Koch vs Mass Transit: How Americans for Prosperity is Fighting Bus and Rail Projects Nationwide


Given their recent history of attacks on clean energy and electric vehicles, it should come as no surprise that the Koch brothers have put mass transit in their cross-hairs. Last week, the New York Times exposed the breadth and depths of their efforts, run through the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, to undermine bus and rail projects across the country.

Reporter Hiroko Tabuchi puts a spotlight on the Tennessee chapter of AFP, which ran an intricately coordinated  campaign to defeat a ballot measure that would raise money for improved mass transit in the city of Nashville.

The Kochs and the AFP voter targeting machine won in Nashville, and similar campaigns have been run for at least seven municipal- or state-level ballot initiatives over the past three years. Writes Tabuchi:

In cities and counties across the country — including Little Rock, Ark.; Phoenix, Ariz.; southeast Michigan; central Utah; and here in Tennessee — the Koch brothers are fueling a fight against public transit, an offshoot of their longstanding national crusade for lower taxes and smaller government.

At the heart of their effort is a network of activists who use a sophisticated data service built by the Kochs, called i360, that helps them identify and rally voters who are inclined to their worldview. It is a particularly powerful version of the technologies used by major political parties.

The blitz included mailers with messages like “Highest Sales Tax in the Nation AND It Won’t Fix Traffic.” But AFP credited their door-to-door voter targeting as having the greatest impact in rejecting the mass transit proposal. AFP’s policy director Akash Chougule told Tabuchi:

“There’s nothing more effective than actually having a human conversation with someone on events that affect them on a day-to-day basis. It’s a great opportunity for us to activate people in their own backyards, and we’re among the first to do it in a sustained, permanent way.”

While the local AFP organizers pitched voters on lower taxes and smaller government, there’s an obvious deeper motivation for the funders behind  AFP’s “Stop the Train” campaign and the i360 service. That is, mass transit simply isn’t in the Koch best interest. As Tabuchi outlines:

The Kochs’ opposition to transit spending stems from their longstanding free-market, libertarian philosophy. It also dovetails with their financial interests, which benefit from automobiles and highways.

One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts. Even as Americans for Prosperity opposes public investment in transit, it supports spending tax money on highways and roads.

The i360 service introduced in this article is a powerful tool that has potential to influence votes at the local- and state-level for years to come. Koch vs Clean will be investigating i360 and we will report on other campaigns that it is powering against clean energy and transportation solutions throughout the country.