We are now being bombarded by anti-government commercials sponsored by
something called Americans for Prosperity. The idea of these spots is
that we little guys are being screwed, squeezed and destroyed by
government excesses. They would have you believe Americans for
Prosperity is some kind of grassroots organization willing to rise up
and smite the evil government.
In fact, Americans for Prosperity is a front group funded primarily by
Charles and David Koch.
The Koch brothers are not well known by design, preferring to dance in
the shadows rather than come out and play in the light. They own 84%
of Koch Industries, the second largest privately held conglomerate in
the country. Koch Industries is not exactly one of the little guys
about whom they feign such concern. Their holdings include mining
(Koch Minerals), oil refining equipment (Koch Engineering), oil
exploration and production (Koch Petroleum Group), petroleum-based
chemicals (Koch Fertilizer and Flint Hill Resources), oil and natural
gas pipelines (Koch Pipeline), textiles and polymer-based fibers
(Invista), lumbering and paper products (Georgia-Pacific), cattle and
trophy hunting (Matador Ranching Company) and their own securities and
investment business. They have more than 70,000 employees in nearly
Together, the Koch brothers are richer than everyone in the country
except Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Their disdain for regulation manifests itself in the long and
impressive list of environmental and regulatory violations and
accompanying fines levied against their various enterprises. Their
most famous violation occurred in Lively, Texas, in the ‘90s when a
leaking natural gas pipeline exploded, incinerating two men in a
pick-up who had the misfortune of driving into the leak.
Koch Industries was started in 1940 by the late Fred Koch, who also
co-founded the John Birch Society. The late Mr. Koch had an
interesting take on what the United States should be. Aside from his
virulent anti-communist rants, Mr. Koch didnt much like any
government that either regulated his businesses or took any of his
money in taxes. In 1980 he ran as the vice presidential candidate on
the Libertarian ticket (he founded the U.S. Libertarian Party). Among
other bits of extremism, he called for the abolition of Social
Security, nearly all federal regulatory agencies, the F.B.I, the
C.I.A. and all public schools.
His sons are apples that havent fallen far from the tree.
Their Koch Family Foundation funds or has funded many of the groups
now denying climate change science (theyve funneled almost $50
million to these groups since 1997), groups attempting to debunk the
dangers of second-hand smoke, much of the so-called tea party
movement, the Cato Institute, the Republican Governors Conference and
many libertarian causes. Theyve spent almost $40 million lobbying
for the fossil fuels industry in the last dozen years.
But its Americans for Prosperity that keeps cropping up on our
television sets with its forlorn small business owner wondering how
shes going to tell her employees theyre going to be laid off because
she has to provide them health insurance.
(Ironically, despite spending additional millions attempting to defeat
the healthcare reform legislation, they were among the first companies
to apply for federal money to supplement healthcare costs for workers
over 55 not yet eligible for Medicare.)
To be fair, the Brothers Koch are entitled to their inheritance from
daddy, are entitled to their far-flung business enterprises and are
entitled to their political perspectives. None of it is illegal.
The problem is the deception of their political activity, couching
their true intent behind populist front groups. We are entitled to
know they are the money behind Americans for Prosperity and their
efforts have nothing to do with protecting small or medium-sized
businesses. Its a charade.
The Koch brothers do not travel this road alone. Rupert Murdoch, who
owns the Fox television networks among his far-flung holdings, is a
kindred spirit to the Kochs. But Murdoch at least lets us know what
hes financing so we can make an honest judgment about the efficacy of
his efforts. On the liberal side, George Soros has been more than
generous with his checkbook. But Soros can hardly be pulled out of
the spotlight so eager is he to take credit for his largesse.
The Koch brothers are in a class by themselves when it comes to
financing their political proclivities while hiding in the darkness.
There is no law, of course, preventing them from camouflaging their
efforts in the name of anything. But we view their efforts through
more jaundiced eyes when we know Americans for Prosperity is not a
legitimate grassroots effort aimed at helping Ms. Small Business Owner
but an attempt by extraordinarily rich, huge business owners to make
the government butt out of their massive corporate enterprises and let
them make their billions without paying those annoying taxes.
It is not unreasonable for us to ask the Koch brothers to be up front
about their real intentions. Just tell us the truth about who you are
and what you want. If youre convinced yours is the right path for
America then dont hide behind the sham of cutely named front groups
that have almost nothing to do with your real intent. Step up, step
out and lets have the debate in the daylight.