Tag Archives: Koch Industries

AFP Takes a Victory Lap

30 May

AFP’s Victory Lap in Clarence

It takes a lot to get me to join something. Between work, my kids’ school and afterschool activities, time is not a luxury. But I became a joiner last week. 

I have joined hundreds of other dedicated and concerned taxpayer-parents of current, future, and former Clarence school students, who have united not just to maintain, but to improve, the quality of Clarence schools. You can find us at www.keepclarenceschoolsgreat.com, and we’re putting our names behind our effort. We aren’t funded, advised, or otherwise working with any union, special interest group, or lobbying organization anywhere – especially not Albany or DC.

On May 21st, an overwhelming majority of voters rejected the Clarence Board of Education’s proposed 2013-2014 budget, which contained a school tax hike of 9.8%. Because of that defeat, several more dedicated, professional educators will be summarily and unceremoniously fired. The district is losing its last social worker. Several sports programs will be eliminated. We aren’t happy about this outcome, but we accept it. We’re going to make sure that the upcoming revote budget does as little harm to the students as possible. We certainly don’t see anything about which to gloat or cheer. 

Our group extends its thanks and best wishes to the teachers, librarians, and staff who will soon find themselves out of work. We know that budget cuts aren’t just abstract theory, but that they affect real people and their futures. Make no mistake – these cuts will adversely affect the quality of the education Clarence’s children receive. What is there to applaud? 

We had hoped that people would see past the slick propaganda, and would vote to maintain the quality of the schools for current and future generations. The schools have undergone many cuts in the last decade, and simply aren’t what they used to be. Thanks to prior years’ cuts, there’s no marching band, no enrichment program, music and art programs have been reduced, and with the most recent round of cuts we’re looking at larger class sizes and elimination of freshman sports and half of of the modified sports programs.  Reduced opportunity benefits no one. Where’s the good news? 

And when is it enough? While we should be discussing how Clarence can regain the #1 spot in Business First’s rankings, we’re scapegoating teachers and harming students’ opportunities. The district’s spending is well under control, and administrative costs represent 6% of the budget.  The truth is that  the district is already run efficiently – “like a business” – and we won’t ever cut our way to excellence.

But if the rejection of the budget and the loss of dedicated teachers and staffers had one silver lining, it’s that we’re awake now; energized to ensure that the excellent Clarence schools our kids deserve aren’t just maintained, but improved.

We think the schools are sustainable already; they’ve been sustainable this whole time. The cutting, however, is unsustainable.

As taxpayers, we demand value for our money, and the Clarence schools are the best value in WNY. We get Cadillac quality for the cost of a Chevy, and we won’t have our schools hijacked by a phantom group claiming bipartisan “concern” for our students’ educations, while spending tens of thousands of dollars to do them harm. Don’t presume or pretend to be on the side of the schools or the students if you’re not.

Above, you see another slick insert included with everyone’s issue of the Clarence Bee this week. It is a victory lap – gloating over the firing of teachers, over the reduction in programs for our schoolkids; cheering higher class sizes and fewer resources. Applauding a curriculum that provides fewer opportunities for current students. Who died and made our local AFP stooge the queen of the schools? What election did she win to give her the right to dance on top of the rubble she helped create? Look at that flyer – as if the phony bipartisanship wasn’t enough of a lie – she has the chutzpah; the gall; the unmitigated shamelessness to presume that she is on the same side as the taxpayer parents whose kids now have to make do with less than her kids had to. To say this is appalling and classless is an insult to appalling classlessness. 

By improving the quality of the schools, you protect your investment – your tax investment, and your investment in your own home. Great schools make a great community. 

We’re your neighbors. We’re your friends. We pay taxes, too. We’re awake now, and we’re just getting started. 

 

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Local AFP Activist Behind Anti-School Tax Direct Mail in Clarence

10 May

A spokesman for the New York branch of the right-wing group “Americans for Prosperity” (AFP) confirms that a local AFP organizer is responsible for sending slick mailings to households in Clarence under the pseudonym “Citizens for Sustainable Schools“.  No such group exists on the New York State Board of Elections website, nor is the actual entity responsible for the mailers identified on any of its materials online, or on the mailers themselves.  The AFP is a well-known fake grassroots (astroturf) advocacy group funded by Koch Industries, which advocates for conservative policies.  It is a well-funded special-interest front group based in Northern Virginia. 

