads "that say judge so-and-so is soft on child molesters."
"The collateral damage is to criminal justice reform," Menendez said.
In the race for Louisiana governor this year, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., sponsored an advertisement last week that explicitly criticizes his opponent, Democrat John Bel Edwards, for supporting President Obama's clemency effort to allow reduced sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders.
Charles Koch has applauded the initiative the ad criticizes. He's even faulted the program for not acting quickly enough to release thousands from prison.
Koch Brothers Talk Criminal Justice Reform, But Pay for "Tough on Crime" Political Ads [Lee Fang/The Intercept]