31 August 2010

The billionaire Koch brothers

Excerpts from a New York Times column, "The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party":
There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it... You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans...

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right...

You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president...

When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed...

The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests...
More at the link, which cites a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, "Covert Operations."  Here are some excerpts from that article:
The gala marked the social ascent of Koch, who, at the age of seventy, has become one of the city’s most prominent philanthropists. In 2008, he donated a hundred million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears his name. He has given twenty million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of the fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Koch pledged at least ten million dollars for their renovation. He is a trustee of the museum, perhaps the most coveted social prize in the city, and serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than forty million dollars, an endowed chair and a research center were named for him...

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars...

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests... The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus...

The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”

By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement...

In 1958, Fred Koch [their father] became one of the original members of the John Birch Society, the arch-conservative group known, in part, for a highly skeptical view of governance and for spreading fears of a Communist takeover. Members considered President Dwight D. Eisenhower to be a Communist agent. In a self-published broadside, Koch claimed that “the Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican Parties.” He wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini’s suppression of Communists in Italy, and disparagingly of the American civil-rights movement. “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” he warned. Welfare was a secret plot to attract rural blacks to cities, where they would foment “a vicious race war.” In a 1963 speech that prefigures the Tea Party’s talk of a secret socialist plot, Koch predicted that Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the President is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.”

As their fortunes grew, Charles and David Koch became the primary underwriters of hard-line libertarian politics in America. Charles’s goal, as Doherty described it, was to tear the government “out at the root.”

Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros’s giving is transparent...

The Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them. They have been content to operate what David Koch has called “the largest company that you’ve never heard of.” But with the growing prominence of the Tea Party, and with increased awareness of the Kochs’ ties to the movement, the brothers may find it harder to deflect scrutiny. Recently, President Obama took aim at the Kochs’ political network. Speaking at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser, in Austin, he warned supporters that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Citizens United case—which struck down laws prohibiting direct corporate spending on campaigns—had made it even easier for big companies to hide behind “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity.” Obama said, “They don’t have to say who, exactly, Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation”—or even, he added, “a big oil company.”
Much more at the link, including the Koch association with the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity. The author of the New Yorker story is interviewed at NPR.  Via Reddit.


  1. How I wish this were more widely publicized! The non-thinking Tea Partiers will be most unlikely to read "The New Yorker". I don't know whether to pity them for their lack of intelligence or despise them for their intellectual laziness. They probably wouldn't believe it unless Glen Beck or Bill O'Reilly mentioned it anyway.

  2. As a "non-thinking tea partier", barb, I pity you for your lack of intelligence and despise you for intellectual laziness. Does it bother your than your entire political philosophy consists of "pitying", "despising", and name calling?

    As for the actual article in question, I don't really see the point other than what has become the political attack du jour: guilt by association. I'm pretty sure from a cursory examination of bush-era anti-war groups I could compile a list of "bad guys" a mile high. That doesn't mean they were wrong. The entire premise fails basic logic. Also, if I'm an uber-billionaire looking after my own best interests, I have to think that empowering a single government entity that can be controlled and can force regulation on the masses is a much better way to go about it.

    The substantial proportion of libertarians and libertarian-leaners are diverse, intelligent, educated, and extremely unselfish. They don't listen to Glen Beck or Bill O'Reilly any more than they do Bill Maher or Keith Olbermann (Jon Stewart is completely different story). Unlike the majority of politically-interested populace their opinions aren't homogeneous, but their core belief is constant: basic human freedom. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an impostor or a liar.

  3. Bret, I think you miss the whole point of the post, which is, the so-called "grass roots movement" tea party is anything but. And I don't understand your "guilt-by-association" whinge. Who's been accused of anything? And as far as "basic human freedom," goes, would you not agree that sometimes basic human freedom, say, the right to live free of contaminated groundwater, unbreathable air, and poisons in the food supply, requires the imposition of regulations? Yet the libertarian often calls for the removal of all agencies charged with said regulation.
    Lastly, I think you paint with too broadly a brush when you speak of Barbwire's "entire political philosophy consisting of "pitying", "despising", and name calling."

  4. Hey Pete,

    The entire point of the post was to denigrate the Tea Party movement by being associated with the Koch brothers. Perhaps I'm being sensitive, but I thought that was fairly obvious. I also don't concede your point that the Tea Party isn't grass roots, but honestly, the question is a distraction. Being grassroots doesn't make an organization more legitimate or justified in it's positions. I'll admit I'm at a loss as to why we put such a high importance on that label.

    Unpolluted water, air, and food are not rights, they are positive outcomes we seek as a society and as individuals to produce. Nonetheless, your point about regulation versus negative outcomes would be correct, if you take for granted that the regulation and regulatory bodies are effective enough to outweigh the imposition to life and liberty they present. I think most libertarians would agree that the majority of these regulatory bodies are completely ineffective at their jobs, at best, and actually harmful to their goals, at worst.

    I have further to say on this topic, but I wouldn't want to hijack this thread more than I already have.

  5. You guys are welcome to debate the subject in the Comments, as long as you stay on topic (and at least indirectly related to the subject of the post) and avoid ad hominem personal attacks/insults.

  6. I don't see why a grass-roots movement is any less a grass-roots movement because there are some rich libertarians out there who like to contribute to it. That's not the standard we apply to progressive movements, is it? The Tea Party is grass-roots in the sense that millions of Americans support it voluntarily and individually.

    Barbwire, you're not well-informed about Tea Partiers, what they read, or how intelligent or intellectually active they are. You're in danger of falling prey to the same defect you see in them, which is to get your information from limited sources.

  7. @Bret: unpolluted water and air are not products but anti-products: it would be there if there were no production.

    I guess I am too late to this thread to be noticed, but I would like to know if your world view boils down to a right of the strongest? I have always viewed the absence of war, civil or otherwise, in our part of the world (I'm from Europe, but the US seem to be doing fine as well) as a result of being nice, economically and otherwise, to those without money or power.


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