Notes on a Nation for Sale: How The Koch Brothers & a Blackwater PR Executive Picked a Fight with The Sparrow Project

Long Island, NY — On July 8th, 2012 The Sparrow Project was honored to play a role in coordinating an action targeting a Romney 2012 Campaign fundraiser at the Southampton home of billionaire David Koch. This action was part of a non-partisan coalition effort with widespread support from both mainstream and grassroots groups who wished to challenge the pervasive role of Koch money on policy making.

This successful action apparently hit a nerve at Koch Industries because Koch’s Public Sector offices in Washington D.C. immediately sprung into gear with a venomous (and bizarrely unprofessional) counter attack against Sparrow Project cofounder, Andy Stepanian. Shortly thereafter Koch Industries would announce that David Koch would be attending the Republican National Convention as a delegate for the state of New York. To coincide with David Koch’s attendance at the RNC the Sparrow Project has released a detailed counter-response to Koch Industries published attacks. (see below)

While Mitt Romney was scheduled to make four appearances at Southampton events on July 8th, the coalition made a conscious effort to not have protestors attend any events other than the fundraiser at David Koch’s home. This was done in an attempt to assure that the narrative would not become preoccupied with Mitt Romney but rather stay focused on money in politics, specifically money with strings attached to the petrochemical industry, the military industrial complex, and similar business interests that would place capital over compassion and profit over people. As part of the action’s media strategy a list of ten talking points related to the Koch brothers was printed up and handed out to those who attended. This talking point sheet stirred Koch Companies Public Sector President and COO Phillip Ellender into releasing an immediate response through their DC press office challenging each of our listed talking points and went further to single out Sparrow Project cofounder, Andy Stepanian as a “convicted terrorist” wholly responsible for the demonstration.

While only 200 people attended the July 8th action in Southampton, a focused media strategy, creative visuals, and even an airplane-pulled banner that read “Mitt Romney has a Koch Problem” made the action a complete success. In the week that followed the action, Sparrow tracked favorable news coverage from hundreds of national media outlets, including 7 separate write-ups in The New York Times. We would encourage you to read Natasha Lennard’s article for Salon, Michael Tracey’s coverage for Mother Jones or Jessica Yellin’s report for CNN, as these phenomenal pieces do a great job of communicating the action’s mission as well as the sentiments of those who participated. A semi-complete roundup of media coverage is also available HERE.

While the response from Koch Industries Public Sector is rife with erroneous, self-serving, and often circuitous rebuttals, it is important to underscore that Andy Stepanian was but one of many individuals who played a role in organizing the July 8th action. We say this not to defer responsibility but rather to honor the hard work of countless activists and groups that made the action a success. Considering this success and the media attention that followed, Koch’s response is not entirely surprising.

Surprising, however, was the content of an email we received from a journalist a few days later…

The email informed the Sparrow Project that Robert Tappan, Director of External Relations for Koch Companies Public Sector was engaging in an aggressive media blitz in which he was hounding editors at outlets that had already covered the action for their failure to report that Stepanian was in fact a “convicted terrorist.” Robert Tappan is best known as the Burson-Marsteller executive assigned to the Blackwater USA account in 2007.  Tappan helped navigate the beleaguered mercenary group through a sea of negative press surrounding the massacre of innocent civilians in Iraq and is now being tapped by Koch Industries to combat the groundswell of negative attention Koch Companies and Koch-affiliated political action groups have been receiving. In a July 16th post on the Koch Industries website titled “Evading Responsibility at the New York Times” what appears to be the entirety of an email exchange between Robert Tappan and New York Times Managing Editor, Dean Baquet was posted. The 5 email exchange which took place from July 9th to July 15th reads like a broken record and speaks volumes to Mr. Tappan’s desperation, as he obsesses over the demonstrations attendance and the failure of the Times to label Stepanian as “a terrorist.” The exchange can be read HERE.

The efforts of Robert Tappan and Phillip Ellender resulted in very little negative coverage of the activists’ action. Of the journalists we spoke to who received emails from Tappan all said that they paid little attention to their efforts. What is alarming however, is the ever-growing use of the word “terrorist” by industry groups to marginalize activists and political organizers to whom they disagree with or who pose a threat to their profits. This trend, if left unchecked, can sow seeds that quickly grow into accepted notions that activists are somehow “criminal” or “terrorist.” It is for these reasons that we are calling shenanigans on the Koch brothers, and have posted a detailed dissection and counter-response to their published media statements. We have also included a short list of known donors who attended the party at David Koch’s Southampton home.

Sections in the below reply with a [Koch] prefix came from Koch Companies Public Sector’s Press Office. Sections with a [Sparrow] prefix should be attributed to The Sparrow Project. Andy Stepanian, cofounder of The Sparrow Project along with Will Potter author of Green Is the New Red contributed to this counter response.

We welcome Robert Tappan, Phillip Ellender, Charles or David Koch to make another desperate attempt to find error in our counter-responses below.


[KOCH] Koch Respects The Right of All Americans to Support Their Political Candidates

We have seen media reports about the protest being organized by a convicted terrorist and a number of fringe organizations.

It is ironic that the pretext for the protest is supposed “outrage” at the role of money in politics. Considering the record-setting fundraising by President Obama as reported here, here, here, here, here and here, the hypocrisy of the Left and their attempts to mislead the public are obvious. There is a double standard at work here, and the message from the Left is that fundraising for their preferred candidates is fine, but donations to those with differing points of view are somehow immoral. The Left’s outrage is selective and hollow.

A flyer distributed prior to the demonstration includes a familiar list of debunked claims and incoherent grievances:

1). “David Koch, through his group Americans for Prosperity, has spent nearly $11 million to help Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union and anti-public education agenda.”

[KOCH] PolitFact Wisconsin debunked this charge weeks ago when it was first made by Democratic operatives. Koch supports Gov. Walker’s reforms and so do a solid majority Wisconsin voters as evidenced by the results of the state’s most recent election. We respect their choice. Additionally, AFP is not David Koch’s “group.” Americans for Prosperity has more than 1,800,000 activists in all 50 states and 34 state chapters and affiliates. More than 90,000 Americans in all 50 states have made a financial contribution to AFP or AFP Foundation. This sounds like broad-based support to us.

[SPARROW] American’s for Prosperity (AFP) went on record as spending $3.7 million on indirectly aiding Walker’s campaign through advertising, bus tours, townhall rallies and similar support. Politifact Wisconsin ultimately rested on this number citing that the $11 million number said to have been leaked by DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz should be viewed as conjecture. However, a closer look will show that at the very least Scott Walker walked away with an additional $1.3 million in support from Koch organized “donor summits”, and AFP spent $700,000 on a last-minute advertising blitz supporting the governor during the recall election. While hardly $11 million this $5.7 million figure has a paper trail leading directly back to Charles and David Koch, still, we believe the actual number is much higher and likely closer to Schultz’s original claim. Moreover, on June 7th 2012 CBS News posted a roundup indicating the total sum of contributions to Walker’s efforts by Charles, David, and AFP exceeded $10 million. Koch Industries should not be challenging us on the specific amount we cited in our talking point sheet, but instead should be doing their best to avoid using the 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 systems to play gymnastics with their campaign contributions.

2.) “David Koch has spent millions fighting against expanded healthcare access, through their (sic) political action group, Americans for Prosperity and has bought intentionally deceptive ad space to confuse voters on the facts surrounding expanded healthcare initiatives.”

[KOCH] This is false. David Koch has not fought against expanded healthcare access. Rather, he has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to fund medical research that has benefitted untold numbers afflicted with cancer.

[SPARROW] AFP has a passionate web-based campaign they call “Hands off my Healthcare” (an indictment of “Obamacare”) that does very little to articulate their idea of what healthcare is or should be (other than a service that does not result in raising taxes and exists autonomously from government intervention.) To make things even more confusing, AFP invited Representative Paul Ryan to speak at their Washington DC “Hands off my Healthcare” rally this spring. Paul Ryan’s healthcare plan, should he become vice president, would consist of shedding $800 billion in federal spending on Medicaid over 10 years, subsequently limiting service to over 60 million Americans. Ryan has already supported a GOP plan to slash an additional $1.6 billion from the National Institutes of Health. It should be recognized that David Koch has donated over $200 million to cancer research centers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and M.I.T. but only while bankrolling the members of the GOP leading the charge to slash-and-burn our Nation’s healthcare services, and while knowingly dumping hundreds of tons of cancer-causing Koch Industries petrochemicals into surrounding communities.

3.) “The Koch brothers have given nearly $100 million to right-wing think tanks, so they can push their regressive policies on legislators in both Washington and across the country.”

