Although everyone from President Barack Obama to House Speaker John Boehner has lamented the negative impact of the $85 billion budget sequestration, at least two major Washington figures are thrilled about the severe cuts. For Charles and David Koch, the sequester accomplishes the goal that motivated the billionaire brothers to help launch the Tea Party movement in 2010: weakening the federal government. And now that the cuts have begun to take effect, the Koch brothers are reveling in their success.
Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing dark money group founded by the Koch brothers in 2004, sent out an email to supporters over the weekend claiming credit for sequestration. The email, from AFP President Tim Phillips, claims, “While Speaker Boehner and the GOP deserve credit and thanks for taking a gutsy stand, it’s important to realize what an incredible impact AFP activists like you” have had in convincing Congress to slash the federal budget across the board.
“These combined efforts helped spread a message across the country that enabled House Republicans to take heart and do the right thing knowing that conservatives had their back,” Phillips continues. His full letter, which also brags that USA Today “recognized the effectiveness of AFP activists and gave us the opportunity to articulate the importance of sequester cuts,” can be read here.
The Koch brothers are also taking to the airwaves to keep up the pressure for even more cuts. Public Notice, to which Charles and David Koch donated $8 million between 2009 and 2011, released a new ad Tuesday minimizing the impact of the sequester — and encouraging the government to make even deeper cuts.
“President Obama calls sequestration a ‘meat cleaver’ that will ‘eviscerate’ government services,” the ad’s narrator ominously charges. “What is sequestration? A three-percent cut in government spending. Three cents out of every dollar the government spends. We’re more than $16 trillion in debt, and the government wastes billions each year on duplicate programs.”
“Americans have made tough choices and cut back. Washington refuses,” the ad concludes. “Call Washington and ask them why it’s so hard to cut spending.”
The ad — which ignores the fact that government spending under President Barack Obama has grown at a slower rate than it did under any president since Dwight Eisenhower was president in the 1950s — will reportedly run until March 15.
Charles and David Koch’s enthusiasm for the sequester isn’t hard to understand. Although the cuts will have a devastating effect on society’s most vulnerable, they will likely boost Koch Industries’ bottom line. The budget sequester is expected to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory efforts, and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has warned that “under sequestration, funding reductions would decelerate the nation’s transition into a clean energy economy.” Both outcomes would seem to be very good news for the oil billionaires.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 5, 2013
It seems that the effort by billionaires Charles and David Koch to take control of the libertarian Cato Institute is going poorly. “We are not acting in a partisan manner, we seek no ‘takeover’ and this is not a hostile action,” Charles Koch told Bloomberg News. When you are denying partisanship, takeover ambitions and hostile intentions in one sentence, you probably need to rethink your PR strategy.
The Koch brothers have long supported Cato, which they helped found in Washington in 1977. Recently, however, they have come to consider their creation politically unreliable. In a meeting with Robert Levy, the chairman of Cato’s board of directors, they expressed their intention to remake the institute into a party organ that would aid their effort to unseat President Obama. To do so, however, they need control of the board. They intend to get it by suing the widow of William Niskanen, a recently deceased board member, for control of Niskanen’s shares.
Whether they can pull off this coup is for the courts to decide. But the bigger question is: Why in the world would they want to?
In 2006, the first page of Cato’s annual report included an admiring quote from, well, me. “The libertarian Cato Institute is the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life,” I wrote.
I am not exactly a libertarian. I’m a technocrat. I believe in the government’s ability, and occasionally its responsibility, to help solve problems that the market can’t or won’t resolve on its own. I find much of Cato’s hard-line libertarianism — to the point of purging Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey, libertarians who explored making common cause with liberals on select issues — naive, callous and occasionally absurd. And yet, it’s among a handful of think tanks whose work I regularly read and trust.
That’s because Cato is, well, “the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life.” It advocates those principles when Democrats are in power, and when Republicans are in power. When I read Cato’s take on a policy question, I can trust that it is informed by more than partisan convenience. The same can’t be said for other think tanks in town.
The Heritage Foundation, for instance, is a conservative think tank that professes to pursue goals similar to Cato’s. Where Cato’s motto is “individual liberty, free markets, and peace,” Heritage’s mission is the advancement of “conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
In practice, however, whatever the Republican Party wants, so does Heritage. In 1989, Heritage helped develop the idea of universal health care delivered by the private sector through an individual mandate. In the early 1990s, it helped Senate Republicans build that concept into a legislative alternative to President Bill Clinton’s proposed reforms. In the early 2000s, Heritage worked with then-Governor Mitt Romney to implement the plan in Massachusetts. Then, when Obama won office and Democrats adopted Heritage’s idea, Heritage promptly fell into step with the Republican Party and turned ferociously against it.
