The Koch Brothers' Fundraising Machine

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


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.


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Comments [19]

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Mar. 24 2011 02:29 AM
Nikki at Common Cause from Washington, DC

I want to underscore a point that has been missed a bit: Common Cause is not trying to muzzle conservative voices, or the voices of rich people, or anyone's voice for that matter. Common Cause does not have a grudge against wealthy people *or* conservatives. We invite all of them to join our organization!

As our president, Bob Edgar, wrote, "The Kochs and all who share their views should speak up, as long and as loudly as they care to, about public policy. But they should be required to do so openly, like the rest of us, and they should not be allowed to use their corporate economic clout to drown out other voices." (

Remove the politicking, the rhetoric, the paranoia and smear campaigns and what you're left with is this:

Koch Industries uses its vast wealth to influence our government in order to increase that wealth, even when it means that Americans are less safe and less healthy because of it. (More info:

If you are in favor of that kind of speech, then say so. We, however, are not.

Feb. 08 2011 12:31 PM

The enormous amount of money spent by the Koch brothers, going back over many years, has been vastly enabled and multiplied through the Supreme Court's decision last year. But they are simply the most obvious business "lobbyists" and are short hand for a large number of corporations with lobbying influence and contacts that mostly overwhelm the ability of individual voters, even acting through groups, to influence law. [If they could influence the law it is doubtful that the government would continue to support oil companies, corn and sugar producers and many other corporations even as they reap huge profits. These are our real welfare queens. How about some cutting of government spending here? Don't hold your breath.]

What we are in the process of developing as a result of the Court's decision is a corporate oligarchy with complete deniability: "We're just doing what the law entitles us to do."

You cannot put liberal supporters under the same umbrella as the Koch Brothers and other conservative/reactionary/retrograde actors because a) the money given by liberal sources is a fraction of that supplied by the right, b) the causes they support are those which endorse the spread of political power to many individuals -- not primarily to advantage themselves economically or to empower politically those who already have much and c) they haven't been in this game nearly as long -- time and political contacts count. Ask Dick Armey.

As for the so-called "liberal media," one only has to note that much of what we call the mainstream media is made up of, whoa!, corporate entities, which also have to make a profit. And that is more and more difficult to do in a society and a culture that wants to be entertained rather than informed or enlightened and which has many more sources of "information," though they take some digging to get to, which discourages most people who haven't the time to do the research.

Feb. 08 2011 12:07 PM
Nate Bowman

I'm surprised, Mr. Lehrer, that you want to "do the math" (to presumably change the terms of the contract if you find them too generous during the city's present travails) on whether the city should fulfill its obligations on the loan that first responders extended to NYC during it's time of need.

I assume you would also want to review all of the city's debt obligations to dictate
more favorable terms with the banks.

Actually, wouldn't that be fairer? Why should the problems brought on by the financial institutions be paid for by Main Street workers?

Feb. 08 2011 11:14 AM
gary from queens

We can have fair election. I describe the mechanics of it in my article:

"An electoral system you can count on"

On the financing side, we now have a ruling by the court in favor of free speech. Koch industries has as much right to advance their views as the Sierra Club.

If you love democracy, that's a good beginning. What we still lack is mainstream forums where opposing parties can go toe to toe, live, and without a "moderator" to "direct the discussion".

It doesn't occur on Brian's show, nor anywhere else.

Feb. 08 2011 10:57 AM
suz from Manhattan, upper east side

Why, when the Koch brothers' money is discussed, is it never mentioned that the NY State Theater at Lincoln Center is now named for David Koch, and why did Lincoln Center accept money from such a despicable character and be forced to re-name the theater after him? The Kochs may have given money for cancer research, but wasn't it because one of them had cancer? There are enough rich people around whose politics don't contradict the spread of culture. Anything the Kochs touch is tainted.

Feb. 08 2011 10:54 AM
will from chelsea

Which of the Koch brothers are invovled?
There are 4 Brothers!

