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The Koch Brothers Exposed

Film Review: How far do the tentacles of the Kochtopus reach? Follow the money with this collection of 13 short films.
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“The Kochtopus” is what some call Charles and David Koch’s widespread, many-tentacled funding effort to shrink the federal government. Their efforts to suppress voters, dismantle public schools, and get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and Social Security are systematically revealed in The Koch Brothers Exposed, a low-budget but sharply focused series by new media company Brave New Films.

koch greenpeace blimp

Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

The 13 short films illustrate how the lives of struggling Americans are worsened by the Kochs’ drive for profit and political power. One film, for example, connects an epidemic of cancer in a neighborhood of Crosset, Ark., to the channel of steaming, black goo floating into town from the Koch Industries-owned Georgia Pacific plant.

The Kochs lobby by giving millions to nonprofits that use the money—frequently via pseudo-grassroots organizations with innocuous names—to benefit the overarching Koch political agenda. Here’s how it works: According to one film in the series, Koch Industries gave $28.4 million to think tanks that advocated raising the Social Security retirement age. That’s not a popular policy with older voters, but the Kochs also gave more than $1 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group working to pass laws that require voters to have state-issued photo identification. Critics say that would make voting more difficult for the elderly, students, and minorities.

Although the Kochs have doled out millions to politicians, think tanks, and anyone else who could help them undo American democracy over the past 10 years, they were relatively unknown until recently. Jane Mayer clarified their role as funders of the Tea Party in an August 2010 New Yorker article. They got more coverage during the Wisconsin protests when it became clear that Gov. Scott Walker was enacting the Koch/ALEC agenda.

Koch Brothers Exposed takes this reporting to a new level, bridging the gaps between investigative journalism, documentary, and activism. These short (two to 12 minute) films, designed for viral circulation through Facebook  and other social media, are in an open-ended format that the filmmakers can update as necessary. Judging from the series so far, ongoing reports like these are an effective way of showing just how much influence the super-rich can have on our democracy.


Oliver LazenbyOliver Lazenby wrote this article for 9 Strategies to End Corporate Rule, the Spring 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Oliver is a freelance journalist and farm laborer living in Washington state.

Interested? Check out other YES! Spring 2012 film picks.

bill cunningham stillBill Cunningham New York
Zeitgeist Films, 2010, 84 minutes.
Bicycling around the city with his camera, 80-something Bill Cunningham balances between worlds—snapping street style by day, elite soirees by night, producing photos that celebrate street kids, drag queens, and heiresses equally.
 “Those who seek beauty will find it,” he says. Touching and exhilarating. 

edge of dreaming stillThe Edge of Dreaming
Amy Hardie, 2009, 72 minutes.
Filmmaker Amy Hardie’s perfect life with her family in the Scottish countryside is disturbed by dreams that seem prophetic—or are they? She investigates, through psychotherapy, art, neuroscience, and shamanism. A gorgeous autobiographical meditation on life, death, love, and dreams.

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