From Evan Osnos’s frightening article, “Chemical Valley,” about the domination of coal in West Virginia, in the April 7, 2014 New Yorker, these paragraphs−about how the Koch brothers buy politicians whose obverse mandate, in supporting the Kochs, is thereupon to ignore the health and safety of their constituents. The big question, of course, I take from Thomas Frank’s brilliant rage of a book, What’s the Matter With Kansas?: why do West Virginians consistently, obediently vote against their own safety, health and lives?
Brace yourself before reading. It should nauseate you the way chemical leaks have nauseated West Virginia citizens. I’ve bolded a couple of sentences from what Osnos, in what must be deep irony, describes as a West Virginia “think tank” report.
Because West Virginia has a population of only 1.8 million−less than the city of Houston−an investment in influence goes far. The conservative fossil-fuel magnates Charles and David Koch, through their charitable foundations, have devoted particular attention to the state. The Investigative Reporting Workshop, at American University, found that, between 2007 and 2011, the Kochs gave $30.5 million to two hundred and twenty-one universities; West Virginia University received nine hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars, the third-highest amount, behind George Mason and Florida State. In February, the university announced that it was creating a five-million-dollar Center for Free Enterprise, funded in part by the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
The Kochs also helped fund research at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, a think tank that, in 2007, published “Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It,” edited by a West Virginia University economics professor named Russell Sobel. The book argued against mine-safety regulations, on the ground that “improved safety conditions result in lower money wages for workers,” and asked, “Are workers really better off being safer but making less income?” It also called for relaxing rules on water usage. “Although they are intended to benefit citizens, water use regulations will only hamper prosperity by impeding the state’s ability to retain and attract businesses and to generate new employment opportunities.” [Then] Governor [now Senator Joe] Manchin invited Sobel to brief his cabinet, as well as a joint session of the Senate and the House Finance Committees. The state Republican Party chairman said, “Unleashing capitalism will be our party platform.” In February, Americans for Prosperity, the political-advocacy group funded heavily by the Koch brothers, established a chapter in West Virginia. A state Republican consultant told me, “You can do things here incredibly, incredibly cheaply. For instance, A.F.P., the Koch brothers, went and did North Carolina last time. Well, a legislative seat here is about one-fourth the size of a legislative seat in North Carolina. So there’s bang for your buck.” In any given district, he said, “You can go in for twenty grand, and probably fix a problem.” He also noted, “People are just showing up with pockets full of money, saying, “We want to help you out.”