The Koch Brothers' Fundraising Machine

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Politico senior reporter Kenneth Vogel talks about what the Koch brothers mean for the campaign finance movement.

The multi-billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have been funding conservative causes and politicians from behind the scenes for decades. In a post-Citizen United political climate with more corporate money and more ad campaigns, they've been more exposed than they're used to.

Kenneth Vogel reported that since 2003, the Kochs have held two meetings a year where conservative donors gather to talk and conservative operatives pitch them for large contributions. Now, in the wake of the Citizen United decision, some of these groups are weighing in more than they used to.

At one of these closed door Koch meetings, Vogel showed up looking for names of some of these donors and operatives, but he didn't stay very long.

I wasn't just asked to leave, I was escorted off the premises by private security hired by the Kochs who threatened to throw me in jail...The reason why the Kochs have sort of come out of the shadows a little bit is because some of the groups that they have long backed publicly are among the most active in airing these sort of newly legal ads.

Their philanthropy has not been short-lived, Vogel said.

They really see themselves as sort of the Tea Party before the Tea Party was cool...funding what have really become the sort of intellectual infrastructure of the libertarian movement, not just the conservative movement, something even more specific, more precise than that. The small government, low regulations, low taxes movement.

One group the Kochs fund and largely created is Americans for Prosperity which became one the leaders of the national Tea Party movement, helping groups to organize and incorporate, Vogel said. The brothers have also funded climate change denial and skepticism efforts, he said, but the bulk of their business is oil and gas refining, so it's hard not to wonder.

The real question is are they just funding these things because they believe that it sort of furthers this goal of lowering regulations, making governments smaller or do they see some self interest... That's certainly the argument that progressives are making.

Conservatives aren't the only ones having private donor meetings. Progressives have similar tactics, even "patterned" off of these Koch meetings. Vogel was kicked out of a Democracy Alliance meeting, too.

However, what these progressive donors say and what their representatives say is... that they [the progressives] are giving for something that they believe to be in the best interest of society and could in fact hurt them if they're pushing for more regulations and bigger social welfare programs.

The Kochs and their representatives in turn say, lower regulation and less taxes will ultimately benefit everyone in society, refuting self-interest, Vogel said.

As for the recent exposure of the Koch brothers, it's resulted from a concerted effort by Democrats to target undisclosed, corporate funded campaign spending. They used to let this just roll of their back, Vogel said, but not this time.

They became particularly concerned when a White House official in a background news briefing suggested to reporters that the Kochs might be dodging some taxes and...the Kochs realized at that point, we have something here that's more than a P.R. problem that could really hurt us, not just the Democrats targeting us but our brand being damaged. And that's when they decided to fight back and hired a team of crisis communication folks with vast experience on the hill in Republican politics...and in someways really played hard ball with critics.

Despite all this, Vogel said the Kochs seem confident they can "weather the storm."

They are not well known. They've done public opinion polling even during these attacks from Democrats and most people say, who? So, it's imperative on us as journalists to kind of lift the veil a little bit, but they don't seem terribly concerned that they make a good sort of villain for the left along the lines of say, a Karl Rove.