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Opinion: Bravo to Cato for Fighting Back Koch Brothers

Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 10:08 AM

I've been following libertarian think tank Cato Institute for some time. I wasn't hard core on everything, but in college (circa 1999), I was a card carrying Libertarian (literally... they used to send these yellow cards to you in the mail), and Cato was one of my favorite sources of political analysis. Even as my political views have significantly moderated since, I've continued reading some of their work to keep up on what that part of the spectrum is thinking on major issues of the day.

If you're familiar with Cato, you wont be at all surprised that they're trying to fight off a hostile takeover attempt by the Koch brothers. Disagree with them or not, Cato takes it's work very seriously, and doesn't want a couple of fire breathing polemics holding the strings at their beloved think tank.

Cato doesn't have but a tiny fraction of the money or political weight as the two titans of right wing politics do, so they were forced into a corner. They could have kept quiet, and almost assuredly lost, or they could have fought back with the only power they have. They chose the latter, and have been speaking out in the media, asking for help among their conservative connections, and many of them have said they will leave if the Koch brothers take over.

In short... good on them.

To be a little more specific, the hostile takeover is happening in the courts. Here is what Cato has to say about the attack, taken from a new 'SAVE Cato' section of their main website:

On March 1 Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch filed suit in a Kansas court, with the goal of taking control of the Cato Institute board of directors under Cato's long-dormant shareholder agreement.

The Cato community believes that if this suit succeeds, it would swiftly and irrevocably damage the Cato Institute's credibility as a non-partisan, independent advocate for free markets, individual liberty, and peace.

I can't speak to the legal side of this, that'll be decided in the courts, but I am fully with them on the point made in the last section. From what I was able to pick up from the sampling of articles and posts I found on this, more people are against the takeover than for it. But some, namely hard core partisan Republicans (who also happen to be the same sort of people who are mostly likely to be aligned with the Koch brothers in some way), would like to see Cato taken over and made into more of an activist type think tank.

Most think tanks are more like Cato, where they generally stick to policy analysis and stay out of the thick of Washington battles. But some, most notably the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) takes more of a hybrid approach, matching policy with activism. It appears that this is both what many of the Koch takeover supporters, and Cato's defenders, think is likely to happen if the takeover goes through.

They've already used their power on the Cato board to boot board members and replace them with thier own, mostly more conservative rather than Cato style libertarian and largely tied to the Koch brothers in some financial way. Cato offered several options to meet them part way, including seeing the president step down and giving the Koch brothers veto power over the successor, but they would accept no less than choosing the new president themselves.

Cato's latest response is to change their legal framework, tossing out the shareholder structure that has allowed the Koch brothers to attempt this coup, and replacing it with a board elected by members.

There is already a severe lacking of solid analytical thinking on the right in our country as it is, and an overabundance of the sort of attack dog politicking that the Koch brothers have made a name for themselves in pushing. It's not at all clear who has the law on their side here though, but for the sake of a healthier marketplace of ideas on the right, I sure hope it's those brave libertarians who've taken on the goliath Koch brothers.

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