The Koch brothers, long vilified for their strong support of extremist right-wing positions, want to be liked. Upset about being seen as billionaires who purchase GOP politicians to make money and destroy the environment, Charles and David consented to a joint interview on MSNBC’s conservative Morning Joe show. They may have also appeared on the program to tout older brother 80-year-old Charles’ new book, Good Profit. James Davis, spokesman for the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners, said that the men “benefit all Americans.” The good part—they want to lighten prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. On the other side, they want to slash taxes (certainly for the wealthy), cut government spending, and reduce regulations for businesses (like their own extensive gas and oil companies).
While the brothers claim they aren’t involved in “politics,” they donate millions to the NRA, Americans for Prosperity, Chamber of Commerce, Generation Opportunity (for young voters), Americans for Tax Reform, Heritage Foundation, American Energy Alliance, and others. They also pay for “business schools” at respected universities to promote their far-right policies that have led to the massive income inequality in the U.S. Thanks to two Supreme Court decisions, the Koch network of non-profit groups and for-profit companies can accept unlimited cash without disclosing donors and faces few spending restrictions.
Charles Koch did admit in the interview that billionaires expect a return for their donations to political campaigns. This isn’t a problem, according to Koch, as long as those generous donors have the right intentions. Considering the Joe Scarborough’s fawning approach, he might have received something from the Koch brothers. Scarborough and his co-host did go to a private donor conference earlier this year and praise the Kochs as “awesome” and a “godsend.” Nobody is saying who paid the expenses.
During the interview, the brothers complained about the government’s picking winners and losers in politics. Massive donations allow the brothers to take over that role. This infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars make them a third party: they spent more than the RNC is the last go-round and plan to spend much more this time. Their position is that political spending is basically “free speech” instead of an intention to “slant [the political system] your way.” The “free speech” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court passed with five justices in favor; two of them, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, had attended Koch billionaire meetings.
Agreeing with the Koch brothers, Marco Rubio has just acquired his third billionaire, Frank Vandersloot, founder of Melaleuca nutritional supplements and worth over $1.2 billion. (Mother Jones wrote about how Vandersloot sued after one of their articles described how Vandersloot, virulently anti-LGBT, “bashed” and “publicly out[ed] a reporter.”) According to Rubio, those big donors don’t want anything in return for their millions.
Maybe it’s not a “slant” of the political system, but Charles Koch said, “I expect something in return. … I want the government to require that companies only profit by making other people’s lives better.” The definition of “better” was left up in the air. Even if he is anywhere near right, policy priorities of elected officials track those of the bankrollers rather than the general public. When Paul Ryan says that he doesn’t want “the people” to pay for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage, he means “the wealthy people.” The general public wants a higher minimum wage, but Charles wants to eliminate it entirely.
Charles claims that their only goal is to end corporate welfare. Koch Industries has received at least $195 million in state and local subsidies, plus $6.3 million more in federal loan guarantees.
Profits from the Kochs’ multi-billion-dollar energy empire are threatened by renewable energy, so they pour millions of dollars to stop the development of clean energy. Organizations financially backed by the Koch brothers and electrical utilities and led by the mis-named Consumers for Smart Solar are promoting an anti-home-solar amendment in Florida. Homeowners’ ability to contract for the no-upfront-cost installation of solar on their homes led to an 80-percent increase in these installations last year. The Koch brothers consider consumers with solar as “free riders on the system.”
A general belief that climate change is caused by humans threatens Koch Industries profits so they pay tens of millions to groups and politicians to continue denying the science related to climate change. Their spending has led GOP leaders to block actions to save the planet.
Despite the Koch brothers’ attempts to look “liberal” and accepting, they have given millions of dollars to be fed through other groups donating to anti-LGBT and anti-abortion organizations.
In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 69 percent of voters agree with the statement that they “feel angry because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power, like those on Wall Street or in Washington, rather than working to help everyday people get ahead.” Republicans and Democrats in 16 states and almost 700 communities across the country have enacted referenda opposing Citizens United and big money in politics. The day after the Kochs spoke on Morning Joe, voters in Maine and Seattle approved initiatives to limit the influence of big money in elections and empower average citizens.
As people fight against the Koch brothers policies, Charles and David are watching them. They claim that all their political activities are open and aboveboard, but Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel found a high-tech surveillance and intelligence-gathering business, Koch Intelligence Agency, that tracks liberal and Democratic groups for the two men who promise to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 elections. The 25 employees, including one who worked as an analyst for the CIA, harvest geodata from social-media posts of the Koch opponents. Managed by a limited-liability partnership called American Strategies Group, LLC, the company describes itself as a “business league” in order to legally hide the identities of its members.
Tracking labor unions, environmental groups, and liberal big-donor groups is probably nothing new for the Kochs. Their past surveillance included watching brother Bill when they fought for control of the family business and fortune. Those who have challenged the Kochs—federal officers, members of the press, and private citizens—have suspected that the brothers are watching them. Angela O’Connell, lead federal prosecutor in an environmental-pollution case against Koch Industries in 1995, said that she “operated as if everything she said and did was being monitored.” A lawyer in another case against Koch Industries found his office bugged. During a senate investigation into Koch Industries, its operatives delved into personal lives of the committee’s staffers.
Most people think of elections in terms of candidates and ballot measures. The Kochs aim to realign U.S. government, politics and society that will benefit wealthy people and corporations. To do this, they must neuter progressive super PACS, unions, and people who they consider to be academics and elites. In that way they can destroy all regulations giving them the opportunity to greatly add to their $60+ billion assets and continue to add to their oligarchic ambitions. You can better that they aren’t really interested in making our lives “better.”