Clarence voters will go to the polls on May 21st to vote on a 9.8% school tax increase to ensure that the Clarence Schools can maintain elective courses, art, and music programs in the face of financial hardships from decreased state funding, years of small increases, and legacy costs.  The school’s superintendent produced the following video, and had the courage to put his – and the district’s – name on it. 

The vote in Clarence is critical because the proposed increase exceeds Cuomo’s property tax cap, and must be approved by a supermajority (60% of votes cast). 

Chris Trimarchi of AFP New York denied that his group had any responsibility for producing or paying for the mailers, which hit Clarence homes a few weeks ago, and again on Friday May 10th. He directed me to Lisa Thrun, whom he identified as an “activist” working in the WNY area, and gave me her number. I placed a phone call to Ms. Thrun, and will update this post when I receive a reply. 

Ms. Thrun and her husband are quite active with AFP and other local tea party organizations.  They organized an Amherst anti-Obamacare teach-in with health reform opponent Betsy McCaughey in 2011, anti-Obama phone banks for AFP in 2012, and one of her LinkedIn profiles lists her as the local “Grassroots Chair” for the Koch Brothers’ decidedly astroturf AFP.  Ms. Thrun, as local chair of the AFP, is the named plaintiff in an AFP-backed lawsuit filed against Governor Cuomo over New York’s participation in a northeastern compact to reduce greenhouse emissions. Here is the first mailer that arrived in Clarence homes: 

 

Today’s version is very senior-centric, and contains great language about “open checkbooks”. Hope those seniors don’t have grandkids who might want an education!

How did I find the AFP connection? Simple. 

The mailers sent to Clarence homes, and the associated website are completely devoid of identifying information. “Citizens for Sustainable Schools” simply doesn’t exist, and the website’s Whois information is locked behind an anonymous registrant. 

Instead, I Googled the phrase “Respect the Taxpayers” and school+tax+new+york, which revealed phrases that were contained on the mailer: 

The thing is, the proposed increase is not outrageous, especially if it helps to protect the excellent quality of Clarence schools. A free and excellent public education is – or, at least, should be – every American child’s birthright. These things cost money – a good education costs money. No one doubts that an increase will be a hardship for some, but Clarence enjoys an overall property tax rate that is significantly lower than that of its Erie County neighbors, and part of the reason why Clarence has grown while other communities have not has to do with the excellence of our schools. 

If the budget doesn’t pass, it is likely that all bands and orchestras at Clarence schools will be eliminated, and all musical instrument instruction will cease. Those 13 educators will be out of work, having negative economic consequences. This includes the concert orchestra, symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, concert band, symphonic band, wind ensemble, 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Band & Orchestra will be eliminated. Without passage, all vocal music classes will be cut from the middle and high school. All that will be left is the K-8 general music class – the bare minimum the state mandates. will receive ONLY a General Music class; the basic requirements mandated by the State.

On April 2nd, the Clarence Central School District has been recognized as one of its Best Communities for Music Education. Only 307 school districts in the country received this recognition.  9 of the Top 10 Seniors are music students. If the budget passes, the increase in monthly taxes would rise by approximately $11 per $100,000 of assessed value. If you own a house worth $200,000, that’s an extra $22 – the cost of a large pizza with a couple of toppings. Even with the 9.8% increase, Clarence will have the 2nd lowest taxes in Erie County.

For what kind of America is AFP advocating if it recommends effectively ending music and art education in schools? What kind of America does AFP seek if it demands that already financially burdened schools cut – with a hacksaw – to a barebones budget? At what point do we stand up and recognize that we invest in our children, and our families and our society derive a palpable, lifelong return on that investment? 

Vote yes on May 21st at the Clarence High School gymnasium from 7am – 9pm. The quality of our kids’ education, the quality of life in the town, and the town’s desirability are at stake. 

