The following is condensed from a ten-page, detailed article on the Koch (pronounced Coke) brothers, which appeared in the New Yorker magazine. It shows how much of the senseless noise we hear today is quietly funded and controlled by two brothers who want to re-make America into their own profitable vision. The article shows how the Kochs have convinced everyday people to spread their distortions and lies; even when it results in a lower quality of life for those very people spreading the Koch message.
The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.
by Jane Mayer
Over the July 4th, 2010, weekend, the advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—an organization that David Koch started, in 2004—held a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a hotel ballroom in Austin. Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. 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.”
At the lectern in Austin, Peggy Venable—a longtime political operative who draws a salary from Americans for Prosperity, and who has worked for Koch-funded political groups since 1994—spoke less warily. “We love what the Tea Parties are doing, because that’s how we’re going to take back America!” she declared, as the crowd cheered. She explained that the role of Americans for Prosperity was to help “educate” Tea Party activists on policy details, and to give them “next-step training” after their rallies, so that their political energy could be channelled “more effectively.” And she noted that Americans for Prosperity had provided Tea Party activists with lists of elected officials to target. She said of the Kochs, “They’re certainly our people. David’s the chairman of our board. I’ve certainly met with them, and I’m very appreciative of what they do.”
The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.”
A Republican campaign consultant who has done research on behalf of Charles and David Koch said of the Tea Party, “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!”
The Republican campaign consultant said of the family’s political activities, “To call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground!” Another former Koch adviser said, “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.” Rob Stein, a Democratic political strategist who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, said that the Kochs are “at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.”
Oddly enough, the fiercely capitalist Koch family owes part of its fortune to Joseph Stalin. In 1927, Fred Koch invented a more efficient process for converting oil into gasoline, but, according to family lore, America’s major oil companies regarded him as a threat and shut him out of the industry. Unable to succeed at home, Koch found work in the Soviet Union. In the nineteen-thirties, his company trained Bolshevik engineers and helped Stalin’s regime set up fifteen modern oil refineries. Over time, however, Stalin brutally purged several of Koch’s Soviet colleagues. Koch was deeply affected by the experience, and regretted his collaboration. He returned to the U.S. In the headquarters of his company, Rock Island Oil & Refining, in Wichita, he kept photographs aimed at proving that some of those Soviet refineries had been destroyed in the Second World War. Gus diZerega, a former friend of Charles Koch, recalled, “As the Soviets became a stronger military power, Fred felt a certain amount of guilt at having helped build them up. I think it bothered him a lot.”
In 1958, Fred Koch 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.” The brothers’ first major public step came in 1979, when Charles persuaded David, then thirty-nine, to run for public office. They had become supporters of the Libertarian Party, and were backing its Presidential candidate, Ed Clark, who was running against Ronald Reagan from the right. Frustrated by the legal limits on campaign donations, they contrived to place David on the ticket, in the Vice-Presidential slot; upon becoming a candidate, he could lavish as much of his personal fortune as he wished on the campaign. The ticket’s slogan was “The Libertarian Party has only one source of funds: You.” In fact, its primary source of funds was David Koch, who spent more than two million dollars on the effort.
Many of the ideas propounded in the 1980 campaign presaged the Tea Party movement. Ed Clark told The Nation that libertarians were getting ready to stage “a very big tea party,” because people were “sick to death” of taxes. The Libertarian Party platform called for the abolition of the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., as well as of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. The Party wanted to end Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control, and all personal and corporate income taxes.
The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Gus diZerega, the former friend, suggested that the Kochs’ youthful idealism about libertarianism had largely devolved into a rationale for corporate self-interest. He said of Charles, “Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom.”
In 1977, the Kochs provided the funds to launch the nation’s first libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute. According to the Center for Public Integrity, between 1986 and 1993 the Koch family gave eleven million dollars to the institute. In the mid-eighties, the Kochs provided millions of dollars to George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, to set up another think tank. Now known as the Mercatus Center. The Wall Street Journal noted that fourteen of the twenty-three regulations that President George W. Bush placed on a “hit list” had been suggested first by Mercatus scholars.
In 1989, the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs investigated their business and released a scathing report accusing Koch Oil of “a widespread and sophisticated scheme to steal crude oil from Indians and others through fraudulent mismeasuring.” The Kochs admitted that they had improperly taken thirty-one million dollars’ worth of crude oil, but said that it had been accidental. Charles Koch told committee investigators that oil measurement is “a very uncertain art.”
To defend its reputation, Koch Industries hired Robert Strauss, then a premier Washington lobbyist; the company soon opened an office in the city. A grand jury was convened to investigate the allegations, but it eventually disbanded, without issuing criminal charges. According to the Senate report, after the committee hearings Koch operatives delved into the personal lives of committee staffers, even questioning an ex-wife. Senate investigators were upset by the Kochs’ tactics. Kenneth Ballen, the counsel to the Senate committee, said, “These people have amassed such unaccountable power!”
The Kochs continued to disperse their money, creating slippery organizations with generic-sounding names, and this made it difficult to ascertain the extent of their influence in Washington. When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigated the Koch-funded Citizens for the Environment (which was actually against, not for the environment), it discovered that the “citizens” group had “no citizen membership of its own.”
During the 2000 election campaign, Koch Industries spent some nine hundred thousand dollars to support the candidacies of George W. Bush and other Republicans. During the Bush years, Koch Industries and other fossil-fuel companies enjoyed remarkable prosperity. The 2005 energy bill, which Hillary Clinton dubbed the Dick Cheney Lobbyist Energy Bill, offered enormous subsidies and tax breaks for energy companies. The Kochs have cast themselves as deficit hawks, but, according to a study by Media Matters, their companies have benefitted from nearly a hundred million dollars in government contracts since 2000.
In 2004, David Koch and Fink started a new group, Americans for Prosperity, and they hired Tim Phillips to run it. Phillips was a political veteran who had worked with Ralph Reed, the evangelical leader and Republican activist, co-founding Century Strategies, a campaign-consulting company that became notorious for its ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The influence of Koch money even reaches into the Smithsonian Institution. The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, is a multimedia exploration of the theory that mankind evolved in response to climate change. Joseph Romm, a physicist who runs the Web site ClimateProgress.org, is infuriated by the Smithsonian’s presentation. “The whole exhibit whitewashes the modern climate issue,” he said. “I think the Kochs wanted to be seen as some sort of high-minded company, associated with the greatest natural-history and science museum in the country. But the truth is, the exhibit is underwritten by big-time polluters, who are underground funders of action to stop efforts to deal with this threat to humanity.”
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.” It is time for us to change that by educating others about the Kochs.