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Who Funded The Malheur Occupation?

The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by anti-government activists was expensive on a number of levels, from law enforcement costs to loss of revenue stemming from the refuge. Also costly could be the Bundy’s and other occupiers’ legal fees and possible restitution, and there are questions about how the ranchers were able to afford to be be away from their jobs and ranches for more than a month from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, when the last four militants surrendered.

The armed militants could owe quite a bit of money. In early February, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced legislation in Congress that would require the federal government to swiftly reimburse local and state agencies for law enforcement. It would also allow the federal government to pursue civil legal action against the occupiers to get the money back. Blumenauer told Congress that the estimated cost of the occupation to local and state law enforcement was $100,000 a week. 

The Malheur Field Station told EW the occupation resulted in loss of income, cancellations, damage from break-ins and theft from two buildings and redirected staff time that cost the environmental education facility $30,000 in the past six weeks.

A fundraising campaign on FundedJustice.com to pay for Ammon Bundy’s legal fees has raised $73,500 as of Feb. 24, though Eugene attorney Mike Arnold, who is representing Bundy, has said he is providing the work pro bono. 

As willy-nilly as the occupation may have looked — the occupiers’ call for “snacks” early on in their takeover elicited humor on social media — the campaign to take public lands out of federal control is lengthy and well funded. 

Dark money is political funding where the sources are not known. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “The two most common vehicles for dark money in politics are politically active nonprofits and corporate entities such as limited liability companies. Certain politically active nonprofits — notably those formed under sections 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) of the tax code — are generally not required to publicly disclose their donors.”

The billionaire Koch brothers are often cited as purveyors of dark money — see New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. As she writes in a 2010 New Yorker piece, the Kochs are known for “creating slippery organizations with generic-sounding names,” making it “difficult to ascertain the extent of their influence in Washington.”

 And the Kochs have been associated with funding anti-federal lands efforts in the West, but dark money makes it hard to trace.

What can be traced is that the Kochs have been frequent donors to conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. For example, the Center for Media and Democracy reports that Koch Industries gave $902,500 to Americans for Prosperity in 2000, and $952,500 in 2001. David Koch himself gave $1 million to Americans for Prosperity in 2001 and $850,000 in 2003. According to the Koch Industries website, Kochfacts.com, David Koch is chairman of the board of the AFP Foundation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Americans for Prosperity has donated to a group called the American Lands Council, which seeks to “secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing states” that is largely funded by counties. 

The former leader of the American Lands Council, Ken Ivory, has stepped down, and has now joined up with another group, Federalism in Action’s “Free the Lands” project. According to ThinkProgress, Federalism in Action was founded by the State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions. “Because FIA is a new organization, its funding sources are not yet public. However, according to IRS filings, State Budget Solutions received money through the Donors Capital Fund, an organization known for cloaking the sources of funding which it distributes, and is sometimes referred to as a Koch ‘ATM.’”

The new American Lands Council leader, Montana State Sen. Jennifer Fielder, wrote an op-ed in a Montana paper that supported the militants’ cause, decried the prison sentences of the Oregon ranchers that set off the occupation, slammed federal land management and promoted the Lands Council.

Finally, ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which backs right-wing legislation, has long pushed to take public lands out of federal control. It has supported the “Sagebrush Rebellion” bills and currently lists a bill that authorizes states to exercise eminent domain (take over) authority on property possessed by the federal government.

Koch foundations have given ALEC at least $600,000 in the past decade, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. 

Are the Kochs funding the Bundys, and did that funding allow the occupiers to leave their ranches for the weeks of the occupation and now jail time? What’s certain is that the billionaire industrialists are funding efforts to take public lands, and its natural and mineral resources such as gold and uranium, away from the federal government.