Original Link: http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/peopleandpower/2011/10/2011102683719370179.html
By Bob Abeshouse
People & Power asks if the tycoon duo's fortune could put the radical right
into the White House.
Charles and David Koch are each worth about $25bn, which makes them the
fourth richest Americans. When you combine their fortunes, they are the third
wealthiest people in the world. Radical libertarians who use their money to
oppose government and virtually all regulation as interference with the free
market, the Kochs are in a class of their own as players on the American
political stage. Their web of influence in the US stretches from state capitals
to the halls of congress in Washington DC.
The Koch brothers fueled the conservative Tea Party movement that vigorously
opposes Barack Obama, the US president. They fund efforts to derail action on
global warming, and support politicians who object to raising taxes on
corporations or the wealthy to help fix America’s fiscal problems. According to
New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who wrote a groundbreaking exposé of the
Kochs in 2010, they have built a top to bottom operation to shape public policy
that has been "incredibly effective. They are so rich that their pockets are
almost bottomless, and they can keep pouring money into this whole process".
Koch industries, the second largest privately-held company in the US, is an
oil refining, chemical, paper products and financial services company with
revenues of a $100bn a year. Virtually every American household has some Koch
product - from paper towels and lumber, to Stainmaster carpet and Lycra in
sports clothes, to gasoline for cars. The Koch’s political philosophy of rolling
back environmental and financial regulations is also beneficial to their
The Kochs rarely talk to the press, and conduct their affairs behind closed
doors. But at a secret meeting of conservative activists and funders the Kochs
held in Vail, Colorado this past summer, someone made undercover recordings. One
caught Charles Koch urging participants to dig deep into their pockets to defeat
Obama. "This is the mother of all wars we've got in the next 18 months," he
says, "for the life or death of this country." He called out the names of 31
people at the Vail meeting who each contributed more than $1m over the past 12
In the 2010 congressional elections, the Kochs and their partners
spent at least $40m, helping to swing the balance of power in the US House of
Representatives towards right-wing Tea Party Republicans. It has been reported
that the Kochs are planning to raise and spend more than $200m to defeat Obama
in 2012. But the brothers could easily kick in more without anyone knowing due
to loopholes in US law.
The Kochs founded and provide millions to Americans for Prosperity, a
political organisation that builds grassroots support for conservative causes
and candidates. Americans for Prosperity, which has 33 state chapters and claims
to have about two million members, has close ties to Tea Party groups and played
a key role in opposing Obama's health care initiative.
This year, Americans for Prosperity spent at least half a million dollars
supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts to cut social spending and
roll back collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. The
legislation passed by Walker makes it more difficult for unions, which are major
backers of Democratic candidates, to secure funds for political purposes.
Americans for Prosperity is also very active in a battle against unions in Ohio,
another important 2012 presidential state. Its president, Tim Phillips, says
that the organisation is winning in Wisconsin and around the country "because on
the policies of economic freedom, we're right". He refused to tell People
& Power reporter Bob Abeshouse how much the organisation is spending to
combat the unions.
The Kochs have also poured millions into think tanks and academia to
influence the battle over ideas. According to Kert Davies, the director of
research for Greenpeace in the US, the Kochs have spent more than $50m since
1998 on "various front groups and think tanks who ... oppose the consensus view
that climate change is real, urgent and we have to do something about it". As
operators of oil pipelines and refineries, the Kochs have opposed all efforts to
encourage alternative sources of energy by imposing a tax on fossil fuels.
Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, often appears in the
media to contest global warming science. CATO was founded by Charles Koch, and
the Kochs and their foundations have contributed about $14m to CATO. Since 2009,
there has been a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans who see global
warming as a serious threat according to Gallup polls. Davies argues that the
change can be attributed in large measure to the efforts of scientists like
Michaels and others who are funded by the fossil fuel industry.
The Kochs have also promoted their free market ideology and business
interests through aggressive lobbying in Washington DC, and financial support of
political candidates. Greenpeace has tracked more than $50m that Koch Industries
has spent on lobbyists since 2006, when Cap and Trade and other legislation to
combat global warming was being considered. The Kochs have been the largest
political spender since 2000 in the energy sector, exceeding Exxon, Chevron, and
other major players.
The Kochs contributed to 62 of the 87 new members of the US House of
Representatives in 2010. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that
the Kochs supported have taken the lead in opposing US Environmental Protection
Agency efforts to reduce global warming emissions. Other members backed by the
Kochs belong to the right-wing Tea Party bloc that took the US to the brink of
default in July by refusing to consider a budget deal that would include tax
In 2012, many believe that President Obama can raise a billion dollars for
the presidential race, and break all fundraising records. But as Lee Fang of the
Center for American Progress tells reporter Bob Abeshouse, in the end it may not
matter "because the Koch brothers alone increased their wealth by $11bn in the
last two years".