Thursday, March 29, 2018

As soon as the phrase "cartoonishly evil" pops up, you'll probably know where we're headed.

There are cases where the sober, balance, and accurate depiction of the facts will leave the subject coming off as cartoonishly evil. In these cases, if the press is doing its job, the personal brand of these subjects should eventually taint any cause or initiative associated with them.

The first sentence certainly applies to the Koch Brothers. Perhaps the second is starting to as well.
The public benefits of jumping on the KentuckyWired offer would be substantial: Not only would West Louisville get a chance at better access for its homes and businesses, but the city could install fiber-controlled traffic signals, create better and cheaper connectivity for public-safety agencies, and ship data around inexpensively to improve its operations. In a nutshell, the city would build the infrastructure and lease capacity to private internet-service providers. "We were looking at this as our smart city foundation," Grace Simrall, Louisville's chief of civic innovation, says. At least half of the new fiber capacity would be reserved for open access leases, to encourage last-mile retail providers to wire homes and businesses. All for just the cost of the fiber lines.

It seemed to be a no-brainer. “I can't think of a more sensible plan," Simrall says. "I just didn't think that we were going to face opposition on this. We thought surely people would understand that this was a way for us to leapfrog where we were for a fraction of the cost."

That's when Simrall learned who had joined the forces determined to block Louisville from spending a dime on fiber for the city's use: Charles and David Koch, the brothers backing environment-hostile fossil fuels and funding politicians who dole out goodies to the super-rich. "It's widely known that they [the Taxpayers Protection Alliance] receive a lot of funding from the Koch brothers," Simrall says.

The connection between the TPA and the Koch brothers emerged from investigative reporting by ProPublica and others. This work has revealed that the Taxpayers Protection Alliance is a front advocacy group, part of a network of dark-money organizations supported in part by the Koch brothers. (The funding seems not to come from the Koch family directly but instead is funneled through other Koch-funded groups.) TPA’s most recent IRS filing shows it received about half a million dollars in contributions in 2016, but the sources of these contributions are blacked out. Tax-exempt organizations are not required to disclose the names of their donors publicly. David Williams, TPA’s president, told the Louisville Courier-Journal earlier this year that the group receives funding from “a lot of different sources," including groups affiliated with the Koch brothers.

Later that month, there were two dramatic public meetings on the city's budget for the fiber project. The first vote went along party lines, with Republicans voting against any city involvement in fiber. Simrall and her team kept fighting, and managed to convince some Republicans that the city plan made a lot of sense—especially the Republicans from districts that have suffered from digital redlining by incumbents. In the end, at the final budget hearing, the council voted unanimously to approve the request. "It was really quite a thrilling thing," Simrall says.

At the end of the day, the Koch-funded campaign backfired. It helped fire up some council members who might not have understood the importance of city fiber; once they knew the Koch brothers were against it, the city's plan got their attention. "That felt pretty good," Simrall says.

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