Whitney Tilson worries about the Koch Brothers taking over America – via his education blog – presented without comment.

Koch Brothers

STOP THE PRESSES! Run, don’t walk, to read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, which I just finished reading. Mayer, a reporter for the New Yorker since 1995, exposes the secret web of ultra-wealthy individuals, families and businesses, most notably the Koch Brothers, who have pushed, with enormous success, a radical libertarian agenda, which traces back to the John Birch Society, that – surprise! – aligns perfectly with their self-interest, most notably to pay lower taxes and reduce (ideally to zero) regulation of Koch Industries, which, “researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, using statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, found was one of only three companies in America that ranked in the top thirty for air, water, and climate pollution.”

 

It is truly frightening how much power the “Koch Network” has – in many ways, it’s larger and more influential than the Republican Party – and how it’s used this power. Here are excerpts from an in-depth article Meyer published in the New Yorker in January, which mirrors her book (my emphasis added):

 

Starting in 2010, a controversial series of rulings by the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court essentially licensed unlimited political spending by corporations, unions, and individuals. Charles and David—a seventy-five-year-old patron of the arts, who is the wealthiest resident of Manhattan—were unusually prepared to take advantage of this shift. They had set up a broad alliance of donors and advocacy organizations to support conservative candidates who share their “pro-business” opposition to regulation, entitlements, and taxes. This network has since become one of the most powerful political forces in the country: a libertarian advocacy group backed by the brothers, Americans for Prosperity, has directors in thirty-four states. According to Politico, twelve hundred people work full-time for the Koch network—more than three times the number of people who work for the Republican National Committee.

 

A new, data-filled study by the Harvard scholars Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez reports that the Kochs have established centralized command of a “nationally-federated, full-service, ideologically focused” machine that “operates on the scale of a national U.S. political party.” The Koch network, they conclude, acts like a “force field,” pulling Republican candidates and office-holders further to the right. Last week, the Timesreported that funds from the Koch network are fuelling both ongoing rebellions against government control of Western land and the legal challenge to labor unions that is before the Supreme Court.

 

Onstage in Wichita, Charles barely discussed his political spending. And he did not mention that, for the 2016 election cycle, he has organized a small circle of ultra-wealthy conservatives to spend nearly nine hundred million dollars on campaigns and advocacy—an unprecedented sum. The identities of the circle’s other members have remained secret. This private jackpot is more than twice the sum that was spent by the Republican National Committee in the 2012 Presidential-election race. Most of the leading Republican Presidential candidates have attended gatherings of the donor circle in the hope of winning its financial backing.

 

The Koch brothers have been widely criticized by Democrats for their systematic attempt to use money to sway elections. In 2014, Guy Cecil, then the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, declared, “The Koch brothers are spending a fraction of their personal fortune to buy a Senate that is good for them and bad for almost every other family in America.”

 

… Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland, who argued for tougher treatment of corporate crime in her 2014 book, “Why Not Jail?,” agrees with Uhlmann. “The Koch brothers are playing a long game that has as its ultimate goal reducing the federal government to a size so small it is difficult for us to comprehend,” she warns. “It would literally be confined to currency, roads, and foreign affairs. Public-health protections would be gone.”

 

Here are excerpts on how the Kochs are spending huge sums to improve their image:

 

…As the Kochs prepare to launch the most ambitious political effort of their lives, they appear to be undergoing the best image overhaul that their money can buy.

 

…”They are embarked on an extraordinary exercise in rebranding,” David Axelrod, the former political adviser to President Barack Obama, said of the Kochs.

 

… Mike Paul, the president of Reputation Doctor, a public-relations firm based in Manhattan, also views efforts such as the libre Initiative as attempts to improve the Kochs’ image. He points out that a string of huge legal judgments against Koch Industries had given the brothers a reputation as “the heads of the Toxic Empire.” In 1999, a jury ordered the company to pay nearly three hundred million dollars—then the largest wrongful-death judgment of its kind in history—after one of its butane pipelines exploded, killing two teen-agers. (The company appealed, then settled the case for an undisclosed amount.) More recently, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, using statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, found that Koch Industries was one of only three companies in America that ranked in the top thirty for air, water, and climate pollution. Paul suggested that the Kochs, in order “to win people over,” decided that they had to “look more compassionate—and so their theme is that they care about the poor.”

 

…Conservatives didn’t have a policy problem, Brooks assured the audience: free-market economics still offered the best solutions for America. Republicans just needed different packaging for their message. “In other words, if you want to be seen as a moral, compassionate person, talk about fairness and helping the vulnerable,” Brooks said. “You want to win? Start fighting for people! . . . Lead with vulnerable people. Lead with fairness!” He added, “Telling stories matters. By telling stories, we can soften people.”

 

Not all conservatives accepted Brooks’s argument that the Republicans had simply sold their message poorly. “Maybe it’s also the content of the message,” Matthew Continetti, the editor of the Washington Free Beacon, wrote in a column. But as the Koch brothers planned their next moves they embraced Brooks’s notion that, if conservatives wanted to stop being stereotyped as representing just the one per cent, they had to be seen as champions of the other ninety-nine per cent.

 

The need for a new sales pitch was urgent. Around the time that Arthur Brooks was advising conservatives to appear more compassionate, the Times reported on its front page that Koch Industries had piled thirty-foot-high mounds of petroleum coke—a by-product of oil refining that is sold abroad as fuel—next to a poor, inner-city neighborhood in Detroit. Residents complained that the filthy soot was coating everything. Gary Peters, then a Democratic congressman from Detroit and now a U.S. senator, recalls, “It was getting into residents’ lungs in poor neighborhoods where people already had to put up with quite a lot.”

 

… As Brooks had concluded in an earlier speech on well-being, standing beside a sign reading, “h-a-p-p-i-n-e-s-s,” “The earned-success system that brings you happiness is the system of free enterprise that lifts people out of poverty.”

 

The term “well-being” also cropped up in an initiative launched by Americans for Prosperity’s charitable foundation. (David Koch sits on the

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