Koch and a Smile: Masking an Illiberal Agenda

It’s time to Break It Down!

The Koch Family is a well known for having made its mark as a bastion of industrialists and businesspeople. In contemporary times their most notable associations have been made visible through their vast array of political activities and control of Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States (with 2013 revenues of $115 billion). Family patriarch, Fred C. Koch, started the business, which developed a new cracking method for the refinement of heavy oil into gasoline.

The senior Mr. Koch’s hardline conservative leanings are well documented. He was a founding member of the John Birch Society (JBS), an advocacy group supporting anti-communism and limited government. It has been described as radical right. That portends much for the activism of several of the current Koch Foundations. During the 80’s and 90’s Fred C. Koch’s four sons litigated for control of Koch Industries. At the end of the day, the last two men standing, as it relates to running Koch Industries, were Charles and David.

Four sons of Fred C. and Mary Robinson Koch:

The Koch family foundations are a related group of non-profit organizations that began with the establishment of the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation in 1953, and that now includes the Charles Koch Foundation, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Koch Cultural Trust. The organizations collectively have a stated goal of “advancing liberty and freedom” through the support of various causes which “further social progress and sustainable prosperity.” In addition to the direct action of the non-profits, the groups have also contributed financially to other philanthropic organizations in the fields of research, public well-being, arts, and education, including contributions to scholarship programs, university support, and loan assistance through organizations like the United Negro College Fund.

The Koch brothers have indicated that they intend to raise almost $900 million in support of candidates in the 2016 elections, and have given more than $100 million to conservative and libertarian policy and advocacy groups in the United States, including the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, and more recently “Americans for Prosperity“.

“Americans for Prosperity,” founded by David Koch, has been reported by Kenneth Vogel of Politico to be one of the main nonprofit groups assisting the Tea Party movement; but in 2010, Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia distanced the Kochs from the tea parties and FreedomWorks saying that “no funding has been provided by Koch companies, the Koch foundations, Charles Koch or David Koch specifically to support the tea parties.” According to the Koch Family Foundations and Philanthropy website, “the foundations and the individual giving of Koch family members” have financially supported organizations “fostering entrepreneurship, education, human services, at-risk youth, arts and culture, and medical research.”

According to the environmentalist group Greenpeace; the Koch brothers have played an active role in opposing climate change legislation. Organizations that the Koch brothers help fund, such as Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato institute, and the Manhattan Institute, have been active in questioning global warming. According to salon.com, through Americans for Prosperity the Koch brothers influenced more than 400 members of Congress to sign a pledge to vote against climate change legislation that does not include offsetting tax cuts.

While the Koch family has been making substantial donations to criminal justice reform organizations for nearly a decade, most recently the Kochs headed a bipartisan resolution to make more serious leaps to reform. Included in these are aims at eliminating over criminalization and over incarceration, which generally harms low-income and minority communities, as well as reducing recidivism rates, diminishing barriers faced by the rehabilitated seeking employment, and law enforcement’s Asset forfeiture to deprive the incarcerated of property.

Joe Scarborough, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, has pointed out that, although their critics are usually unaware of the fact, the Koch brothers have supported more than just what are generally considered conservative causes. They opposed George W. Bush on many issues, are pro-choice, support same sex marriage, and had worked closely with the Obama White House for the Obama administration‘s criminal justice reform initiatives that aligned with their own.

This counter narrative brings us face-to-face with the notion that despite a significant historical footprint in the arena of conservative and ultra-conservative politics and policies the Brothers are expanding their range of interest to encompass addressing the needs of the poor. At first blush, one may be tempted to wonder if these leopards have shed their spots, or at least altered them in some meaningful way. That is a fair contemplation.

Upon further reflection, before racing to any conclusions, one may recall that after the 2012 General Election, the GOP did a results audit to examine the micro and macro results of the election, and to determine the cause or causes they failed to capture the White House. One of the findings of that analysis revealed that Mitt Romney’s efforts were torpedoed, largely, due to something characterized as an “empathy gap.” Among voters seeking a candidate who “cares about people like me”, President Obama clobbered Romney 81 percent to 18 percent ― by far the widest gap among the four traits commonly measured (the others are vision for the future, shares my values and strong leader. To that end, lets rip the thinly disguised veneer away and just admit that this initiative is part of a grand design to mind-game people who traditionally have recognized that their interest are not well served by those who vote and frame policy in a way that aligns with the interests of the Koch Brothers and/or their Foundations.

The brothers have invested millions of dollars in programs to win over an unlikely demographic target for their small government conservatism – poor people. The related outreach includes turkey giveaways, GED training and English-language instruction for Hispanic immigrants, community holiday meals, healthy living classes for predominantly African American groups, vocational training and couponing classes for the under-employed. The strategy calls for presenting a more compassionate side of the brothers’ politics to new audiences, while fighting the perception that their groups are merely fronts for rich Republicans seeking to game the political process for personal gain. Not surprisingly, the efforts do include a healthy dose of proselytizing about free enterprise and how it can do more than government to lift people out of poverty.

Once again, that sounds good, and may even be true, if you discount the almost certain bait and switch elements waiting in the wings. We can anticipate that eventually, the Koch network will throw its clout behind a GOP nominee who supports a tax plan that lavishes its largest windfalls on the rich; would repeal Obamacare’s coverage expansion for many millions and replace it with something that would almost certainly cover far fewer people; resoundingly rejects a minimum wage hike to keep pace with inflation; and pledges fealty to the Paul Ryan vision, which would block-grant safety net programs to the states, potentially “increasing poverty and financial hardship,” as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities puts it.

Broadly speaking, the GOP candidates are already committed to a vision built around the idea that rolling back Obama’s redistributive policies, and unshackling runaway growth, is the way to jog loose stagnating wages and stagnant opportunity. As conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru recently put it: “Republicans do not seem to be even trying to erode the Democratic advantage on middle-class economics.”

And that’s fine! Let’s put this contrast before the voters — again. Obviously one doesn’t want to dismiss out of hand the possibility that there may be a backlash among swing voters to Obama’s government activism or that a candidate like Marco Rubio may effectively employ his humble background to sell conservative policies in a way Mitt Romney couldn’t. But right now, it seems doubtful that slathering the same old economic vision with fat from free turkeys will make it any easier to swallow.

Election season begins in earnest February 1st. Until then, just recognize…” Koch and a Smile: Masking an Illiberal Agenda!”

I’m done; holla back!

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