Koch Funnels Millions Into Brown University

[NOTE: A version of this story was published in The Providence Journal.]

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Visit the website of the Political Theory Project, a think tank at Brown University, and you’ll see a homepage that appears not so out of place for a group based at an Ivy League school with a long-established liberal-progressive reputation.

Featured prominently is a photo of radical political theorist Noam Chomsky, a reference to the Enlightenment and “the rise of democratic ideas and institutions,” and an excerpt from a letter to Karl Marx by French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

But critics of the think tank and its director, Prof. John Tomasi, say look closer: What you’re really seeing is a clever veneer meant to project a commitment to free speech and unfettered academic inquiry while distracting outsiders from the group’s true aim — to advance extreme free-market ideology on the Providence campus.

Their alleged smoking gun? For starters, the more than $653,000 in donations the project received in 2016 from the Charles Koch Foundation, according to an Internal Revenue Service 990 form filed by the charitable organization named for the billionaire CEO of Koch Industries, a conglomerate operating in the chemical, pipeline, agriculture and energy sectors. Continue reading

Maine State Rep. Jennifer DeChant Sought Corporate ‘Talking Points’ to ‘Counter’ Activists

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When faced last year with growing criticism over her plans to propose a $60-million tax deal to one of Maine’s largest private employers, state Rep. Jennifer DeChant turned to an apparently reliable ally: the very company she was advocating for.

“Jon- I am sure you have seen the Op Ed piece below,” DeChant said in a Dec. 4 email to Bath Iron Works attorney Jon Fitzgerald, following the publication that same day of a commentary in Portland’s Press Herald by peace activist Bruce Gagnon, titled, “General Dynamics has no business asking for more tax breaks.”

DeChant continued, “I am looking for some talking points to counter this.” She suggested they would be used in an upcoming meeting with constituents. Continue reading

Professor Puts Brown University’s Koch Connection Under the Microscope

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The Koch-funded “Political Theory Project,” founded at Brown University in 2003, has come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks.

The critique comes from an anonymous faculty member who worked with the advocacy group UnKoch My Campus to speak out against what the academic says, in a blog post published Jan. 23, is a nationwide and “unabashedly political project to advance the interests of the rich and powerful.”

The article, meticulously researched with 34 end notes, connects the larger Koch-backed effort at American colleges and universities to the specific project at Brown, which the unnamed professor argues has opened the door for “radically” conservative, free market influence on the Providence campus. Continue reading

General Dynamics Doesn’t Need Money From Connecticut or Maine

[NOTE: A version of this opinion article was published in The Day newspaper, of New London, Conn.]

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General Dynamics is not a poor company.

Far from it.

Like all of the country’s top defense contractors, its stock is trading at record highs. As of this writing, one share in the Falls Church, Virg.-based company costs more than $226, nearly $55 more than tech giant Apple.

General Dynamics’ current market capitalization, a measure of a company’s value, is $67.2-billion, up $14.6-billion from 2016. To put that into context, Maine’s entire gross domestic product was $59.3-billion in 2016.

On a recent earnings call, CEO Phebe N. Novakovic told analysts the company’s revenue last year exceeded $31.7-billion, outperforming the prior year by $412-million. Cash flow for the year was $3.45-billion.

And things should only get better. Continue reading

General Dynamics CEO Calls Republican Tax Law a ‘Happy Event’

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Top brass at defense contractor General Dynamics, owner of New England subsidiaries Bath Iron Works, and Electric Boat, say they are buoyed by the anticipated reduction in their company’s effective tax rate under the sweeping “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” pushed into law last month by Republican members of Congress and Pres. Donald Trump.

On an earnings call earlier this week, Chief Financial Officer Jason W. Aiken told analysts the company, based in Falls Church, Virg., will likely see its 2017 full year rate of 28.6 percent drop to 19 percent in 2018.

According to a transcript of the call available online, Chief Executive Officer Phebe N. Novakovic characterized the passage of the tax overhaul as “a happy event.” Continue reading

A Key Defense Player, Maine Sen. Susan Collins Has Financial Ties to Military Contractors

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As a longtime member of the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has sat for years at the intersection of Pentagon policy-making and the business of the nation’s wealthiest and most well connected military contractors.

Along the way, she’s accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from those very companies, some of which, federal records show, her family held a personal financial stake in through her husband’s many and wide-ranging corporate stock investments.

