A Grassroots Movement Built by a Bunch of Billionaires Out to Destroy Progressivism
The Koch (pronounced COKE) brothers, David and Charles who head up Koch Industries, are much in the news these days. Following up on a 10,000 word Jane Mayer essay in The New Yorker last week, Frank Rich calls them “the sugar daddies who are bankrolling” the Tea Party. From his column today:
Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.
Dave Weigel sees a “Mayer Effect,” cameras and photographers are suddenly trying to capture what the Koch’s are saying and doing. Weigel found David Koch at the Georgia session of Americans for Prosperity’s summit:
“When my brother and I provided the funds and the concept for the Americans for Prosperity foundation six and a half years ago,” says Koch, “never in my wildest dreams could I have participated it would grow to the size it is today.” He wavers a little over the podium.” We have over one million activists who have participated in town hall meetings and demonstrations over the last year. Never would I have dreamed it would become as influential and effective as it has. It is getting stronger and stronger and becoming more and more successful. I feel that this organization could provide a key role in the November elections, and I feel there is an extraordinary groundswell of hostility in this country towards the socialization of so many aspects of our lives — health care, financial regulations. Many, many different areas that I think that government has involved itself, uh, way too much — excessively.”
Mayer’s New Yorker piece is titled, Covert Operations, the billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama. Well worth reading:
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. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” 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 Koch’s founded and fund the nominally non-partisan libertarian Cato Institute and The Mercatus Center at George Mason University (“ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington,” Democratic strategist Rob Stein says, “George Mason is a public university…Virginia is hosting an institution that the Kochs practically control”), and plays a lead role in FreedomWorks predecessor Citizens for a Sound Economy and Americans for Prosperity.
The Kochtopus at work:
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.”
David Koch dismisses all of it, “I’ve been attacked nonstop, and my brother, as well as AFP, and our company, and our company, Koch Industries, by the liberal media,” he says. “These attacks do not intimidate me. In fact, they inspire me!”
Memeorandum has discussion around Mayer’s piece.
I’m guessing Mayer will show up as a guest this week on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. WRONG! Ron Beasley notes in comments she was a guest last week. How did I miss that?
Note: The “bunch of billionaires” line in my title comes from David Axelrod, as quoted by Mayer, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”