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12 Apr

Koch Brothers Go to War in Kansas

Submitted by BuzzFlash on Thu, 04/12/2012 – 9:09am.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

When two local folks dared challenge the Koch brothers so-called contributions to the state, Koch’s PR team landed with two feet.

What happens when two Kansans write letters disagreeing with a column headlined “Koch Industries and Koch brothers are assets to state,” written by the editor and publisher of the Lawrence Journal-World? Koch’s well-lubricated rapid response team, headed by a savvy public relations specialist, quickly jumps into the fray to “bat down the falsehoods.”

Dolph Simons Jr.’s lilting praise for the Koch brothers in his original column immediately inspired a boatload of comments — mostly critical. A week or so later, the LJW published two critical letters to the editor. Then, along came Simons’ reinforcements; with Melissa Cohlmia, the director of corporate communication for Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, leading the charge.

In his essay, Simons argued that critics of the Koch brothers were “liberal, anti-conservative forces in the country.” He accused local detractors of being “liberal-leaning faculty members and administrators at KU.”

Writers of the two letters to the editor that took Simons’ piece to task were neither, although it could be argued that one of the writers was not a disinterested party.

Anna Siemer wrote that the Koch brothers’ modus operandi “is well known throughout the country, and it’s not very flattering. Many are convinced these two men think big money will buy them all the government they will ever need to control every phase of our lives. The words plutocracy and robber barons come to mind.”

Siemer concluded her letter by writing: “Our tendency is to fear destructive forces from outside our borders, but I fear a greater source of danger comes from within. Let’s not sell our hard-fought freedoms to the high bidder. The Kochs of the world will work hard to convince us they have answers to all our problems. However we should be aware they are only interested in making a profit at our expense.”

The second letter was from Craig Grant, a long-time, and now-retired, lobbyist for the KNEA (Kansas National Education Association). Grant pointed out that the “Kochs give to cancer research (maybe as a result of a guilty conscience – they use cancer-causing chemicals, formaldehyde, for one – … Koch industries and have been rated in the top ten polluters in industry). Their contributions to universities have been in return for hiring ultra-conservative professors.”

Grant also noted that “the Kochs support ultra-conservative, out-of-the-mainstream causes and people who would: 1) devalue women and their power to make decisions in their lives; 2) defund arts and cultural programs; and 3) deregulate most all business/industry, taking us back to the dark ages in dealing with the environment and worker rights.”

Melissa Cohlmia, who previously ran her own marketing company before going to work for Koch Industries a half-dozen years ago, is director of corporate communication for Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. Her op-ed piece was a direct rebuttal to Craig Grant, who she accused of presenting “a textbook example of fictitious assertions that have no basis in reality.” You can almost hear her sigh as she disdainfully asks: “Where to begin?”

What followed was a full-throated defense, which included claims that Koch has a “commitment to environmental [and] health and safety” issues and contributes “hundreds of millions of dollars … to arts organizations and causes.”

Cohlmia maintained that Koch is erroneously rated as a “top ten polluter” by “a partisan index created in concert with a radical socialist group that faults virtually every major manufacturer in America today.”

She declared that “Koch supports causes that advance economic freedom and prosperity…. believe[s] in the Bill of Rights, individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government. We believe in honesty and in treating others with dignity and respect. To suggest otherwise … is unequivocally false.”

She concluded her column by writing: “Fair-minded debate and differing points of view are the foundation of this great nation, but let’s base the discussion on hard facts, not fallacy.”

In an e-mail, Craig Grant told me: “It seems strange to me that a ‘mere subscriber’ is limited to 250 words in a letter to the editor, while the corporate spokesperson, rather than the Koch brothers themselves, was given 4 columns, three inches to a column, to respond.” He said that he doubted “the corporate communicator read” his “letter very carefully as there are inaccuracies throughout her missive.”

Cohlmia has been down this road many times before. In a piece published in mid-February in The Wichita Eagle, she played the victim card by claiming that a proposed Koch brothers protest was “a politically motivated attack and an attempt to harass and demonize an American company with 50,000 U.S.-based employees – 2,700 of those in Kansas.”

She has also stated that she was “proud to work for Koch. As director of corporate communication, I’ve read and heard much about this company and its shareholders that is dishonest, distorted and derogatory. And while we continue to try to bat down the falsehoods, as quickly as we quash one, another rears its ugly head.”

Cohlmia has also responded to columnists and letter writers in Wisconsin.

She maintained that what drove her to work for Koch was “the values of this company – honesty, integrity, respect, a focus on real value creation.”

In addition to loosing their corporate communication director on letter writers in a number of towns across the country, the Koch brothers have launched a broad attack on their more high-profile critics; most notably Robert Greenwald, whose Brave New Foundation’s well-documented film, “Koch Brothers Exposed”, was recently released.

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According to Greenwald, “In their panic, they have now taken out Google ads attacking me and plastered an ominous image of my eyes on their website.”

Greenwald pointed out that “The truth is that the billionaire brothers bankrolling the conservative movement are using their wealth in a way that should be terrifying to anyone who thinks democracy is about more than pulling a lever every two years and letting rich folks take care of the rest.”

Greenwald and Jesse Lava, the co-author of a recent AlterNet piece titled “Top Ten Facts,” laid out “10 facts that every American should know about who the Kochs are and what they’re doing to our country,” which include: being “one of the top ten polluters in the United States,” as named by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute, and “have given $60 million to climate denial groups between 1997 and 2010”; being “the oil and gas industry’s biggest donors to the congressional committee with oversight of the hazardous Keystone XL oil pipeline”; donating more than $196 million to organizations that favor polices that would financially enrich the two brothers”; have profited to the tune of more than $100 million in government contracts; and have pledged to donate $60 million to defeat President Obama in 2012.

Melissa Cohlmia’s responses to Koch critics appear to be adapted from the playbook of Frank Luntz, the consummate corporate and Republican Party political consultant/pollster: If you repeat the same words and phrases often enough, they just might become believable.

Cohlmia, who did not respond to an email I sent her, repeatedly uses terms like “economic freedom and prosperity,” “individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government,” “honesty,” and “treating others with dignity and respect.” And while she claims to believe that “fair-minded debate and differing points of view are the foundation of this great nation,” she inevitably brings down the hammer.

She describes Koch critics as spreading “unequivocally false” information, and … you can almost hear that sigh again … she lets you know that she is tirelessly “continu[ing] to try to bat down the falsehoods, [but] as quickly as we quash one, another rears its ugly head.”

Get Robert Greenwald’s “Koch Brother’s Exposed” directly from Truthout.

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