Similarly, when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was developing his budget and needed a friendly think tank to run the numbers, he turned to the Heritage Foundation. And boy, it made those numbers sprint. Heritage’s analysis showed Ryan’s budget driving down the unemployment rate to 2.8 percent. When the mockery that ensued proved too much for the think tank to bear, it quietly replaced the analysis with another that didn’t include unemployment predictions.
On policy, I probably agree more frequently with the Heritage Foundation than with Cato. But I can’t trust Heritage. I trust Cato. I don’t agree with its health-care expert, Michael Cannon, who considers universal coverage an absurd and deleterious goal. But I take his analysis seriously, and his critiques have informed my thinking. I’m certainly more skeptical of single-payer programs than I would have been without having read his arguments.
Similarly, I never considered myself particularly concerned with executive power, but in his book “The Cult of the Presidency,” Cato Vice President Gene Healy convinced me that “we begin by looking to the president as the solution to all our problems, and we end up believing he’s the source of all our problems,” contributing directly to Washington’s dysfunction. That has grown into a recurring theme in my writing. This column, for example, bears Healy’s imprint at the top. (I pause here to note that Cato is literally giving away Healy’s book, and you should absolutely accept the offer.)
I never had very strong views on intellectual property, but Cato’s Julian Sanchez — who is a friend — has convinced me that our intellectual-property system has become a protection racket for incumbent firms and is an impediment to innovation.
The list could go on, but the point is this: The Koch brothers’ fortune is estimated at more than $60 billion, a couple of thousand times Cato’s annual operating budget. The brothers have started many advocacy organizations, many of which spend their time — and the Kochs’ money — trying to influence the next election. They could begin another such group, one dedicated to providing campaign-season ammunition, without noticing the expense.
What’s puzzling is why the Kochs started this campaign in the first place. It’s easy enough to see what they hoped to achieve: They would quietly take control of Cato and then leverage its credibility to help elect a Republican president. Unfortunately for them, the cries from inside Cato made the “quietly” part impossible. But it would have been impossible in any case: Cato’s credibility is derived from its independence; it wouldn’t last long separated from it.
What the Kochs have in Cato is an advocacy organization that matters in the years between elections, even when the brothers’ preferred candidate doesn’t win, even to people who don’t share their ideology. Cato is an organization that can have more than a marginal impact on elections. It can have a significant impact on policy and governance.
That’s a level of influence that even the Kochs can’t buy. When two of the right wing’s most influential funders don’t recognize that, it should cheer liberals immensely.
CNN Online has publisheda story titled an “angry electorate helps sustain tea party,” ignoring the clear evidence the “movement” is only sustained by thinly-veiled religious zeal and wealthy funders like the Koch brothers.
Perhaps in an effort to avoid accusations of liberal bias, CNN Online parrots Tea Party spin, concluding the article by quoting a GOP strategist who states “The tea party is an organic movement that was largely created by people who were frustrated by Washington. . . There’s not much you can do about something that’s genuine, something that grew organically.” On the contrary, the tea party has been funded since its inception by the billionaire Koch brothers and other wealthy ideologues, and its events and gatherings have been orchestrated by corporate lobbyists.
Koch-funded Christian Right
Studies show that most people who now identify with the Tea Party were already highly partisan Republicans and identified with the religious right before the “movement” began. In the August 2010 New Yorker article lifting the veil on Tea Party funding, conservative economist Bruce Bartlett explained that “the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement,” and that they are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.” Tea Party handlers, then, harness the religious zeal of its members, allege they are motivated by Ayn Rand-inspired economic populism, and run candidates like Michele Bachmann who play down their extreme social conservatism in favor of an economic platform. And news outlets like CNN apparently continue to take the “grassroots movement” at face value.
Clearly Partisan Agenda
Matt Kibbe, longtime Republican operative and president of tea party group FreedomWorks, told CNN “we’re not a protest movement anymore; we’ve morphed into something else. We’re a get-out-the-vote machine. We’re organizing at the community level.”
Recently released recordings from the Koch brothers’ donor retreat in June, though, demonstrate that Tea Party events have always been aimed at electing Republicans. As Think Progress notes, Koch Industries executive and lobbyist Kevin Gentry described being “on the road” in 2010 for the Koch-funded “Americans for Prosperity’s last minute kind of get out the vote tours,” which he said was “a Tea Party AFP event designed to help in the Congressional races.” The specific “get out the vote” event Gentry referenced was in Congressman Paul Ryan‘s district.
CNN is co-sponsoring a GOP presidential debate with the Tea Party Express tonight.
By: Brendan Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy, September 12, 2011
Koch Industries Lobbying Aggressively To Allow Safety Loopholes At Chemical Sites At Risk Of Terrorist Attacks
One of the largest private companies in the country, Koch Industries, is fighting tooth and nail against regulations aimed at protecting the United States from a terrorist attack on chemical plants, according to a new report. Since 9/11, homeland security officials have worked to establish rules for top chemical producers to ensure that major American plants identify vulnerabilities and shore up potential risks. However, the safety rules are costly, and as Greenpeace reveals in a study released today, Koch has used its influence in Congress to loosen enforcement on its own sprawling network of chemical facilities.
