Americans for Prosperity, the pro-corporate pressure group founded and funded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, wants employees to return to work despite desperate pleas from public health officials that people should stay home as much as possible to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
As states began to order nonessential businesses to shut down last week, AFP released a statement calling for all businesses to remain open.
“Rather than blanket shutdowns, the government should allow businesses to continue to adapt and innovate to produce the goods and services Americans need, while continuing to do everything they can to protect the public health,” said Emily Seidel, chief executive of AFP, in a press release.
Some of the group’s state chapters have taken a similar tone. AFP Pennsylvania’s state director, as well as a regional director with the group, have taken to Twitter to lambast shelter-in-place policies. The Michigan chapter of AFP on Monday slammed Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which closed down fitness centers, nail salons, amusement parks, casinos, and other businesses deemed nonessential, calling it the “wrong approach for our state.”
Whitmer’s order, variations of which are being implemented by state and local governments nationwide, contains exceptions for critical industries such as grocery stores, pharmacies, health care providers, financial services, transportation, child care, hazardous materials, and energy.
“All businesses are essential — to the people who own them, the people who work in them, and the communities they serve,” said Annie Patnaude, the Michigan state director for AFP, in a statement responding to the order.
If you are wondering where #DonaldTrump got the idea to end the #CoronavirusPandemic quarantines, stay at home orders. It came from the #KochNetwork These are 2 staffers of the network agitating for businesses to reopen.— Laura Goldman (@laurasgoldman) March 23, 2020
They will be safe working at home. pic.twitter.com/CVXjhCKVrz
AFP’s position, which directly contradicts the advice of medical experts who say that social isolation is essential to curbing the spread of the coronavirus, comes after the group lobbied the Trump administration in 2018 to rescind $1 billion from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much of AFP’s recommended cuts to government programs, which included CDC money for infectious disease control and global health, became part of the official White House budget request, though most were not adopted by Congress.
The cuts, AFP argued, would “relieve the burden overspending is placing on all taxpayers.” The CDC is now one of the front-line organizations dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted nearly 70,000 people in the United States and has claimed over 1,000 lives.
The libertarian advocacy network has spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying for corporate tax cuts, deregulation, and reductions to social welfare programs, particularly state Medicaid programs. This aggressive advocacy record has come into focus in recent days as Americans confront the coronavirus pandemic. Medicaid funding is seen as a critical tool for treating sick patients, and many are now questioning the wisdom of reductions to the CDC’s funding and staff.