Koch brother buyout: Ron Johnson voted to make college less affordable for middle class students & families

Charles Koch told MSNBC he does “expect something in return” for his political donations. This week, we’ll highlight how the Senators and Senate candidates who accepted Koch cash and benefit from the support of Koch front groups are making sure the Kochs get their money’s worth – all at the expense of the middle class.

Recent Wisconsin college graduates had an average of $28,810 in student loan debt, but that didn’t stop Senator Ron Johnson from siding with the Koch brothers to block and cut college affordability programs. Koch political front groups opposed a bill that would allow students to finance their federal college loans and also supported the deepest cuts to the Pell Grant program in history. Johnson has received more than $50,000 in Koch cash and, as Charles Koch said in a national TV interview, he does “expect something in return.” So, Johnson made sure the Kochs got what they wanted by blocking the refinancing program, which would have helped more than 500,000 Wisconsin student loan borrowers, and voting to cut Pell Grants. In fact, Johnson opposes any federal assistance for students loans. 

“These programs would have helped middle class students and families afford college, but Ron Johnson wouldn’t stand up to the Kochs and risk losing their campaign cash,” said Lauren Passalacqua, DSCC National Press Secretary. “Johnson’s votes are a part of a long record voting against Wisconsin’s best interests, all to keep the billionaire Koch brothers happy. Wisconsinites deserve better than a Senator who is more concerned with filling his campaign chest and protecting his political career than helping students and families.” 

BACKGROUND: 

Johnson Voted With Americans For Prosperity For The FY 2012 Ryan Budget. In May 2011, Johnson voted with Americans for Prosperity, who supported a “yes” vote on a: “Reid, D-Nev., motion to proceed to the concurrent resolution that would allow $2.859 trillion in new budget authority for fiscal 2012.” The motion was rejected 40-57. [AFP Scorecard, Accessed 11/14/15; H.Con.Res. 34, Vote 77, 5/25/11

FY 2012 Ryan Budget Contained Largest Reduction In Pell Grants In History. “The budget lays out little in terms of cuts to specific programs, instead simply decreeing caps on levels of spending. But one cut is explicitly proposed in the document — a cut to the Pell Grant program, which provides college tuition assistance to low-income students. […] If implemented, this would be the largest reduction in Pell Grants in history, more than eight times higher than the previous record, which was a $100 reduction in the maximum award in 1994. These cuts ‘will reduce the number of low income students receiving Bachelor’s degrees each year by about 61,000.’” [ThinkProgress, 4/5/11

Headline: “House GOP Budget Slashes Billions From Pell Grants, Bumps Millions Of Students Out Of The Program” [ThinkProgress, 4/5/11

Johnson Stood With Koch Front Group That Opposed Proposal To Allow Students To Refinance Federal Student Loans Paid For By Taxes On Millionaires. In June 2014, Johnson voted against legislation to allow students to refinance their Federal student loans that, according to CQ, was offset “by requiring millionaires to pay a federal tax rate of at least a 30 percent.” A spokesperson for Generation Opportunity said that the proposal “misses the point” and “was shortsighted” because it raised taxes. [Rocky Mountain Collegian, 6/18/14; CQ, 6/11/14; S. 2432, Vote 185, 6/11/14

Johnson Voted Against Legislation To Allow Students To Refinance Federal Student Loans Paid For By Taxes On Millionaires That Was Opposed By A Koch Front Group. In June 2014, Johnson voted against legislation to allow students to refinance their Federal student loans that, according to CQ, was offset “by requiring millionaires to pay a federal tax rate of at least a 30 percent.” A spokesperson for Generation Opportunity said that the proposal “misses the point” and “was shortsighted” because it raised taxes. [Rocky Mountain Collegian, 6/18/14; CQ, 6/11/14; S. 2432, Vote 185, 6/11/14

More Than 500,000 Student Loan Borrowers Would Benefit From Student Loan Refinancing Proposal. According to the Department of Education, 515,000 Wisconsin student loan borrowers would benefit from legislation that let them refinance their student loans at lower rates. [U.S. Department of Education, 2014

Average Debt For Wisconsin Class Of 2014 Graduates Was More Than Nearly $30,000. According to TICAS, the average debt for Wisconsin class of 2014 graduates was $28,810. [TICAS, Accessed 11/16/15

Politico: Americans For Prosperity Was “The Main Political Arm” Of The Koch Brothers. “The Koch brothers’ main political arm intends to spend more than $125 million this year on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives, according to a memo distributed to major donors and sources familiar with the group.” [Politico, 5/9/14

CNN: Generation Opportunity Was “The Youth Engagement Arm Of The Koch Brothers’ Political Network.” “Evan Feinberg, who since 2013 was the executive director of Generation Opportunity, the youth engagement arm of the Koch Brothers' political network, departed the organization in June. He will now lead a new group to be called Stand Together for America. Feinberg's move is the most high-profile loss in what people familiar with Generation Opportunity describe as a string of senior level departures that are roiling the nonprofit group.” [CNN, 9/1/15

Johnson: “Federal Government Shouldn’t Even Be Involved In Granting Student Loans.” JOHNSON: “Why are we encouraging our young people to get into debt? Why is the federal government making money off of student loans? Why is the federal government even involved in student loan program? I have multiple problems with that. For all you young people who agree with Ron Paul in terms of limited government -- federal government shouldn’t even be involved in granting student loans. One of the reasons we have education increasing at a rate four times of inflation is because of federal government involvement, because of federal government spending. It’s kind of a death spiral.” [YouTube, TheDailyCardinal, 9/1/12

PolitiFact Rated Feingold’s Claim That Johnson Was “Opposed To All Government-Assisted Student Loans” As “Mostly True.” “Feingold said Johnson ‘is opposed to all government-assisted student loans.’ Johnson has said the government never should have gotten involved in student loans, shouldn’t be involved in it and should look to gradually get out of it. But one of his votes helped student borrowers in the short term, though that measure could lead to higher interest rates in future years, since the rates are tied to changes in the financial markets. Feingold’s statement is accurate but needs clarification, our definition of Mostly True.” [PolitiFact, 6/19/15

JOHNSON HAS A NEARLY 90% LIFETIME RATING FROM AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY 

Johnson Had A Nearly 90% Rating From Americans For Prosperity. [AFP Scorecard, Accessed 11/13/15

JOHNSON RECEIVED MORE THAN $50K IN KOCH CASH & WAS CLOSE TO THE KOCHS 

Members Of The Koch Family, Including Charles And David Koch, Have Contributed $16,800 To Johnson. [Influence Explorer, Accessed 11/15/15

Koch Industries’ PAC And Employees Contributed $34,700 To Johnson And His Leadership PAC. [Influence Explorer, Accessed 11/15/15; Federal Election Commission, Ron Johnson for Senate, Filed 7/20/15

Politico: Johnson Was “Well-Liked” By The Koch Brothers “Who Are Sure To Support His Reelection.” “He’s also well-liked by the big-spending Koch brothers, who are sure to support his reelection. The well-honed political machine of newly reelected Republican Gov. Scott Walker could be a difference-maker too.” [Politico, 4/5/15

Slate: Johnson Was “Fairly Close To The Kochs.” “Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson had actually gotten fairly close to the Kochs, dining with David Koch at the 2012 Republican National Convention and appearing at their donor conferences.” [Slate Magazine, 6/2/14]

· Johnson Dined With David Koch At The 2012 Republican National Convention And Has Appeared At His Donor Conferences. “Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson had actually gotten fairly close to the Kochs, dining with David Koch at the 2012 Republican National Convention and appearing at their donor conferences.” [Slate Magazine, 6/2/14]

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