There are two bills that deal with industrial chemical safety standards and terrorism prevention. One bill, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard (CFATS), will “exempt most facilities and actually prohibit the authority of Department of Homeland Security to require safer processes.” Another bill, the Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act (CCFASA), closes security loopholes and provides authorities the power to enforce the law on chemical manufacturers. Koch has pushed for an extension of CFATS and has unambiguously lobbied to kill the CCFASA bill.
John Aloysius Farrell, Ben Wieder and Evan Bush, reporters for iWatch News, have covered the issue and note the proximity of Koch’s most dangerous facilities to large population centers:
– An Invista chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, where a spill and vaporization of formaldehyde could threaten almost 1.9 million potential victims within 25 miles.
– A Georgia-Pacific plant in Camas, Wash., where a chlorine spill and gas cloud could endanger 840,000 people within 14 miles.
– A Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, where 350,000 people living within 22 miles would be threatened by a hydrogen fluoride spill and vaporization.
– And a Koch Nitrogen plant in East Alton, Ill., where 290,000 people live within 11 miles, and face the potential danger of a poisonous anhydrous ammonia cloud.
Koch’s campaign donations appear closely aligned with their anti-terrorism prevention lobbying. For instance, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), the lead author of the flawed CFATS extension, blocked amendments to the bill that would “require facilities to asses their ability to convert to safer chemical processes, close regulatory loopholes, and involve non-management level workers in the chemical security process.” Lungren has accepted over $22,000 from Koch-related campaign donations.
By: Lee Fang, Think Progress, August 24, 2011
In the eyes of the American public, Wichita-based Koch Industries is coming to stand more for right-wing string-pulling than for its blockbuster oil and gas business. For years, David and Charles Koch spent millions mostly behind the scenes to advance anti-environmental and anti-labor policies and to attack Democratic candidates for office. In the last two years, however, their expenditures have routinely made news. In the wake of the high-profile standoff in Wisconsin– where Gov Scott Walker was caught explaining to a prank caller impersonating David Koch his plans to break public employee unions– Koch Industries has dedicated time and money to mitigate fallout from the politics of the men in charge. The company’s website includes an op-ed and a video defending Koch politics. Today comes news that the company has been buying up anti-Koch web addresses as part of its new brand-management strategy.
Researchers at the progressive group One Wisconsin Now found that, on August 17, the day after the last of the recall elections in the state forced by Democrats aghast at Walker’s politics, Koch Industries bought up “at least three anti-Koch domains: StopKoch.com, StopKochIndustries.com, and AntiKoch.com.”
The domain name “StopKoch.com” for example has now been “parked” by an “online brand protection” firm called Melbourne IT on behalf of an administrator working from 37th Street in Wichita, Koch headquarters, and connected to a @KochInd.com email address.
“After spending over $40,000 to get Gov. Scott Walker elected less than a year ago and $250,000 on Republicans in Wisconsin’s recall effort, the billionaire Koch Brothers are already on the defensive against the ‘Stop Koch, Save Wisconsin’ buzz on the internet,” writes One Wisconsin Now.
One of the groups the Kochs presently bankroll is the activist organization Americans for Prosperity. AFP was a major pro-insurance industry player in the anti-health reform push last year, organizing tea party rallies and funding literature and commercials that made wild claims about the proposed legislation being a totalitarian assault on liberty.
Today, AFP is touring Colorado to rally support for favorable policies for big oil and gas companies. In a release announcing the “Running on Empty Tour,” AFP Foundation President Tim Phillips resurrects the kind of reaching anti-Obama rhetoric that characterized AFP’s contributions to the health care debate, where the president was viewed as a statist dictator seeking to euthanize Americans through “death panels.”
“Obama’s hostility toward domestic production and his desire to use high gas prices to change Americans’ driving behavior are contributing to the escalating cost of fuel,” Phillips is quoted to say in the release.
In fact, the Obama administration has made bold moves to open up drilling in the U.S. and has drawn criticism for doing so. Oil and gas companies own leases on tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore that they have yet to develop. A recent study by the Interior Department reported that half of all onshore federal leases are not currently being utilized by the industry.
At the top of the “newsroom” section of the Koch Industries website, the company runs a quote by Charles Koch that, to an increasing number of people, may serve mostly to bring to mind the sketchy political strategery funded by the brothers over the years.
“A positive reputation is built by behaving consistently with sound principles, creating real value, achieving compliance excellence and living up to commitments.”
By: John Tomasic, The Washington Independent, August 24, 2011