Why we’re “Uncloaking the Kochs.”
I’ve never met Charles and David Koch, or most of the other business executives and political activists who’ll be socializing and strategizing about our country’s future with them this weekend in Palm Springs. But I’ve read enough to know that they’re hardworking entrepreneurs, with firm convictions and a determination to advance them.
That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money or spending some of it on political activism. Nor is there anything wrong with the Kochs inviting people who share their ideas, or any other ideas for that matter, to get together for an exchange of views.
What’s troubling to me, what’s led Common Cause and other groups to call public attention to the Koch conclave and convene an alternative forum near theirs this weekend, is the Koch’s use of their considerable resources to advance public policies that will enhance their bottom line and endanger the rest of us and our country.
Thanks to some good journalism, particularly on the ThinkProgress website and in the New Yorker magazine, we know that the Kochs and many of those joining them have invested millions of dollars in groups like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.
Through those groups and others, the Kochs and their network seek to eliminate laws that give us breathable air and drinkable water but which have cost the Kochs millions of dollars in fines. They work to discredit the scientific consensus that pollutants from manufacturing operations maintained by Koch Industries and other firms — even with clean air laws in place – are dangerously warming our planet. And they sponsor public events aimed at defeating cap-and-trade legislation, which would make Koch Industries and other companies pay for the air pollution that they create.
Of special concern to me, as the leader of an organization formed 40 years ago to fight for government that is open, honest and accountable to every citizen, is the Koch’s effort to dismantle campaign finance laws that since the days of Theodore Roosevelt have served as a check on corporate power.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year, encouraged and then embraced by the Kochs, corporations and other special interests were able to pour more than $300 million into the 2010 elections.
More than $130 million of that came from secret donors, often using front groups like the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity.
That money is an investment in our democracy, calculated to give the people providing it and their companies a voice loud enough to drown out the concerns of everyday Americans. And like investors everywhere, the people and firms behind the money want a return, perhaps here in the form of tax breaks or the repeal of some of the regulations that cut into the Koch’s profits.
At the very least, Americans need to know who those investors are and how much each has put into our political system. We need to know when some of them, like the Kochs, meet with the politicians their money helped to elect and with judges whose legal opinions made their donations legal. Otherwise, we’ll be none the wiser when the politicians all that money helped elect begin to provide the return.
A final thought. I read in some conservative journals that concerns about the Kochs and about corporate involvement in politics are driven by a desire to muzzle conservative voices. That is absolute nonsense. 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.
That’s why I’ll be in Rancho Mirage this weekend.