Arizona Republic Promotes Koch-Backed Effort To Privatize Department Of Veterans Affairs

The Arizona Republic recently published an editorial promoting Concerned Veterans for America's efforts to privatize much of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While the group is presented by the Republic as an impartial veterans organization, it is actually a right-wing group backed by Charles and David Koch and headed by a Fox News contributor. 

In a March 12 editorial, the Republic editorial board highlighted President Obama's visit to the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital, during which he reportedly plans to hold a round table to discuss reforming the VA. The editorial board lamented that the president has allegedly failed to invite any “real reformers” to the meeting, holding up Concerned Veterans for America as an example:

If there is to be any genuine, lasting and positive reform coming from this failure to care for American veterans, the real reformers need to gain the president's ear. The president needs to hear from more than those who advocate more of the same, albeit with a lot more money.

But they don't appear to have been invited to the president's round table Friday.

Concerned Veterans for America has produced the most significant reform proposal for the VA hospital system, advocating that the enormous government division turn over much of its operations to the private sector while emphasizing care of maladies unique to the military. 

No CVA representative was invited to the president's table at the Phoenix VA, although the Washington-based group expressed its eagerness to participate.

In expressing support for the Concerned Veterans of America (CVA), the Republic failed to provide the important context that the group is heavily backed by the Koch brothers. In 2014, The Washington Post identified CVA as an “organization that is part of the of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers' political network.” The paper also listed CVA as part of a “coalition of allied conservative groups” that were “backed by a donor network organized by the industrialists Charles and David Koch” that raised more than $400 million during the 2012 election cycle. The group was also active in the 2014 midterm elections, conducting a “10-city 'Defend Freedom Summer Tour,'” and airing misleading ads targeting Democratic congressional candidates.  

The Sunlight Foundation reported that during the 2014 campaign cycle, Freedom Partners, another Koch-affiliated group, transferred “valuable” local television ad contracts to CVA, which the organization argued “illustrates just how tightly some organizations connected to the Koch brothers operate.”

CVA's CEO, Pete Hegseth, is a Fox News contributor who ran unsuccessfully for a Senate seat in Minnesota in 2012 and was appointed the Minnesota Republican Party finance chair in 2014.

The group's partisanship on VA issues caused Stars and Stripes columnist Tom Philpott to write that “in my 37 years covering veterans' issues, I have never seen veteran issues used more cynically or politicized more thoroughly than during the past several years.” Philpott lambasted CVA for “posing as a vet advocacy group and being rewarded for it”:

In the thick of this is Concerned Veterans for America, posing as a vet advocacy group and being rewarded for it.  CVA press releases usually are partisan attacks.  Its spokesman, Pete Hegseth, an Iraq war vet and Republican who ran for a U.S. Senate in 2012, is quoted often by major news outlets without mention of press reports associating CVA with the Koch brothers, libertarian billionaires who create public interest groups to oppose big government.  That's fine.  That's protected speech.  A CVA spokesman told me last year it won't reveal donor information. 

What should upset vets is the use of select facts about VA and its programs to reinforce fears rather than give reliable information.  Last week a CVA press release hit a new low in purporting to document “lies” Shinseki told in congressional testimony, dropping any veil of respect for a decorated, combat-disabled soldier with a long and stellar career.