Curious Funding of the Chris Collins for Congress Campaign

30 Oct

Here’s a document that congressional candidate for NY-27 Chris Collins (R-Clarence) filed with the FEC. It is his final pre-general election filing, and shows who gave him money, and how much. (Carl Paladino maxed out back in June. So did Robert Stevenson, and in October a whole bunch of PACs, local business figures, companies, and committees paid up

The federal limit for donations in a general election congressional campaign is $2,500. You’ll notice, however, that there are a lot of donations that exceed that amount, and are checked off with “primary” next to them, and are made well after the primary election ended. Collins can only use those donations over $2,500 marked “primary” to pay off his own loans to his campaign, (the primary election took place in June).  Is Collins informing his donors – some of them signing off on $5,000 checks – that their money is just going right back into his pocket?

It’s a tricky way for Collins to, essentially, double-fund his campaign – he loans the campaign money in the primary, raises primary funds to pay himself back, and then re-loan the money he raised in primary funds and paid himself back with the campaign to use in the general.  
 
Over the course of this election cycle, Collins has loaned his campaign $250,000 in the pre-primary filing, $400,000 in the October quarterly filing.  (Why is something called the “Western New York Victory Fund” located in a medical complex in Athens, GA? Also: 
 
 
 
All the while, Bob McCarthy can ooh and ah over Collins’ substantial war-chest. 
 

Collins

Buffalo Beast Poses as David Koch, Calls WI Gov. Walker

23 Feb

The story behind the prank phone call is here. David Koch is one of the famed Koch Brothers, the Hayekist moneybags behind the tea party and much of the anti-Obama right wing.

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Koch: [Laughs] Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.

Walker: All right, that would be outstanding. [*** Ethical violation much? ***] Thanks for all the support…it’s all about getting our freedoms back…

Koch: Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. [Laughs]

he’s pretty reasonable but he’s not one of us…”

Some more of the transcript, since the Beast’s site is down:

Koch: I’m very well. I’m a little disheartened by the situation there, but, uh, what’s the latest?

Walker: Well, we’re actually hanging pretty tough. I mean—you know, amazingly there’s a much smaller group of protesters—almost all of whom are in from other states today. The State Assembly is taking the bill up—getting it all the way to the last point it can be at where it’s unamendable. But they’re waiting to pass it until the Senate’s—the Senate Democrats, excuse me, the assembly Democrats have about a hundred amendments they’re going through. The state Senate still has the 14 members missing but what they’re doing today is bringing up all sorts of other non-fiscal items, many of which are things members in the Democratic side care about. And each day we’re going to ratchet it up a little bit…. The Senate majority leader had a great plan he told about this morning—he told the Senate Democrats about and he’s going to announce it later today, and that is: The Senate organization committee is going to meet and pass a rule that says if you don’t show up for two consecutive days on a session day—in the state Senate, the Senate chief clerk—it’s a little procedural thing here, but—can actually have your payroll stopped from being automatically deducted—

Koch: Beautiful.

Walker: —into your checking account and instead—you still get a check, but the check has to be personally picked up and he’s instructing them—which we just loved—to lock them in their desk on the floor of the state Senate.

Walker: …I’ve got layoff notices ready…

Koch: Beautiful; beautiful. Gotta crush that union.

Walker: [bragging about how he doesn’t budge]…I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders—talk, not negotiate and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn—but I’ll only do it if all 14 of them will come back and sit down in the state assembly…legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have quorum…so we’re double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that’s the only reason why. We’d only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them…

Koch: Bring a baseball bat. That’s what I’d do.

Walker: I have one in my office; you’d be happy with that. I have a slugger with my name on it.

Walker: [blah about his press conferences, attacking Obama, and all the great press he’s getting.] Brian [Sadoval], the new Governor of Nevada, called me the last night he said—he was out in the Lincoln Day Circuit in the last two weekends and he was kidding me, he said, “Scott, don’t come to Nevada because I’d be afraid you beat me running for governor.” That’s all they want to talk about is what are you doing to help the governor of Wisconsin. I talk to Kasich every day—John’s gotta stand firm in Ohio. I think we could do the same thing with Vic Scott in Florida. I think, uh, Snyder—if he got a little more support—probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.

Koch: You’re the first domino.

Walker: Yep. This is our moment.

Koch: Now what else could we do for you down there?

Walker: Well the biggest thing would be—and your guy on the ground [Americans For Prosperity president Tim Phillips] is probably seeing this [stuff about all the people protesting, and some of them flip him off].

The Beast is right.  This is clear evidence that government is controlled by the moneyed interests, who have access and a “good time” with their partners in government. Shame on Walker.