[KOCH] Koch supports the notion that economic freedom and individual liberty are the bedrock principles upon which the United States has built the world’s most just and prosperous society. History proves this, and we have promoted those principles for more that 50 years regardless of which party holds power. (Read Charles Koch’s 2011 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.)

[SPARROW] While “economic freedom” and “individual liberty” are floral terms, they do little to address the glaring fact that the influence of Koch industries on legislators seeks to roll-back environmental safeguards and social safety nets, and thus limit “individual liberties” by exposing people to trace elements that increase cancer rates, or by stripping ones “economic freedoms” by taking away their collective bargaining rights.

4.) “The Koch brothers have spent millions supporting Citizens United, a court ruling which opened the floodgates for corporations to have unlimited influence on elections.”

[KOCH] Citizens United vs. the FEC was decided by the Supreme Court and is entirely distinct from the electoral campaign process. (Read about the media’s frequent mischaracterization of the Citizen’s United decision.) Koch has not advocated for or against the decision. We were not party to it and we follow all campaign finance laws regarding disclosure. It should be noted that the court’s decision applies to groups on both ends of the political spectrum, including labor unions.

[SPARROW] Koch Industries is correct in stating that they are not a “party” to the court action “Citizens United vs. the FEC” but that does not mean that they did not use Koch Industries resources to affect the outcome of that decision. Koch has advocated for the decision and their efforts have been documented by public record. Ilya Shapiro and the lawyers at the Koch-founded CATO Institute filed an Amicus brief in support of Citizens United, while William H. Mellor and the lawyers at The Institute for Justice (a group founded and funded by Charles Koch) also filed an Amicus brief. The legal fees alone would have been in the millions as public record shows that at least 11 attorneys were working on the case at the behest of Koch Industries and their extension agencies. Moreover questions have been raised as to the potential influences Koch Industries has had on the Supreme Court Justices outside of the courtroom. One only needs to highlight Justices Thomas and Scalia’s attendance at Koch Industries donor summits to recognize that this incestuous relationship between the highest levels of our judicial branch and the businesses that stand to benefit most from rulings like Citizens United vs. FEC is a murky one and flirts with illegality.

5.) “The Koch Brothers are one of the nation’s biggest funders of efforts to prevent reductions in fossil fuel use. They actively spend to defend the interests of Koch Industries which has grossed billions for the Koch Brothers despite having more than 300 spills in six states, and one of the largest fines ever imposed upon a US corporation.”

[KOCH] Koch is interested in ensuring that the debate on climate change and hydrocarbons arrives at an appropriate conclusion based on sound science, rather than preexisting political agendas. Like many others, we are concerned the proposals of some who believe in climate change would create tremendous economic hardships and have little or no effect on the climate. Instead, Koch encourages an honest and robust debate about these and other important issues.Koch makes a broad range of products including energy products that people need and does so responsibly. Koch companies have been recognized with more than 500 awards for safety, environmental excellence, community stewardship, innovation and customer service since President Obama took office.

[SPARROW] To serve Koch’s interests as dealers in fossil fuels Charles Koch founded the CATO Institute. He then used Koch-backed foundation funding to contribute over $14 million to the Institute as start-up capital and then tapped the services of Patrick Michaels (a Senior Fellow at CATO and scientist employed by myriad clients in fossil fuel industries) to make media appearances dispelling climate change. Since 2009 Koch’s media strategy through CATO has had a significant impact on the way Americans view climate change, with polls showing a sharp decline in the percentage of Americans that see climate change as a true threat.

Koch Industries has also gotten creative when defending their regressive environmental policies. In an attempt to co-opt the narrative surrounding the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, Koch Industries affiliates partnered with America’s Building Trades Unions and adopted the language of Occupy Wall Street when they launched the website This website targets those who oppose the pipeline as “Hollywood’s elite 1%” and is littered with web copy that echoes the phraseology of Occupy Wall Street.

The awards received by Koch Industries for excellence in safety, stewardship, or innovation do nothing to negate the fact that Koch Industries have had 300 spills in 6 states. The aforementioned fine imposed on Koch Industries for dumping 91 metric tons of liquid benzene into a Texas estuary came only after Koch Industries plead guilty in court to lesser charges (this is further supported by Koch Industries Public Sector statements in reply to talking point #7 below) The full text of the DOJ’s 2000 indictment announcement can be read here. Surprisingly, Koch Industries use of this reply to talk about climate science, rather than responding to our allegations of 300 spills speaks volumes to Koch Industries Public Sector’s inability to respond to the allegations at hand and should read as an admission of guilt.

