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The Koch Brothers' Secret Bank: How What You Buy Affects Our Politics

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The notion of voting with your wallet is nothing new -- for decades, people have boycotted companies because of worker treatment, political stances, or a host of other issues. In the last few years, however, increasingly byzantine campaign finance laws have made it easier for companies to hide their political contributions -- and made it harder for consumers to know which causes their purchases support.

On Tuesday, news website Politico made tracking the impact of your purchases a little bit easier with its report on Freedom Partners, a group founded by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers. Freedom Partners, which distributed $236 million in 2012 -- making it the largest single conservative donor -- is designed as a clearinghouse that the Koch brothers can use to raise money and distribute it to a variety of political causes. Based on an IRS report, the Politico article -- which referred to Freedom Partners as the Koch's "bank," shows where the group's money goes.

The organizations that benefited from the Koch's largesse are not surprising: Many are political action groups like the State Tea Party Express, Tea Party Patriots, and Heritage Action for America. Some are conservative outreach groups, like Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee and The LIBRE Initiative, which reach out to female and Hispanic voters, respectively -- groups that often feel alienated by contemporary Republicanism.

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Some of Freedom Partners' groups are even more specific: for example, the "bank" gave $3.5 million to the National Rifle Association, and another $130.7 million to two groups that directly target Obamacare.

While the IRS report was very clear about where the money goes, it wasn't so clear about where the money comes from. Freedom Partners claims to have over 200 donors, each of whom contributes at least $100,000 per year, and none of whom seems eager to stand up and be counted. Even the Kochs, who are closely connected to all of Freedom Partners' directors -- and who provide a big chunk of its funding -- were quick to point out that the group "operates independently of Koch Industries."

So, a variety of political action groups get money from Freedom Partners, and Freedom Partners gets a lot of its money from the Kochs. The Kochs, in turn, get their money from Koch Industries. But where does Koch Industries get its money from?

Well, like any successful businessmen, the Kochs are widely diversified, with investments in dozens of industries -- many of which don't have a clear consumer-facing business. In fact, The Daily Beast recently reported that one of Koch's subsidiary companies is now providing components for a host of Apple products.

But some of its companies, like Georgia-Pacific, Invista, and the Matador Cattle Company, directly interact with the public. Chances are that you're not going to go on one of Matador's high-priced hunting weekends. But if you buy Stainmaster carpet, Lycra fabric or any of Invista's dozens of products, you're sending money to the Kochs. The same thing goes if you use Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Angel Soft toilet tissue or any of several dozen Georgia-Pacific paper products.

Given the tangled web of corporations and subsidiaries, not to mention the twists and turns of campaign financing, it's not always easy to see which pockets end up being lined with the money you spend at the grocery store. Even so, Buycott and similar apps are making it easier to see how your weekly shopping affects your nation's politics. And, if that fails, you could always just poke around the Koch Industries website.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

 

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Closing Bell: Energy Stocks Push Markets a Bit Higher Despite Syria Worries

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Stocks rose Wednesday on Wall Street, pushed higher in part by oil stocks, as investors continued to focus on the likelihood of a U.S.-led attack on Syria.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 48 points, or 0.3 percent, to 14,824, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) ticked up 4 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,634 and the Nasdaq composite index (^IXIC) advanced 14 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,593.

Escalating tensions between the U.S. and Syria hit the stock market hard Tuesday, sending the Dow down 170 points. On Wednesday, U.S. benchmark crude oil rose $1.09 to $110.10 a barrel, its highest prices since May 2011. While Syria produces little oil, a regional conflict in the Middle East could draw in bigger producers Iran and Iraq, and lead to supply disruptions in an area where half the world's proven oil reserves lie.

Energy companies were among the biggest gainers in the S&P 500. Shares of oil producer EOG Resources (EOG) rose 2 percent to $159.46. Chevron (CVX) climbed 2.5 percent to $121.81, as did fellow Dow component Exxon Mobil (XOM), which added 2 percent to end at $88.84.
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The quick rise in the price of oil has worried investors. Costlier oil almost always translates into higher fuel expenses for businesses and consumers, weighing on consumer spending and the economy.

In other economic news, the National Association of Realtors reported that contracts to purchase previously owned homes fell for the second straight month in July, a sign that rising mortgage rates are taking some steam out of the U.S. housing market recovery.

In company news, shares of specialty pharmaceutical company Endo Health Solutions (ENDP) rose 3.8 percent to $40.67, after the company said it would buy privately held Boca Pharmacal for $225 million to boost its generics business. Two of Endo's biggest drugs are set to lose patent protection.

Online and mobile ticket provider Fandango has agreed to buy Quantum Loyalty Solutions to ramp up its promotional movie ticket and gift card business. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Fandango is an NBCUniversal company, which is owned by Comcast (CMCSA, CMCSK).

More Stocks in the News:
  • Government housing finance authorities are pressing JPMorgan Chase (JPM) for at least $6 billion to settle lawsuits over bonds backed by subprime mortgages, according to a person familiar with the matter. JPMorgan shares edged down 2 cents to $50.58.
  • Shares of mining equipment manufacturer Joy Global (JOY) fell 4.7 percent to $48.89 after it reported a lower profit for the third quarter and said orders fell.
  • Homebuilding stocks took a hit on news that pending homes sales fell in July. PulteGroup (PHM) fell 1.4 percent to $15.38, D.R. Horton (DHI) shed 1.2 percent to $17.77 and Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV) fell 1.3 percent to $5.17.
  • Zale (ZLC) soared 30 percent to $11.63 after the jewelry store chain reported full-year income of 24 cents a share, well ahead of the 17 cents a share analysts expected.
  • Avago (AVGO), an electronics maker, rose 4.7 percent to $38.28. The company earned 74 cents a share in its latest quarter, beating analyst forecasts.
What to Watch Thursday:
  • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Labor Department reports weekly jobless claims, and the Commerce Department releases second-quarter gross domestic product data.
  • Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, releases weekly mortgage rates, 10 a.m.
-Compiled from staff and wire reports.


 

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