Courage Campaign’s Koch/cokehead ad draws fire

The Courage Campaign’s new ad taking on the billionaire Koch brothers, who’ve sank money into the campaign for Proposition 32, is being panned by fellow progressives who are offended by the ad’s mocking and stereotyping of drug addicts.

Many of the comments on this ad’s YouTube page and on the Courage Campaign’s Facebook page are scathing – not in defense of the Koch brothers, but against the Courage Campaign’s characterization of “cokeheads.” Some examples:

“Please admit you’re in the wrong and take this video down. Not only is this extremely offensive to those of us who have experienced drug-addiction personally or know people who have, it’s effective in alienating a usually supportive demographic. This isn’t behavior I’d expect from a progressive org, do the right thing and take it down.”


Having had a brother who passed away from a drug addiction and living his stigmatization I am saddened by the destructive nature of this ad. I can joke with the best of folks, but as I taught my child it’s only funny when you are laughing with people, not at them.

The Courage Campaign responded last night:

Hey folks, thanks for your interest in our ad and your concern. Our goal in creating the Koch Brothers ad was (and is) to educate the public about who is behind Prop 32. To do that, we chose satire, and we stand by our ad as a piece of political satire. We pride ourselves on creating messages that cut through the noise and reach people who might not be aware of the critical issues at stake. We did know that some might have concerns about the use of the word “cokehead,” which is why we specifically included the text “Problems with drug or alcohol abuse? Visit AA.org.” in the ad.

We appreciate your feedback, and actually see it as an opportunity to educate the public about two important issues, Prop 32 and media portrayals of those struggling with drug abuse. We are not going to take down the ad, but we think this is a great opportunity to publicize studies, articles or other revealing investigations into the stigmatizing of addiction and recovery. Can you please share anything like that with us? You can post it here or email it to us at info@couragecampaign.org. Also, is there an organization that makes sense for us to collaborate with on this effort? Many of those who commented are connected to Students for A Sensible Drug Policy. The Courage community would appreciate learning more about your organization, and we’d love to partner with you in posting information in the coming weeks. Thanks again for your feedback. We’re always learning.

But the critics aren’t placated, and topday started a change.org petition urging the Courage Campaign to take down the video.

What do you think?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • TaxPayer

    I’ll tell you what I think – VOTE YES PROP 32! Koch Brothers have only spent $4 Million and the CTA has spent over $20 Million. (over $40 all unions combined) The CTA alone has spent more than $250 Million on politics in CA over the past 12 years. More than double the next “special interest” group. It’s time to say NO to the unions and do the right thing for CA.

  • Truthclubber

    People who are offended by an ad like this should make sure they hand over their remote control to a conservator so that they never have to worry that they will tune in to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report by accident, and be permanently traumatized.

    P.S. Love the gag T-shirt worn by the guy in the left — “Meats” as a play on the word “Mets” (as in the baseball team!)

  • Elwood

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.

  • I’ve already commented on these insensitive elitist fake progressives and signed the petition. But to learn they excused themselves by posting a link to Alcoholics Anonymous? DOUBLE FAIL. Really proves they are out of touch, what are they doing this for? A school project?

  • JohnW

    Pretty dumb ad. And I’m voting against Prop. 32.

    There are more effective ways to call attention to the Koch brothers connection to the measure. This is amateur hour.

  • Tick

    This is the one-two-punch; First; If you silence unions, there IS no other organization out there that protects workers. Second; corporate special interests will come after your job; by making or repealing laws like collective bargaining, Davis-Bacon, retirement, apprenticeship and institute right to work for less legislation. You’ll see your wages cut in half, benefits and working conditions disappear overnight. And the union wouldn’t even be able to inform you that this was happening.

    Give me one other organization that fights for worker’s rights.

    If this was to hurt the big corporate interest why are they the ones putting money into this campaign to pass? The Koch bros., Carl Rove, big oil companies, and insurance companies, wall street bankers and developers. That’s because they are all exempt from Prop 32.

    Labor rights aren’t etched in stone. They were won through politics and collective bargaining. So if you’re the 99% that have to work for a living say, “good bye” to, vacation leave, health insurance, 8 hour work day, minimum wage, work place health and safety laws, overtime pay, unemployment, child labor laws, meal breaks, nurse patient ratios just to name a few. Screw 32 vote NO

  • Tick

    And why should dixie cups cost so much? because the Koch bros. are influencing public opinion through the profits of charging me 96% over cost for that red dixie cup so they can give 100m to campaigns that I don’t believe in.

  • RR senile columnist

    Re 6: John L Lewis lives! (With special thanks to Big Bill Haywood)

  • JohnW

    I would vote for Prop. 32 if it pertained only to public (not private sector) unions, and if it allowed payroll deduction on either an opt-in or opt-out basis.

  • Truthclubber

    @9 —

    I would also vote for it (Prop. 32), if in addition to those enhancements, it removed the questionable exemptions for certain types of corporations — the more we get away from “the best government that money can buy”, the better we are.

  • Elwood

    I have read and reread the entire text of Prop 32.

    Would someone please point out to me where it exempts big business, big corporations, big oil, big whatever from its provisions?

    I am unable to locate any such section. Surely the opponents wouldn’t lie, now would they?

  • Josh Richman

    @11 –
    I think the opponents’ argument is rooted in the fact that Prop. 32 wouldn’t apply to business super PACs and independent expenditure committees – often funded by the companies themselves, not by employees. Unions, on the other hand, derive their political funds from member dues paid via payroll deductions, which would be banned by the measure.

  • Truthclubber

    @12 —

    Thanks, Josh.

    On another note, seriously?

    People are offended by silly political satire like this?

    Hell, Colbert recently had a bit on Romney needing to get massive numbers of people to move to red states so that they would be more inclined to vote for him, to wit:

    “Arkansas! Come for the meth!
    Stay…because you sold your car for meth.”

  • JohnW

    Re: #11

    Elwood, as you stated, there are no explicit exemptions of the type you mentioned. The catch is that Prop. 32 only applies to businesses that are organized as corporations under the corporation laws of California or the U.S. There are many business entities, big and small, that are organized as Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships and other legal forms. For example, I believe Bain Capital is an LLC. Koch Industries, Inc., is a corporation, but it’s operating subsidary companies are organized as LLC’s. Real estate trusts and hedge funds have been specifically mentioned as entities that are “exempted,” in the sense that they do not fall within the statutory definition of “corporation.”

  • Milan Moravec

    The choices made Nov 6 will determine the state’s course for years. Both Prop 32, 30 levy significant taxes on Californians.
    The wounds that Prop 30, 32 are to heal have been self inflicted largely by elected officials in Sacramento who simply do not say no to any influential interest group (lobbyists) be they public employees, business, teachers or other unions or environmental groups.
    And now the Sacramento politicians and their lobbyists are using Prop 32, 30, 38 to blackmail us.
    Vote! Vote No on Prop 32, 30, 38. Save California for our children.

  • JohnW

    I hope people who generally deal with the flood of ballot initiatives by just voting NO on everything remember to vote YES on Prop. 40. YES means to keep the new independent redistricting. NO means going back to having the legislature do it.