Paul Ryan’s Choice: Constituents or Koch Brothers?

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This post first appeared at The Nation. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) stands during a listening session Tuesday, April, 26, 2011, at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

How’s this for irony:

When the City of Kenosha, Wisconsin, was preparing to formally petition Congress to take the necessary actions to get corporate money out of politics and to restore grassroots democracy, the congressman who represents the community was meeting secretly with the Koch brothers to plot election strategies and policy agendas.

Kenosha is the largest city in Wisconsin’s first congressional district, which Congressman Paul Ryan has represented since 1999 — thanks to gerrymandered district lines and heavy infusions of cash from out-of-state special interests. With Congress out of session for the August recess and Ryan expected to head home to meet with constituents, members of the Kenosha City Council decided to deliver a message. They voted overwhelmingly to ask Ryan and other Wisconsin representatives “to amend the Constitution to bar corporate wealth from unduly influencing elections.”

That’s not a particularly radical request.

Sixteen states and roughly 500 communities have petitioned Congress to support a constitutional amendment to restore the power of the people—through their federal, state and local representatives — to place limits on the influence of big money, especially corporate money, in American politics. The official calls from states across the country, and from cities such as Kenosha, come in response to the high court’s decision to remove restrictions on corporate spending to buy elections, which capped a series of rulings that undermined limits on the power of wealthy Americans to dominate the political and governing processes of the nation with unprecedented infusions of campaign money.

Ryan has been among the prime beneficiaries of the money-in-politics moment ushered in by the high court. As the House Budget Committee chairman, he has collected millions of dollars from individuals and groups that stand to benefit from initiatives such as Social Security privatization and the development of voucher schemes to “reform” Medicaid and Medicare. The congressman has become a favorite of many of the biggest donors in the country, including billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

The Koch brothers, prime funders of conservative causes and Republican politicians, were enthusiastic backers of placing Ryan on the 2012 Republican ticket. That move entered in a fiasco that saw Ryan fail to deliver Wisconsin for the ticket led by Mitt Romney. Ryan not only lost his hometown of Janesville but many of the other communities in his district, including Kenosha.

Casual observers might guess that Ryan would be listening a little more to his district, especially to the voters in cities such as Kenosha.

But they would guess wrong.

As Kenosha was petitioning for the redress of money-in-politics grievances, the congressman was at a posh resort near Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he had flown as soon as Congress went on recess. The Koch brothers had rented the entire Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and set up a private security perimeter so that no media — and certainly no citizens — could get near the elite retreat. And they invited Paul Ryan to spend several days with them as their guest of honor. Along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks and a few other worthies, the Kochs and their wealthy friends wined and dined with Ryan.

A source that spoke to Politico reported that Ryan was “well-received by donors.” According to the Politico report, “Ryan has developed deep ties to Koch World”—the vast network of political operations controlled by the billionaire brothers.

The question is whether the congressman retains deep ties to Kenosha.

In case the congressman missed the message, the Kenosha City Council was joined in mid-August by the Kenosha County Board—the governing body of the populous southeastern Wisconsin county that is entirely within Ryan’s district—in calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. And constituents like Jennifer Franco, of Kenosha, are saying its time for their elected representatives to “stand with the people to proclaim that money is not speech, that artificial entities are not persons, and that every person’s voice carries the same weight.”

The juxtaposition of events in New Mexico and Wisconsin leaves Ryan with a clear choice to make: he can either stick with the Koch brothers or he can respond to the call from Kenosha for a meaningful response to the threat posed to democracy by the buying of elections and the policymaking process.

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. His most recent book is The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again and Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @NicholsUprising.
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  • william elliott

    Ryan will probably stick with the Kochsuckers to insure a job as a Lobbyist for them when the good people of Wisconsin send him packing…..It’s all about the money folks…..

  • Anonymous

    oh well you know when you are righteous, the end alwaaaays justifies the means, not!

  • Anonymous

    Ryan never was and never will be working for the people of Kenosha who elected him. I hope they figure this out before voting in 2014.

  • Holiday Cheer

    I just don’t understand how the actions of these “think tanks” wouldn’t be considered a criminal conspiracy or outright insurrection to bring down the U.S government.

    Too many good men and women have fought and died for this country to let the Koch brothers bring it down.

  • Anonymous

    Thank god people are finally starting to pay attention to this!

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree with you! If ALEC isn’t a criminal conspiracy, I don’t know what is!

  • JonThomas

    Two things come to mind…

    I remember when it was in good Right Wing fashion to decry Judicial Activism like Citizen’s United.. I guess when things are decided in a person’s favor, it’s not quite ‘activism’.

    So much for the integrity Ms. Rand stood for in her life.

    Secondly, I have enough cash to rent a mini-van for a few hours. I wonder if Reps. Ryan, Cantor, and the others would come visit me?

  • John Waters

    There has never been any doubt where Paul “Pinocchio” Ryan’s loyalties have been.

  • Marco Spinelli

    How dissociative are the people in Ryan’s district if they return Ryan to Congress and put politicians on their City Council and County Board that oppose him?

    The people have got to get organized.

  • Anonymous

    Paul Ryan gives whores a bad name.

  • Anonymous

    Halleluiah! Will Kenosha, Wisconsin finally give Paul Ryan the BOOT? Praise to those who will help restore democracy to this country. Congressmen should not be selling their votes to the highest dirty bidders. Accepting bribery is grounds for impeachment in the Constitution. The voters can not “impeach”, but they can throw the dirty ones out!

