The power of the Koch brothers

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have a more powerful influence on American politics and policy than many governors and senators.  By my standards, President Barack Obama is a conservative, who has protected and bailed out Wall Street bankers while seeking to undermine Social Security and Medicare.  By theirs, he is a socialist, and they intend to drive the country into an even more extreme pro-corporate direction.  The above video and the following text provide a good report on them.

Charles and David Koch are each worth about $25 billion, which makes them the fourth richest Americans. When you combine their fortunes, they are the third wealthiest people in the world.  Radical libertarians who use their money to oppose government and virtually all regulation as interference with the free market, the Kochs are in a class of their own as players on the American political stage.  Their web of influence in the U.S. stretches from state capitals to the halls of congress in Washington, D.C.

The Koch brothers fueled the conservative Tea Party movement that vigorously opposes Barack Obama, the U.S. president.  They fund efforts to derail action on global warming, and support politicians who object to raising taxes on corporations or the wealthy to help fix America’s fiscal problems.  According to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who wrote a groundbreaking exposé of the Kochs in 2010, they have built a top to bottom operation to shape public policy that has been “incredibly effective. They are so rich that their pockets are almost bottomless, and they can keep pouring money into this whole process.”

Koch industries, the second largest privately-held company in the US, is an oil refining, chemical, paper products and financial services company with revenues of a $100 billion a year.  Virtually every American household has some Koch product—from paper towels and lumber, to Stainmaster carpet and Lycra in sports clothes, to gasoline for cars.  The Kochs’ political philosophy of rolling back environmental and financial regulations is also beneficial to their business interests.

The Kochs rarely talk to the press, and conduct their affairs behind closed doors.  But at a secret meeting of conservative activists and funders the Kochs held in Vail, Colorado this past summer, someone made undercover recordings.  One caught Charles Koch urging participants to dig deep into their pockets to defeat Obama. “This is the mother of all wars we’ve got in the next 18 months,” he says, “for the life or death of this country.” He called out the names of 31 people at the Vail meeting who each contributed more than $1 million over the past 12 months.

In the 2010 congressional elections, the Kochs and their partners spent at least $40 million, helping to swing the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives towards right-wing Tea Party Republicans.  It has been reported that the Kochs are planning to raise and spend more than $200 million to defeat Obama in 2012.  But the brothers could easily kick in more without anyone knowing due to loopholes in U.S. law.

The Kochs founded and provide millions to Americans for Prosperity, a political organization that builds grassroots support for conservative causes and candidates.  Americans for Prosperity, which has 33 state chapters and claims to have about 2 million members, has close ties to Tea Party groups and played a key role in opposing Obama’s health care initiative.

This year, Americans for Prosperity spent at least half a million dollars supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to cut social spending and roll back collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.  The legislation passed by Walker makes it more difficult for unions, which are major backers of Democratic candidates, to secure funds for political purposes.  Americans for Prosperity is also very active in a battle against unions in Ohio, another important 2012 presidential state. Its president, Tim Phillips, says that the organization is winning in Wisconsin and around the country “because on the policies of economic freedom, we’re right.”  He refused to tell reporter Bob Abeshouse how much the organization is spending to combat the unions.

The Kochs have also poured millions into think tanks and academia to influence the battle over ideas.  According to Kert Davies, the director of research for Greenpeace in the US, the Kochs have spent more than $50 million since 1998 on “various front groups and think tanks who … oppose the consensus view that climate change is real, urgent and we have to do something about it.”  As operators of oil pipelines and refineries, the Kochs have opposed all efforts to encourage alternative sources of energy by imposing a tax on fossil fuels.

Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, often appears in the media to contest global warming science.  CATO was founded by Charles Koch, and the Kochs and their foundations have contributed about $14 million to CATO.  Since 2009, there has been a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans who see global warming as a serious threat, according to Gallup polls.  Davies argues that the change can be attributed in large measure to the efforts of scientists like Michaels and others who are funded by the fossil fuel industry.

The Kochs have also promoted their free market ideology and business interests through aggressive lobbying in Washington DC, and financial support of political candidates.  Greenpeace has tracked more than $50 million that Koch Industries has spent on lobbyists since 2006, when Cap and Trade and other legislation to combat global warming was being considered.  The Kochs have been the largest political spender since 2000 in the energy sector, exceeding Exxon, Chevron, and other major players.

The Kochs contributed to 62 of the 87 new members of the US House of Representatives in 2010.  Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the Kochs supported have taken the lead in opposing US Environmental Protection Agency efforts to reduce global warming emissions.  Other members backed by the Kochs belong to the right-wing Tea Party bloc that took the US to the brink of default in July by refusing to consider a budget deal that would include tax increases.

In 2012, many believe that President Obama can raise a billion dollars for the presidential race, and break all fundraising records.  But as Lee Fang of the Center for American Progress tells reporter Bob Abeshouse, in the end it may not matter “because the Koch brothers alone increased their wealth by $11 billion in the last two years”.

Now the Koch brothers’ political philosophy may be self-serving, but I don’t question their sincerity.  The Koch brothers may help fund the Tea Party, but the Tea Party is a genuine grass-roots movement that taps into anger of middle-class Americans.  This anger is fully justified, although, in my opinion, misdirected.  And although the Koch brothers are self-described libertarians, they represent, in my opinion, only one strand of the libertarian movement in the United States.

All that said, it is disturbing that two individuals can exercise such power in secret, solely by virtue of their wealth.  Al Jazeera English deserves credit for bringing their operation to light.

Click on The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party for comment by Frank Rich in the New York Times. [Added 10/31/11]

Click on The Billionaire Koch Brothers for Jane Mayer’s fine article in the New Yorker.

Click on Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? for background by Prof. William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin on the American Legislative Exchange Council and its important role in drafting legislation.  (You have to scroll down a bit to get to the part about A.L.E.C.)

Click on Koch brothers’ Tea Party connections confirmed for an article and video showing David Koch at a meeting of Americans for Prosperity discussing their funding and guidance of Tea Party activities. [Added 1/4/11]

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: