Let’s start with the assumption that the Koch Brothers are sincere in their desire to create a future state that holds the opportunity for prosperity for all Americans.
David and Charles Koch, aka the Koch brothers, held a “donor seminar” last weekend at a swanky resort in Dana Point, Ca. Five GOP presidential hopefuls (Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina) were present to mingle with some 450 big-dollar donors and hopefully glean some much sought-after attention from them.
You might be asking “Who cares?” And the answer would be, “We all should.”
The Koch brothers co-own the second-largest privately run business enterprise in the United States, Koch Industries. Watch TV long enough and you are likely to see softly lit ads talking about how Koch Industries are in business to benefit the America they love so much. Remember that. Their self-proclaimed love of country figures prominently in the platform they support.
Among other companies, Koch Industries owns oil refineries in Texas, Alaska, and Minnesota and controls over 4,000 miles of pipelines. Remember that, too.
At last weekend’s seminar, Charles Koch, by most counts the more philanthropic and public of the two brothers, told the attendees that it is at the top of their agenda to phase out “corporate welfare” in the form of subsidies and regulations “trapping people in poverty” as well as mandates and preferences for businesses “that enrich the haves at the expense of the have nots.” Invoking the likes of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King, Jr., Koch urged his audience to commit their lives to leading successful movements that will “remove the shackles preventing all Americans, especially the disadvantaged, from pursuing their dreams.” He rallied the audience to fall in line behind him and his brother as they charged in to save the United States—not as we know it today but as they think it once was and hope it will be again.
As far as it goes, this sort of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy resonates with the majority of Americans. With those Americans whose boots don’t have straps or who don’t own boots to begin with, the appeal is considerably less.
Where the Koch brothers become worrisome is at two junctures. The first is in the details of their agenda, and the second is in the enormous financial clout they command.
Their public agenda is classic libertarianism. They believe in tax breaks to big business, which, they argue, will stimulate the economy. They want to eliminate, or at least gut, all federal standards that, in their minds, impinge on individual freedoms. These include environmental standards, Medicare, Social Security, and minimum wage laws.
The brothers have also championed significant prison reform, notably rolling back federal sentencing guidelines, they say as another effort to enhance individual freedoms by allowing sentencing that is crafted to the crimes before the court.
Now, if we are still operating under the assumption that the Kochs are simply committed ideologues, then they have as much right as the next group of committed ideologues to advance their agenda. However, if one were skeptical, one could view their platform of support as delivering considerable benefit to their bottom line through tax breaks for business, elimination of federal standards that require the expenditure of corporate dollars to implement, and the scaling back of a criminal justice system with which various Koch businesses have been repeatedly embroiled over the years. Hmm, but we are still assuming the high road here.
The second aspect that is concerning is the vast—and by vast I mean humungous—resources the Kochs control and how their wielding of them is shaping the American political landscape. You will recall that there were five GOP hopefuls in attendance at the donor seminar. Three participated in onstage interviews with Politico reporter Mike Allen. Carly Fiorina drew applause from the crowd when she blasted the media for its left-wing, liberal bias and its prejudice against the Koch brothers and the good they intend to do. Scott Walker, who along with Fiorina was interviewed Saturday afternoon, gained favor with the attendees by detailing his triumph over Wisconsin’s public sector employee unions. Marco Rubio spoke Saturday evening.
The two big names to address the crowd were Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, who took to the stage on Sunday. Cruz was rewarded with cheers from the crowd when he called global warming a “fiction invented by liberals” and took credit for killing the Export-Import Bank.
Jeb Bush basked in the applause he received when he called for an end to a ban on all U.S. oil exports (remember here what business the Kochs are in) and declared that this country is “on the verge of greatness.”
What is at stake for these GOP hopefuls is significant. The Kochs have pledged to spend $889 million dollars over the next two years to see that when the electorate enters the voting booth in November of 2016 it goes along with the Kochs’ vision of how the future should look. At the donor seminar, the expectation was clear. Each of the 450 invitees was expected to ante up a six-figure donation to the cause. In what would seem to be an uncomfortably odd quirk, the seminar ended with a luncheon on Monday during which each attendee was to stand and announce to the room how much he or she was pledging and why. Not that there was much arm twisting going on here. The attendees were carefully selected, ripe for the type of rhetoric they had been favored with for the prior two days.
While no endorsements were forthcoming at the seminar, the importance of a nod from the Kochs and company to a presidential campaign would be difficult to overestimate. The Kochs have said that they do not intend to get behind one candidate until after the primary season, but it was clear that each hopeful understood well what the seminar attendees were there to hear, and they delivered.
Are the Kochs trying to buy the next presidential election? They would deny it. Vehemently. And yet these two understand better than most that in this arena that money is power.
So why should this matter to us? Lost in the rhetoric and flamboyance of the weekend was an interesting fact. In addition to the GOP hopefuls addressing the crowd, there were a few senators and governors in attendance. One of the former was our very own Senator Mike Lee. Hmm.
We all know that Senators Lee and Cruz are road-trip buddies and share similar ideologies, but one has to ask, “Why was Lee really there?” Was he there to talk up his pal or himself for consideration at a later date? While neither is out of line, it would be interesting to know Lee’s motives.
So—and we are still assuming the most sanguine of motives for all that went on in Dana Point last weekend—there is still a bounty of unanswered questions and disturbing coincidences out there.
And that, my friends, is why what the Koch brothers are up to is important to us.