  • Anonymous

    Halleluiah! Will Kenosha, Wisconsin finally give Paul Ryan the BOOT? Praise to those who will help restore democracy to this country. Congressmen should not be selling their votes to the highest dirty bidders. Accepting bribery is grounds for impeachment in the Constitution. The voters can not “impeach”, but they can throw the dirty ones out!

  • Chris Hudson

    Lest we don’t forget – In 1900, William McKinley’s campaign manager, Marcus Hanna,
    said famously: “There are two things that matter in politics. The first is money. I can’t remember the second.” Some things will never change.

  • Fred

    Paul Ryan should be removed from his job for betraying those who elected him.

  • kinkersnitchet

    I find it difficult to believe he’s from Wisconsin. He sounds more like a Texan or Georgian. He should read more about Lincoln. At least he wouldn’t be so glib about the fantasies he offers everyone..Pants on fire, Paul.

  • cgmcle

    It’s been years since I read Animal Farm (Orwell), but I recall a scene near the end in which the pigs, the rulers of the farm, become very brazen, confident of their control of the other animals. There’s a dinner party in which we finally see the pigs for what they are — humanesque creatures who have been deceiving and dominating their “inferiors” for years. This event in Albuquerque sounds exactly like that dinner party — but more extravagant.

  • Dave

    He is the worst thing for Wisconsin, let alone the country….he is a bought and paid for politician that has used the system (Social Security) to get to where he is, but then will say that YOU don’t deserve to benefit from the same system….and would love to hand it over to for profit agencies. He has done NOTHING for his district (which I live in) except rename a post office and get a lower tax on hunting arrows….THAT IS ALL!!!!! We do know that he is a puppet for the Koch bros. and will do ALL of their bidding to keep money going to the top while keeping the poor and middle class on the treadmill churning out profits for his handlers.

  • Dave

    He would have lost, but the massive redistricting kept him in office!

  • Anonymous

    Just a reminder that boycotting Koch companies has to be at least as effective as leaving comments on a blog. One person multiplied can make a difference and hurt them where it hurts them most.

    Getting our country back is not going to be easy but you might as well start somewhere. Georgia Pacific is the parent company and this is a list of their brands:

    Over time they will start wondering why they are seeing a gradual sales decline. Hopefully it is already occurring because this is not a new idea. Tell your friends etc. and join the fun. If one person starts doing this today that is one more than yesterday. For the Koch brothers it’s a very simple message: It’s not just the economy stupid!

  • Passive citizen

    Ryan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Nixon, it makes no difference and hasn’t for decades Repulicrats all of them. The definition of insane doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. This two party system is so embeded it has to go.


    What are his chances of winning again?

  • RevPhil Manke

    The revolving door policy reaches Wisconsin! Whoda thunk?

  • Hume

    Could that have perhaps read that the Kochs “whined and dined with Ryan”?????

  • ShaunMarie

    Sadly, there are just enough very right wing conservative Christians in Kenosha that Ryan can get re-elected no matter who he’s in bed with (as long as the sex he is having isn’t ‘gay’)

  • Anonymous

    I am no fan of Mr. Ryan or his GOP colleagues; however it should be noted that he is not the only politician who benefits from out-of-state campaign contributions.

    We the People can complain and petition all we want but it will fall on deaf ears. Our politicians are no better than heroin addicts when it comes to corporate campaign donations.

  • Anonymous

    … or KNOWN to be gay …

  • Anonymous

    There is a great VALUE in Registering and/or Voting GREEN …

    Above all, it can SHOW growing Public Opposition to what is going on (the numbers are visible) …

    … and thus help UNITE millions around a People-Centered Platform with the Goals and Solutions the vast MAJORITY of Americans want!

    It is the BEST, DOABLE position out there.

    Clean Air, Water, Crops, Food, Elections, Politics

    If you like that, Wear your Values, WEAR the label — register Green — no matter how you vote!

  • Anonymous

    It IS such a conspiracy, until the day THEY change the laws to make it legal, or make it a governing body (ugh!)

  • Mike in Texas

    Does voting Green have the side effect of causing you to randomly capitalize words and make your posts difficult to read? Cause if so, I’m out.

  • buricco

    No doubt he’s gonna favor his donors over his constituents, as is typical of most Republicans and Democrats.

  • James Michael McDaniel

    I love John Nichols. Don’t you?

  • Jack Hammer


  • Patriot

    I’m not optimistic. We the People are really not in a position any longer to influence politics. I could have never imagined voter fraud in this country but I believe that it happens. I believe it happened in Florida in the Bush/Gore campaign. We need national laws similar to Texas that requires a photo I.D. to vote to add some legitimacy to our elections. Can you even imagine anything more sacred that our right to vote and insure that our vote is counted. Without the guarantee of an un-corrupted, peaceful revolution every 2 or 4 years when we vote, we’re only left with civil disobedience, or worse, armed revolt. I have sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, from ALL enemies, foreign or domestic (emphasis on domestic).

  • Anonymous

    Gerrymandered district lines and heavy infusions of cash from out-of-state special interests. Like the out of state interests like Unions who spent over $30 million in trying to recall Scott Walker? Take a look at the state to the south of Wisconsin. They wrote the book in gerrymandering. Warren Buffet owns large interests in natural gas but nobody goes after him. We know what side of the bed Nichols gets up on.

  • John Carter

    The only places we’ve SEEN voter fraud lately was on the part of Republicans caught trashing ballots or Republicans running the Diebold voting machine mess. All the rest of your anxiety is whipped up by the liars in the tax cheat party as an intentional strategy to manipulate the weak minded.