Tea Party

June 2, 2014; The Hill

Those poor, troubled Koch brothers! What difficulties they face in simply exercising their rights as citizens of this great nation! That’s the concern of Tea Party Patriots, which has filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has “unlawfully and unethically [been] targeting private citizens” in his attacks on brothers Charles and David Koch.

According to Alexander Bolton writing in The Hill, the Tea Party Patriots complaint alleges that Reid “has misused Senate staff or resources to engage in partisan campaign activity in violation of federal laws and Senate rules.” The TPP complaint adds to a complaint filed in April by the Louisiana Republican Party asking for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Reid’s use of his official website and Twitter account to attack the Koch brothers.

Harry Reid may be a critic of the Koch brothers (and they of him), but it hasn’t stopped them from exploring numerous avenues for the propagation of their political views. For example, as the Boston Globe editorialized, the Koch brothers through Americans for Prosperity seem “bent on wrecking the [Detroit] bankruptcy deal to make an ideological point.” The Globe says that the “irresponsible action” of the Koch brothers would “sabotage” the bankruptcy deal and “raise the likelihood of more misery in America’s once-great industrial powerhouse.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been outspoken in his concern that critics were using the crisis in VA hospitals to unfairly attack big government, but recently he said that ads attacking Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki were paid for by the Koch brothers as part of their ideologically-driven effort to privatize the VA’s system of health care. Slate reported that a “heretofore obscure” group called Concerned Veterans for America, founded by a Republican activist named Pete Hegseth, played a considerable role in the effort to get rid of Shinseki—and is partly funded by the Koch brothers.

Long associated with virulent opposition to restrictions on carbon-generating fuel producers, the Koch brothers have apparently upped the ante recently with an investment in Canada. They have acquired leases for between 1.1 and 2 million acres of tar-sands land in Alberta, with Koch Oil Sands Operating LLC preparing to drill. It’s projected to cost as much as $2.2 billion, but undoubtedly calculated to enrich themselves much more. The Koch brothers already own plenty of oil refinery and production facilities, including some in the Twin Cities area, which has made them local electoral campaign issues and opened up local charities for criticism if they have accepted Koch donations. Their environmental activism has included opposition from Americans for Prosperity against a requirement in their home state of Kansas that 20 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources.

Reid’s attacks haven’t dissuaded the Koch brothers from placing a big bet on campaign advertising for the 2014 midterm elections, estimated to be around $125 million.

For Democrats, the Koch brothers are all-purpose faces and names to attach to the policy advocacy and political campaigning of the politically conservative wing of the Republican Party. Purity and consistency aren’t always evident in any political party’s agenda, and the same applies to Senator Reid, who eviscerates the Koch brothers but calls the no-less-conservative Sheldon Adelson, a Nevada-based Las Vegas Sands casino magnate, a friend and someone who is “not in this for the money” (apparently in contrast to the Kochs), someone whose “social views are in keeping with the Democrats” according to Reid. “Don’t pick on him,” Reid advises his Democratic allies.

Reid doesn’t give the Kochs the same latitude on areas of policy where they diverge from Republican and Tea Party orthodoxy. The Koch brothers, particularly Charles Koch, have been critics of overseas military adventurism since Vietnam and were critical of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. David Koch has been critical of U.S. drug policy and has been supportive of same-sex marriage and reproductive rights. Recently taking note of their positions that stand in contrast with the far-right wing of the Republican Party—and suggesting that the Kochs nudge the party toward some sort of moderation—has been Daniel Schulman, a senior editor in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones and the author of a book, Sons of Wichita, describing the rise of the political power of the Koch brothers.

The overall tally suggests that despite the Tea Party Patriots complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee, Senator Harry Reid hasn’t done much to undermine the political energies and efficacy of the Koch brothers. At the same time, Reid’s targeting of the Kochs (and his free pass for Sheldon Adelson) doesn’t seem to be consistent. If the Senate Ethics Committee were to take complaints about political consistency, it would be overloaded with filings about both Democrats and Republicans.—Rick Cohen