6.) “David and Charles Koch have donated at the very least $1.5 million dollars to the controversial American Legislative Exchange Counsel, authors of the infamous “Stand Your Ground” law which emboldened Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman. David and Charles Koch have continued to support ALEC as the group continues to draft model legislation to maximize Koch profits.”

[KOCH] Koch has been a member of ALEC which has existed for almost 40 years and works with Democrats and Republicans. While Stand Your Ground Laws have enjoyed bipartisan support–with many prominent Democratic governors signing them into law in Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia, and other states– neither Koch nor ALEC had anything to do with Florida’s law. As we have explained, any claim that Koch is in any way associated with the Florida law or the tragic death of Trayvon Martin is despicable and maliciously false. Indeed, even MSNBC was forced to admit it was wrong to make such assertions about Koch.

[SPARROW] ALEC thrives on secrecy. Corporations make “donations” to ALEC so that the organization can draft model legislation reflecting their corporate interests, and lawmakers introduce these bills across the country. All the while, the public is kept in the dark about how corporations drafted these bills, and which politicians are ALEC members. Koch’s circuitous response is an example of this. The corporation has supported ALEC for 40 years, as it admits, yet Koch would rather keep the public in the dark about how it is helped draft model legislation.

7.) “In 2000, David and Charles Koch’ (sic) company was indicted on criminal charges related to the dumping of 91 tons of liquid benzene, a chemical linked to childhood leukemia, into a stream in Corpus Christie (sic), Texas. After successfully lobbying the newly appointed Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2001 David and Charles reduced their criminal counts to a $350 million dollar fine for falsifying documents related to the dumping.”

[KOCH] This claim is based on a deeply flawed article in Bloomberg Markets Magazine that relied heavily on unreliable sources. You can read one of the many critiques of the Bloomberg piece here. In November 1995, Koch Petroleum Group made a voluntary disclosure to the government related to its reporting of wastewater monitoring tests. After making this voluntary disclosure, Koch Industries, Koch Petroleum Group and four individuals were prosecuted by the Department of Justice for alleged violations of Clean Air Act provisions related to benzene. This was an overreach by the federal government. The 97-count complaint was resolved almost six years later with Koch Petroleum Group pleading guilty in April 2001 to a single count related to the wastewater reporting it had voluntarily disclosed in November 1995. The charges against the four were dropped and they were required to agree not to sue the federal government for malicious prosecution as part of the settlement.

[SPARROW] While this long-winded response from Koch Industries may confuse a reader not familiar with legalese, a quick look at the response itself shows an admission of guilt. The disclosure mentioned above was required by law, thus when Koch Industries said they were “voluntarily disclosing” they were merely adhering to the law. What is not accounted for was the levels of liquid benzine (which exceeded 9x the permissible amount allowed in the plants liquid refuse.)  When an independent assessment was made the excessive levels this assessment did not match Koch’s filings. This is why they lobbied to have the 97 count indictment reduced to a failure to accurately disclose. Koch Industries agreement to pay one of the largest fines ever imposed upon a polluter should also speak volumes as to their guilt. Lastly, as a part of all plea bargains defendants are required to agree not to sue the prosecution post-settlement. Koch likely included this standard legal boiler-plate as a means to confuse readers.

8.) “In 2011 David & Charles Koch pledged to donate $100 million dollars to whomever runs against president Obama and expanded their promise by saying they would fundraise 10 times that of what the Obama campaign could.”

[KOCH] Neither Charles Koch nor David Koch has ever made such a pledge. We challenge those making this assertion to provide factual evidence of this false claim.

[SPARROW] Koch’s 2012 winter summit in Indian Wells, California raised $150 million alone.  Also, while addressing the group at Koch’s June 2011 “secret” seminar in Vail, Colorado, Charles Koch acknowledged the attendance of Texas Governor (and then White House Hopeful) Rick Perry and encouraged those in the room to donate millions to their shared fight against the Obama administration. Charles Koch said he would not rest until president Obama’s challenger had 10x his 2008 campaign war chest. Charles Koch went on to read out loud the names of 32 individuals who have taken lead by donating more than $1,000,000 to the group’s efforts.

9.) “David Koch has spent $3.6 million on misleading ads blaming the Obama administration for high gasoline prices despite knowing that the governing bodies that regulate prices are autonomous from any political group in the United States.”

