A string of dark-money organizations with ties to the billionaire Koch brothers is helping Arizona politicians and special-interest groups fight the popular Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument proposal, tax documents show.
The money trail begins with a conservative political advocacy organization funded in part by Charles and David Koch and their vast donor network, and ends with a coordinated ground campaign intended to undermine public support for the monument.
The proposed monument, which would grant federal protection to 1.7 million acres of land in the Grand Canyon watershed and permanently ban uranium mining in the area, is supported by environmental organizations, native tribes, and the public – 80 percent of the public, to be precise. Yet a handful of powerful Republican politicians and industry groups are hellbent on killing it, and they’re apparently using money from the Koch brothers' donor network to do so.
Greg Zimmerman of the Center for Western Priorities says he happened upon the Koch-Grand Canyon monument connection after reading a report co-authored by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and another Arizona-based group called the Prosper Foundation earlier this year.
Something about the report — which deemed the monument a “monumental mistake” — “seemed fishy” to Zimmerman, so he began to investigate.
He never before had heard of the Prosper Foundation, but when he looked it up, realized he was familiar with its founder, Kirk Adams.
Adams is a former Arizona politician who now serves as chief of staff to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey – the LA Times called him one of the “early architects of the Koch network of nonprofits.”
Adams’ group and its sister organization, Prosper Inc., are touted as “social welfare that supports and defends free-market principles,” but according to Prosper Inc.'s website, it only has two big issues: Defeating the Grand Canyon Monument and drumming up support for Proposition 123, Ducey’s proposal to raise money for public education by dipping into the state's land trust fund.
Zimmerman delved through 990 tax forms and discovered that between 2013 and 2014, an organization called American Encore gave the Prosper Foundation more than $1.5 million – to put that in perspective, $1.5 million represents 83 percent of the Prosper Foundation’s budget during that time period.
American Encore (better known by its former name: the Center to Protect Patient Rights) is another conservative political-advocacy organization led by a political consultant with well-documented ties to the Koch brothers, Sean Noble.
Noble rose to notoriety in 2011 when CPPR and two other groups – including one run by Kirk Adams – were investigated by California's Fair Political Practices Commission for illegal “campaign money laundering.” CPPR was fined millions of dollars for its role in the scheme, and not too long after, changed its name to American Encore.
In an article about dark money and the Koch brothers, Pro Publica writes that Noble is a prime example of “how the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling has given rise to a new breed of power brokers who control a growing pool of money raised in secret and spent to influence politics in ways that voters can’t always trace.”
Once he realized the Adams-Noble connection, Zimmerman says, it only took some basic investigatory work to piece together the dark-money chain helping to fund the anti-Grand Canyon monument movement.
To put it simply, money from the large Koch Donor Network flows to American Encore and then to the Prosper Foundation, which is helping to lead the big ground campaign to kill support for the monument.
As far as most environmentalists are concerned, the campaign orchestrated by those opposing the monument consistently distorts facts to convince the public the monument is a bad idea – Arizona GOP Congressman Paul Gosar, one of the leaders in the fight against the monument, calls it a conspiracy put forth by “radical environmentalists” to “lock up 1.7 million acres of land” and kill local business.
Gosar also frequently talks about how unpopular the monument proposal is with the people of Arizona, even though polls show 80 percent of citizens support it, and he’s accused Democratic Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva of using native tribes “as political pawns” to get the monument established.
“The thing that’s so fascinating to me,” Zimmerman says, “is that the polls show [the monument] is overwhelmingly popular across Arizona, and yet the political establishment in the state is so diabolically opposed to it.”
He says he always was baffled by these “politicians going against their constituents” until he realized “the connections between the political establishment and billionaire industrialists. Then it starts to make sense.”
According to Opensecrets.org, Gosar has received many thousands of dollars from mining companies, energy groups, and even Koch Industries during his political career.
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In addition to Gosar, other prominent Arizona politicians who have come out against the monument include Governor Doug Ducey, U.S. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, and Congressmen David Schweikert, Trent Franks, and Matt Salmon.
“There is a tight-knit community among right-wing Republican leaders who are strongly opposed to public-land protection,” Zimmerman says, and “what these guys do to move money is incredibly sophisticated.”