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Charles Koch

Billionaire Charles Koch stands for a portrait on Monday, August 3, 2015 in Dana Point, California. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'Manchin Is Only Moved by Corporate Donors,' Says Bowman as Koch-Backed Group Lobbies Against Voting Rights Bill

"The provisions in the For the People Act are widely popular, among Democrats and Republicans. It's just not popular among billionaire donors."

Jake Johnson

A dark money group funded by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch has been actively lobbying Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to keep up his opposition to the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill that would expand ballot access and crack down on the kind of secretive spending that has made the deep-pocketed Koch network such a powerful force in U.S. politics.

"Manchin isn't moved by the views of his constituents. Manchin isn't moved by GOP voter suppression bills in 43 states. Because Manchin is only moved by corporate donors and their agenda."
—Rep. Jamaal Bowman

CNBC reported Tuesday that Americans for Prosperity recently "launched a website titled West Virginia Values, which calls on people to email Manchin 'to be The Voice West Virginia Needs In D.C. — Reject Washington's Partisan Agenda.'"

"It then lists all of the items Manchin has promised to oppose, including the idea of eliminating the filibuster, the For the People Act, and packing the Supreme Court," CNBC noted. "It then shows everything the group believes Manchin should oppose, including Biden's infrastructure plan and the union-friendly PRO Act."

Judging by Manchin's strident Sunday op-ed vowing to vote against the For the People Act when it reaches the Senate floor later this month, the Koch-backed group's lobbying efforts are having their intended impact.

Ted Ellis, director of coalitions for Americans for Prosperity's government affairs team, praised Manchin as courageous for refusing to join every other Democratic senatorand a majority of the U.S. electorate, including Republican votersin supporting the For the People Act.

The legislation is also backed by more than two-thirds of West Virginia voters, according to a recent survey conducted by Represent.US.

"A wise man once said that it takes a lot of courage to stand up to your enemies but that it takes even more courage up to stand up to your friends," said Ellis. "And that's what Joe Manchin is doing right now. He's displaying, I think, a lot of courage and we should applaud that."

CNBC's reporting came as Manchin met with a group of civil rights advocates to discuss the For the People Act—a meeting that the West Virginia senator said failed to change his mind on the bill.

"Joe Manchin isn't moved by leaders who have spent decades organizing for civil rights," tweeted Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). "Manchin isn't moved by the views of his constituents. Manchin isn't moved by GOP voter suppression bills in 43 states. Because Manchin is only moved by corporate donors and their agenda."

"As a Black man who wouldn't be in Congress if not for civil rights leaders, I find his response disrespectful," Bowman added. "As an American who understands campaign finance law, I find his motivations questionable."

Given the broad popularity of the For the People Act—and the bill's urgency in the face of escalating Republican attacks on voting rights across the country—progressives are growing increasingly frustrated with the Democratic leadership's refusal to use its power to pressure Manchin into changing his position.

The Hill reported Tuesday that Manchin's op-ed in West Virginia's Charleston Gazette-Mail—where he criticized the For the People Act as overly "partisan"—has "progressive groups and some Democratic lawmakers wondering when Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will get tough with the West Virginia Democrat."

"Manchin is a member of Schumer's leadership team and Schumer has several points of leverage, including the power to replace him as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee," The Hill noted. "But Schumer doesn't have a reputation for getting tough with colleagues. Instead, he keeps them close and hardly ever criticizes Democratic senators who cause him headaches."

Yvette Simpson, the CEO of the progressive advocacy group Democracy for America, told The Hill in an interview that Manchin "has decided that he respects and admires Mitch McConnell more than he respects Chuck Schumer in his own party."

“The main job of the majority leader is to bring the caucus together," Simpson added. "He needs to be able to deliver votes. That's it. And the fact that he continues to concede to Manchin and allow him to be this pseudo leader is ridiculous. Manchin wins time and time again with support from unions, with support from working-class voters in West Virginia, and Schumer needs to turn the heat up on him."


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