[KOCH]  Another sweeping and unsubstantiated statement that is false and absurd.

[SPARROW] Both The American Energy Alliance (AEA) and the Institute for Energy Research (IER) are funded by David & Charles Koch. AEA is the political arm of the IER and is responsible for the aforementioned ad content as well as the $3.6 million spent on placement of these inflammatory ads tethering the Obama administration to high gasoline prices and attacking the administration for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. While AEA & IER use their non-profit framework to shelter their connection to Koch Industries, they cannot hide the fact that their president, Thomas J. Pyle has served for many years as a lobbyist for Koch Industries.

10.) “David Koch & Charles Koch think that democracy is something that can be bought and sold to the highest bidder.”

[KOCH] We believe that the American people can make decisions about the fate of the nation for themselves and that their vote cannot be bought or manipulated by advertising or clever slogans.

Regardless of the clarity of their concerns, we respect the protestors’ rights to free speech and to peaceably assemble. These rights apply not only to the protestors, but to those who are hosting and attending the fundraiser.

[SPARROW] Likewise, “we believe that the American people can make decisions about the fate of the nation for themselves and that their vote cannot be bought or manipulated by advertising or clever slogans.” It is for this very reason why it is imperative for the American public to challenge the corrupt influence that Koch Industries and their extension political action groups have on our democracy. We need only take a look at some of the attendees of David Koch’s July 8th fundraiser in Southampton to understand that should Mitt Romney become president, these major campaign contributors will cash in on their pledges.

1.) William Koch, Runs Oxbow Carbon, worth $4 Billion, Donation $2 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: Decreased environmental regulation from the EPA and other government agencies.

2.) Harold Simmons, an owner of 5 exotic metal & chemical trading companies has a personal worth $9.8 Billion. Simmons donated $800,000 to Romney and has a total giving $16.7 Million.

What He Wants: Harold wants to store radioactive waste in Texas through his company Valhi, Inc.

3.) Bob Perry, Owner of Perry Homes, Worth $600 Million, Donation $4 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: Tort reform to limit jury awards on homebuilders who do shoddy work.

4.) Jim Davis, Chairman New Balance Shoes, worth $1.8 Billion, Donation $1 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: A lucrative Defense contract.

5.) Richard & Bill Marriott, Heir to Marriott Hotel Fortune, Worth $3.3 Billion, Donation $2 Million to Restore Our Future.

What He Wants: A legal pool of foreign born workers to work in their hotels at below minimum wage rates (an adaptation of prison work release pay)

Note* Mitt Romney served twice on the Marriott Board

7.) Edward Conard, Ex Managing Director of Bain Capital, Worth $250 Million, Donation $1 Million to Restore Our Future.

What He Wants: Extended and expanded tax breaks.

8.) Frank VanderSloot, CEO Melaeuca, Inc., Worth $1 Billion, Donation $1 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: Less consumer protections.

9.) Steven Lund, Vice Chairman Nu Skin Enterprises, worth $31.9 Million, Donation $2 Million to Restore Our Future.

What He Wants: Less restrictions on marketing and advertising.

10.) Julian Robertson Jr., Hedge Fund Titan, worth $2.5 Billion, Donation $1.25 Million to Restore Our Future.

What He Wants: Extended and expanded tax breaks.

11.) John Paulson, Hedge Fund Titan, worth $12.5 Billion, Donation $1 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: Increased deregulation of capital markets.

12.) Paul Singer, Hedge Fund Titan, Worth $1 Billion, Donation $1 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: Singer needs Fed backing in his lawsuit to collect $2 Billion from Argentina.

13.) Robert Mercer, CEO Renaissance Technologies, made $125 Million in 2011 alone, Donation $ 1 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: To squelch a proposed tax on stock options.

14.) Kenneth Griffin, CEO Citadel LLC, worth $3 Billion, Donation $1 Million to Restore our Future.

What He Wants: To end Volcker Rule on Dodd-Frank Wall St excesses.

15.) L. Francis Rooney III, CEO Rooney Holdings, worth $40 Million, Donation $1 Million to Restore our Future.

What He Wants: More building contracts

16.) Steven Webster, CEO Avista Capital, worth $4 Billion, Donation $1 Million to Romney’s Super PAC.

What He Wants: He was the owner of the Deep Sea Horizon, responsible for the worst environmental disaster in our Nation’s history.