Feb. 08 2011 10:54 AM
Robert from NYC

No it is kok not koch. The correct european pronunciation is Koch with gutteral fricative ch as in German.
NYC so called Koch is anglicization or americanization

Feb. 08 2011 10:48 AM
Lloyd from Manhattan

The Kochs' politics are pure Koch self-interest and their business is one of the world's worst polluters. But David Koch is a major funder of the arts here in NYC, and for that I thank him. I wish his enlightenment would extend to his business and politics.

Feb. 08 2011 10:48 AM
Lenore from Upper West Side, Manhattan

I regret that we really have one party with two wings (or maybe more)--the Democrats are as much compromised in their search for campaign funds as the Republicans--or maybe just almost as much.

But mainly what I wanted to say is that I hate seeing David Koch's name on the building of what used to be the NY State Theater. Just as I hate seeing Stephen Schwartzman's name on the 42nd Street NY Public Library. (He is the one who compared an Obama proposal to the Nazis.) This is a fundamentally corrupt process, this naming business.

Feb. 08 2011 10:44 AM
gary from queens

Brian said that opposition to cap and trade, and global warming dissent, is the "accusation" against the koch brothers. Let's do a show on the other dissenters---or "deniers" as you call them. Interview the hundreds of climate scientists who don't believe we can alter climate sufficiently. Or the heads of other governments in the world. Or the many liberals who no longer support the theory. Many of whom are liberal scientists who regret supporting Gore initially. Let THEM defend themselves against the "accusation."

Feb. 08 2011 10:43 AM
Bob from Avon-by-the-Sea, NJ

Is David Koch the same one who underwrites Frontline on PBS?

Feb. 08 2011 10:43 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Oh, all the union backed advocate groups are NOT acting in their own self- interest??!!

So glad that Vogel likes to split hairs.

Feb. 08 2011 10:41 AM
Rebecca from New Haven

You need to talk to Mark Ames at the Exiled Online about the Koch brothers. Nobody knows more about them than that guy. Google it.

Feb. 08 2011 10:41 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Listen to this guy !!!!

If they are conservatives, they are "operatives", but if they are on the Left .... they are activists

This guy has such an agenda!!!!

I'm glad that the Kochs are fighting back

Feb. 08 2011 10:38 AM
gary from queens

Mr. Vogel,

Since you are so concerned about who finances political operations, could you please tell us if you bothered to learn who had financed and organized the protests-----which you made reference to----against the brothers?

Feb. 08 2011 10:36 AM
gary from queens

I'll give you an idea how badly Dems want to win elections. Throwing under the bus non-unionized blue colar workers. Allowing illegal immigration and indescriminate immigration policies suppresses wages of blue collar workers not in unions. But new immigrants are as politically naive as teenagers, and thus more liberal. Plus, they cannot speak English and are more dependent on local pols and bureaucrats. Democrats see from that, an increased constituency. They prefer that over the rights of the "working man."

Ironically, many Democrats are blue collar workers not in unions. But they're too stupid or stubborn to realize they're being dumped on by elites in their party---who don't personally know a single person who works with their hands.

Feb. 08 2011 10:33 AM
gary from queens

Brian, I'm hoping against hope that we can have a balanced discussion and not another bashing of conservatives.

George Soros has already perfected the "black ops" strategies that Mr. Vogel describes with respect to the Koch bros. Although the difference is that Soros never had to hire PR pros to concern what he funds, because the liberal MSM doesn't report on it.

What I found most disturbing was the Soros Secretary of State project, begun after Bush supposedly stole the election in 2000. The idea is to get Dems elected to the Sec or State positions in each state, so that they will certify as winners Dem candidates in close elections, despite evidence voter fraud and other questionable tactics.

Subversion of our franchise as citizens. How about a discussion of that?

Feb. 08 2011 10:17 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

What does George Soros mean for the campaign finance movement? ($27 million in the 2004 campaign)
Or Peter Lewis, CEO of Progressive Insurance Companies ($22 million in just the 2004 campaign alone...including $10 million to Americans Coming Together and $2.5 million to

Oh, I forgot, they support Democrats so that's on the hush-hush.

Singling out the Koch family is classic political thuggery by the Left.... aided by the partisan hacks in the mainstream media.

Feb. 08 2011 10:06 AM

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