O Brothers, Where Spend Thou? The Koch Campaign ‘12 Imprint

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August 23, 2012; Source: USA TODAY

Brothers David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch are the really big money behind what is arguably the most powerful conservative political operation in America, yet few people really know who the Koch (pronounced “coke”) brothers are and what their industrial reach is. For example, do readers know that Koch Industries is the second-largest privately held company in the U.S. (behind Cargill)? That when you shop at the store, you’re buying Koch products (through its Georgia-Pacific subsidiary) such as Brawny paper towels, Sparkle paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper, Quilted Northern toilet paper and paper towels, and Dixie paper plates and cups? That its INVISTA subsidiary makes Stainmaster carpets and Lycra fiber?

One of the Koch brothers’ primary political nonprofit operations is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which Sara Davis of USA TODAY writes “is emerging as one of biggest outside forces of the 2012 election.” She writes that AFP has put out $25 million in attack ads against President Obama’s reelection campaign just this month. However, AFP, which is aiming to raise and spend more than $100 million on defeating President Obama this year, is not totally focused on attack ads, but increasingly on voter outreach. AFP president Tim Phillips says that it will field 2.1 million activists to reach 8.5 million voters in a dozen or so “battleground” states, such as North Carolina.

Davis writes that the Koch/AFP voter outreach effort is modeled on the successes of Democratic groups that used a voter databank for voter turnout in 2004 and 2008. Like many other organizations we have profiled in the NPQ Newswire, AFP is a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. With David Koch as president of the organization, AFP spends lots of money for partisan political work (the notion that (c)(4)s like AFP spend at least half of their resources on social welfare functions is a fantasy) and keeps the sources of its money secret. Phillips will not identify AFP’s funders, according to Davis, because of the “chilling effect” disclosure would have on them. The Koch family is also the political influence behind a senior citizen group called the 60 Plus Association.

While they may want to be low profile, as evidenced by their keeping Koch Industries private, the Koch brothers cannot expect to be too anonymous, given that they are worth billions and spend the money for political and philanthropic causes in sums that are rarely matched by anyone else. In philanthropy, for example, David Koch gave $100 million to New York City’s Lincoln Center for the renovation of the State Theater, which is now named after him, and $35 million to fund a new dinosaur hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. In addition to their campaign apparatus, the Koch brothers also maintain a lobbying powerhouse. In 2008, Koch Industries spent more than a whopping $20 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company has already spent $5.37 million on lobbying in the first half of 2012. Regular readers of the NPQ Newswire will also remember the Koch brothers for their tug-of-war with non-Kochs for control of the libertarian Cato Institute due to the brothers’ belief that Cato hasn’t been as effective as the others think.

To tell the public who the Koch brothers are, a liberal 501(c)(4) called Patriot Majority is running 30-second TV ads on CNN and MSNBC under the theme “Stop the Greed Agenda.” Like AFP’s Phillips, Patriot Majority president Craig Varoga won’t release the names of his organization’s donors, saying, “We didn’t make the rules, we just play by them.” Of course, Patriot Majority’s $500,000 ad buy doesn’t quite match the expenditures of the Koch family’s political apparatus of “independent” social welfare organizations.

Between throwing big bucks at political operations like AFP, conservative and libertarian think tanks such as Cato, and Beltway lobbying, the Koch brothers have a network of operations, some of them tax-exempt, supporting an unparalleled political machine. Will it be effective in achieving the Koch brothers’ aims in the November elections? We don’t know. Is this much money going into buying political influence a good thing for American democracy? We don’t believe so. Do you?—Rick Cohen

  • Rick Tvedt

    The Kochs – and ALEC – are pure evil.

  • Tom Scott

    I find it fascinating that a company which counts on every day consumers to buy their products is supporting an agenda that reduces the amount of consumer spending by cutting good paying jobs, and reducing wages and benefits. I would love to find out why they think this will help their companies in the long run.

  • Julie

    I’m not a conservative and I reject much of republican, big money, big business, activities, but this article is AGAIN so one sided. Can we please be honest about the multi-billionaires also contributing huge money to hard left liberal causes and working to defeat anyone who doesn’t agree with their agenda (which admittedly NPQ shares most of).

    It’s this totally imbalanced witch hunt that has unfortunately kept me from supporting NPQ in the most recent appeal. Let’s call out ridiculousness on both sides, please.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Julie: Thanks for your comment. I guess you haven’t noticed our continuing call for the elimination of all of the big money that distorts the political system. We’ve been critics of both sides, especially if you noticed our commentary about Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and its Democratic-leaning opponents. The reality, however, is that the conservative attack ad apparatus funded by the likes of the Koch brothers and Foster Freiss, among others, tends to out muscle their liberal opponents–in terms of dollars–significantly. This article was about the Koch brothers, based on a source article about them. Do keep reading and look at our entire body of work on this subject. Money as used by the political power brokers distorts the democratic process. But since you’re continuing to read NPQ, you must be finding even our “one-sided” articles of use. If you think it’s worth getting exercised about, maybe it’s worth continuing and supporting–with a contribution! Thank you again for the comment.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Tom: I think the Koch brothers are as close to the libertarian ideal in the business sector that you’re going to find. I was surprised at their attempt to wrestle the leadership of the Cato Institute to the ground, as Cato was no less libertarian than they were, except that it relied more on research and analysis and less on political attack ads. But these guys appear to be pretty significantly libertarian and in a way, you can get a good feel about what libertarians want to accomplish by watching how the Koch brothers function in politics and business. Maybe your question implies a subquestion, what is it that leads someone to become a libertarian, how is it that they might believe in their unfettered free market view of the world. Maybe they’ll respond and comment to this article. Thanks for your comment.

  • Patrick


    I agree with you that liberal big-money donors funding 501c4s and super pacs should not get a pass.

    However, most of the major contributors to SuperPACs are conservative (http://projects.propublica.org/pactrack/contributions/tree)

    Conservatives love to throw around Soros’ name as a liberal boogeyman manipulating the strings, but in terms of dollars given, it is my understanding that the conservatives have him beat.