LIBRE Initiative criticized for its ties to the Koch brothers

The LIBRE Initiative bills itself as a non-profit group that pushes a message of economic freedom and limited government among the Latino community. But lately,…

Daniel Garza, executive director of the LIBRE Initiative, says his group’s agenda focuses on advancing the principles of economic freedom and limited government. (Flickr/TheLibreInitiative)

The LIBRE Initiative bills itself as a non-profit group that pushes a message of economic freedom and limited government among the Latino community. But lately, the group has been taking a lot of heat for collecting millions of dollars from Charles and David Koch.

The Koch brothers, who are tied at No. 6 on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s top billionaires, are using their fortune to create a political machine designed to advance their interests. Their efforts include pouring millions of dollars into non-profit organizations that then distribute money to smaller groups.

SEE ALSO: Who are the Koch brothers?

The LIBRE Initiative is one of the dozens of groups receiving funds from the Koch brother’s political machine. An analysis by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics shows the LIBRE Initiative has received $3.8 million in funding from Freedom Partners and TC4 Trust, two groups affiliated with the Koch brothers.

Some Latino leaders worry that the Koch brothers are using the LIBRE Initiative to push their own agenda, which includes eliminating the federal minimum wage, abolishing Medicaid programs and fighting clean energy legislation.

But Daniel Garza, a former George W. Bush staffer who heads the LIBRE Initiative, rejected that notion in an interview with VOXXI. He explained that his group drives its own agenda, one that focuses on advancing the principles of economic freedom and limited government.

“We’re making the case that growing the power and control of government is not a sustainable model for progress, and in fact, we believe freedom drives progress,” Garza said.

Founded in 2011, the LIBRE Initiative is a 501(c)(4) organization that by law is allowed to keep the identities of its donors a secret. When asked whether or not his organization receives funds from the Koch brothers, Garza replied: “We are 100 percent compliant with the law. We act in accordance with election law on messaging, on contributions, on disclosing or not disclosing. We are like other 501(c)(3)’s, very discrete about our donors.”

He also acknowledged that his group receives funding from the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners “just like liberal, leftist groups take money from other individuals and don’t disclose it.”

“We haven’t criticized the other side for taking contributions from individuals, but yet they do it to us,” Garza added. “I don’t understand why it’s right for them to do it and it’s not right for us to do it.

“just another Koch brothers front group”

Cristobal Alex, head of the Latino Victory Project, has been a longtime critic of the LIBRE Initiative. In an interview with VOXXI, Alex said he views the LIBRE Initiative as “just another Koch brothers front group.”

To make his case, he noted that the group describes itself as being bipartisan when in reality it stands in line with conservatives on a number of issues, such as opposing the Affordable Care Act.

SEE ALSO: The LIBRE Initiative offers conservative voice for Latinos

Alex also pointed to a new round of digital ads that the LIBRE Initiative released last week. The ads go after six members of Congress—all Democrats—for supporting the Affordable Care Act and “unnecessary spending” by the federal government. Among those attacked by the ads are Reps. Joe Garcia of Florida and Pete Gallego of Texas.

“The ads are more of the same,” Alex said. “They’re targeted and intended to defeat candidates with a strong record supporting things like access to good-paying jobs, quality education, affordable health care and a clean environment. Those are the issues that Latinos care about.”

He added that what’s also “illogical” is that ads go after Latino lawmakers amid national efforts to try to increase the number of Latinos elected to office. Currently, Latinos represent 17 percent of the country’s population. But there are only 31 Latinos elected in Congress, making up nearly 6 percent of the total number of members in Congress.

“Instead of working together to increase our voice, LIBRE is literally attacking our candidates and trying to limit our voice,” Alex said.

Robbie Sherwood, executive director of ProgressNow Arizona, also criticized the ads. He said the ads take aim at Democrats who back immigration reform—an issue that the LIBRE Initiative strongly supports—and end up benefiting candidates who only support immigration enforcement.

“They’re looking to punish people who actually support their one signature issue that they say they support in favor of politicians who don’t want to touch immigration reform with a ten-foot pole,” Sherwood said in an interview with VOXXI, referring to the LIBRE Initiative.

LIBRE represents conservative Latinos

Garza defended his group’s decision to run the ads, saying the purpose of the ads is to show that there is a significant percentage of Latinos who oppose more government spending and increasing the role of government.

He also said the purpose of the ads is to highlighting how Latinos across the country are having a tough time making it from paycheck to paycheck. He said many Latino families are seeing their daily costs rising while their incomes are falling.

SEE ALSO: Hispanics have been unable to fully recover from the Great Recession

When asked why his group is going after Democrats who are strong supporters of immigration reform, Garza shifted the conversation to how the Democratic Party’s agenda and policies on immigration are hurting the Latino community.

“When public policy has not delivered on its promises—or in this case the White House—and then you’re having Democrat congressional members supporting that agenda, we’re going to make our case based on the fact,” he said. “And the fact is Latinos across the country are hurting.”

Garza also insisted that Latinos are not homogeneous. He said there are many Latinos who believe in the same conservative principles that his group supports and that the left “does not get to censor voices who do not agree with them.”

But critics say they are not trying to censor the LIBRE Initiative. Instead, they say they’re questioning the group’s actions and motives given that they receive millions of dollars from the Koch brothers.

“Their money speaks a lot louder than their words,” Sherwood said. “They build themselves as nonpartisan and that they support comprehensive immigration reform. But beyond that, their whole agenda is indistinguishable from that of the tea party or any other organization that is funded by the Koch brothers.”