Senate financial disclosure reports covering calendar years 2012 to 2016, the most recent year on record, show Collins’s husband, Thomas Daffron, has current or past share holdings in more than a dozen prominent defense contractors, including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, United Technologies, Harris Corporation, General Electric, and L3 Communications. Continue reading

Jack Reed, Jim Langevin, and the Defense Industry

[NOTE: This opinion article was published simultaneously on RIFuture.com.]

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A couple months back, I was emailed by South County, R.I., activist Jonathan Daly-LaBelle, who wanted to know if I’d seen Rep. Jim Langevin’s press release announcing the rationale behind his recent yes vote on a nearly $700-billion Pentagon budget.

It “is really quite disturbing,” Daly-LaBelle wrote.

No argument from me on this one.

Langevin, Democrat of Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District, has embraced a bizarre and increasingly dangerous stance on “defense” issues in recent years, and that attitude was on full display in his prepared statement.

Among his many points in support of a monstrous Pentagon budget that will go unaudited, as it always does, and undoubtedly lead to waste, was the contention that Congress must make certain “our nation’s warfighters are never sent into a fair fight.”

Tough talk.

But maybe Langevin should consider asking all those innocent civilians in the numerous countries we’ve dropped bombs on since 9/11 what it feels like to be on the receiving end of an “unfair fight.” Continue reading

State Rep. Jennifer DeChant Calls Maine Peace Activists ‘Trigger Happy’ Over Proposed Bath Iron Works Tax Giveaway

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In November of last year, Maine peace activists began contacting state Rep. Jennifer DeChant (D-Bath) and Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Arrowsic) to voice their opposition to a proposed $60-million tax deal being considered on behalf of General Dynamics subsidiary Bath Iron Works.

“As your constituent, I urge you to reject any tax breaks for General Dynamics,” Mary Beth Sullivan, of Bath, wrote in a Nov. 30 email to Vitelli, cosponsor of the tax bill made available online for the first time last week. “General Dynamics spent $9.4-billion buying back its own stocks between 2013-2016…General Dynamics, like most weapons corporations, gets the vast majority of its operating funds from the federal treasury. The taxpayers are paying the freight from the start.

“Before General Dynamics gets any more state taxpayer dollars it should be required to begin a transition process to build commuter rail systems, tidal power and offshore wind turbines to help us deal with our real problem – global warming.”

The message was among several emails disclosed by Vitelli in response to a Maine Freedom of Access Act request filed by a reporter last month with the intent of gaining greater insight into the development of the Bath Iron Works tax bill. A similar notice was sent to DeChant, who acknowledged its receipt but has yet to provide the requested documents. Continue reading

Bill to Extend Bath Iron Works Tax Deal Cuts Minimum Investment Requirement and Expands Definition of Qualified Expenses

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When enacted into law in 1997, the original 20-year, $60-million tax deal from the state of Maine to General Dynamics subsidiary Bath Iron Works was intended to subsidize the cost of a shipyard “modernization” the company said would position it to be a viable and competitive business for decades.

It required the company invest at least $200-million in its facility and allowed for a $3-million annual tax credit to defray the costs incurred from planning, design, engineering, construction, demolition, remodeling, repair, and other expenditures related to the infrastructure project.

But newly proposed legislation to extend the credit, made available online for the first time this week, requires the company to invest only half the amount mandated in the original act and expands the definition of a “qualified investment,” potentially allowing the company to claim reimbursement on employee training. Continue reading

In Maine, a History of Bold Claims and Vague Commitments From General Dynamics

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When he gave his keynote address before the Chamber of Commerce of the Greater Portland Region in September 1997, then General Dynamics CEO Nicholas D. Chabraja had reason to celebrate.

It’d been two years since his company, annually among the nation’s largest defense contractors, had acquired local shipyard Bath Iron Works, and not long since it secured a $194-million megadeal with the state of Maine and the city of Bath to subsidize a massive infrastructure “modernization” at its newly acquired facility.

Chabraja decided to thank the more than 700 people gathered at the Holiday Inn By The Bay, as the Portland Press Herald reported, for the apparent role their community played in assuring the viability of a major Maine employer for decades to come.

“A great old shipyard that got its start in the 19th century will have all the support necessary to be a formidable shipbuilder well into the 21st century,” Chabraja, who stepped down as CEO in 2009, said, according to the paper. “In support of BIW, you’ve put your money on the people of Maine—and on a shipyard that will now be around for another hundred years.”

But, little more than 20 years on, officials at General Dynamics are no longer so sanguine. They’re back at the negotiating table, saying the company needs an extension of a key $60-million tax credit component of the 1997 deal in order to remain competitive with a rival shipbuilder in Mississippi.

Continue reading