The protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposed budget bill continue into day 17 in Madison. But now anger has shifted from politicians to include the billionaire Koch brothers, who many see as the patrons (and architects) of Walker's proposals. Much of the Koch empire consists of oil interests, but it also manufactures retail paper products (in part through its subsidiary Georgia-Pacific in Wisconsin).
Now protesters are calling for a boycott of Koch Industries products. But in the confusion of identifying those linked to financing Walker, activists are mistakenly calling for the boycott of at least one brand name that really had nothing to do with the governor's campaign.
So far, various lists call for boycotts of Lycra, Sparkle and Zee (napkins), Brawny, Vanity Fair (the paper napkins and plates brand, not the magazine), Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, Soft-n-Gentle, Mardi Gras, Dixie and Stainmaster Carpet.
One list put out by now-infamous WikiLeaks-linked activist hacker group "Anonymous," lists Koch Industry products sold in both the US and Europe. Claiming that it "hears the voice of the downtrodden American people," Anonymous writes that "we welcome unions across the globe to join us in this boycott to show that you will not allow big business to dictate your freedom."
Anonymous also lists the Georgia-Pacific logo, noting "To identify these brands, please look for the following logo anywhere on the packaging."
But Anonymous was hardly the first to call for a boycott. In fact, numerous hastily written posters inside the state capitol dome in Madison list Koch products to boycott. Additionally, other websites has launched Koch boycotts, including the left-leaning Daily Kos. There is a Boycott Koch Industries Facebook page. The Boycottkochbrothers.com site boasts a passionate, if hard to look at, plea against "Rich Promoters of Right-Wing Extremism."
Koch Industries was indeed Walker's second largest single campaign donor, with $43,000 in donations. The Kochs are also infamous for their political giving to conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation. But another brand, M&I Bank, has been targeted as well, despite the bank making no donation to Walker (or anyone) whatsoever.
On the popular activism site Democraticunderground.com, a post from Feb. 18 reads, "Please forward to your mailing list. There is a Facebook movement to boycott supporters of Scott Walker, Boycott Scott Walker Contributors. Most notable: TDS, Kwik Trip, Walmart, Jonsonville Foods, M&I Bank, Miller/Coors, SC Johnson."
On Feb. 22, protesters congregated outside M&I Bank's building headquarters (at top). And though the protests, like all of those in Madison so far, were very peaceful, police were sent to guard the entrance. Not the best face forward brands generally want to communicate to consumers. Other M&I bank locations thought the state saw various demonstrations as well.
"Marshall & Ilsley Corporation and M&I Bank have not made contributions to any political campaign in Wisconsin. By law, corporations and businesses are not permitted to make direct contributions to political campaigns." That was the official statement released by the bank in the wake of the protests.
The confusion is over campaign finance reporting that has tallied all those Walker contributors who listed M&I Bank as their employer. When all put together these donations are considerable but they are from those employed by M&I Bank, not from the bank itself.
Of the protests, the president of M&I in Racine, WI, Tim Majcen, told The Journal Times, "You could have picked any corporation in Racine. You could look up any company and try to make the case that they contributed to Scott Walker's campaign." Indeed, many M&I Bank employees are listed as contributors to Walker's 2010 opponent, Tom Barrett.
While it's true that the bank itself did not support Walker, some who still target M&I have pointed out that the largest chunk of those M&I employee donations to Walker came from M&I executives, who, after the bank accepted a financial bailout during the early days of the latest economic crisis, stand to still be well compensated after announcing a $4 billion sale of the Wisconsin-based bank to Canda's BMO Financial Group.
Of course, ideologically-driven consumer boycotts are nothing new. Less than a year ago we covered the large scale movement to boycott ostensibly gay rights-friendly Target to punish the retailer for its heavy support of anti-gay rights politicians. Certainly this boycott had an impact on Target's bottom line, but just how much of an impact is unknown.
While the retailer has of late produced lower than expected sales targets, so have many in the sector. (One interesting sidenote: Lady Gaga leveraged the gay community's Target boycott to spur more gay-positive policies during negotiations to sell her new album.)
The bulk of Koch Industries' money comes from petroleum and oil refining, and we all know how useful boycotts against oil companies have been.