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death and life of education

Spying on the Koch Brothers

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Koch brothers illustration

Author's note: When it comes to raising money, President Obama is a handy bogeyman for the Koch Brothers and vice-versa. Each uses the other to rile up their troops. In Obama's case, those troops typically give anything from pocket change to a few thousand bucks. (As of November 2011, nearly half of his campaign contributions had come from donors giving $200 or less, according to the Washington Post.) Supporters of the Kochs are more apt to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars to the brothers' causes. In 12 months ending in June 2011, by the Kochs' own accounting, at least 40 donors who don't share their name contributed $1 million or more—and it wasn't even an election year. Given the 99-versus-1-percent zeitgeist pervading this election cycle, Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina has been reveling in the craft of Koch warfare, reports Jackie Calmes in The Caucus, the New York Times' politics blog: On Wednesday, Messina shot off this letter to Koch Industries' Philip Ellender, which was clearly intended for public consumption. In his missive worthy of a campaign ad, Messina writes:     

"[I]t's been reported that your employers and those close to them intend to spend $200 million in an attempt to defeat the President. You note in your letter that Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members and contributors from all walks of life across the country, suggesting that this is the source of AFP's funding. There is just one way to verify that point: disclose those donors for the public to make that judgment." [emphasis his] 

Not likely. If you want to know about the Koch donors, you'll just have to score an invite to the brothers' ultra-exclusive (if no longer secret) biannual conclaves. We didn't! Yet we were still able to bring you the following tale of woe.


On a gorgeous weekend in late June, hundreds of America's wealthiest conservatives descended on the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, outside Vail, Colorado. The head of a 14-point elk watched impassively from atop a stone fireplace as the guests made their way into a lobby framed by massive wood beams and appointed with plush leather sofas. The entire four-star, 180-room alpine resort was theirs for the weekend, booked in advance by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch for the brothers' hush-hush strategy "seminar" and fundraiser.

The guests' name tags bore monikers that would be familiar to anyone involved in political fundraising. Though the Vail guest list is a jealously guarded secret, the Koch network includes Rich DeVos, cofounder of Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic, and a prolific donor to Focus on the Family and other conservative causes; John Childs, a "notoriously media-shy" Boston private-equity guy who's worth an estimated $1.2 billion and last year doled out $750,000 to outside expenditure groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads; Diane Hendricks, a billionaire roofing-supply magnate who joined the Kochs in supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's recent attacks on public-sector unions; and Charles "Talk to Chuck" Schwab, who, along with his wife, Helen, has given more than $330,000 to the Republican Party and its candidates since March 2010—and not a penny to the Democrats. The sort of people who would see nothing amiss about paying $9.05 for a hard-boiled egg from room service.

Flitting among such masters of the universe was a quartet of GOP governors drawn by the sweet smell of campaign cash. Of the four—Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Rick Perry of Texas, and Rick Scott of Florida—only McDonnell saw fit to disclose the trip on his public calendar.

If the June 2010 Koch (pronounced "coke") seminar in Aspen, Colorado, was any measure, the fortunate few could expect a rousing weekend of workshops, lectures, and panels with titles like "Understanding the Persistent Threats We Face," "Winning the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government," and "Is America on the Road to Serfdom?" But this year, the real focus was making Barack Obama a one-term president.

After settling into rooms featuring custom millwork, feather beds with 400-thread-count linens, and "premium dog bowls" for canine companions, on Sunday evening the attendees were herded outside, where, in the shadow of Beaver Creek Mountain, they broke bread inside a pavilion bedecked with flowers, colored lights, and glittering chandeliers. Audio technicians set up speakers around the perimeter and blasted out static to deter eavesdroppers. (Presumably the attendees were admonished, as they had been in Aspen, not to blog, tweet, or leak information about the event.) As guests tucked into a repast catered by Wolfgang Puck's Spago, Charles Koch took the stage.

He welcomed his comrades with a warning of the peril facing the nation. Alluding to the 2012 election, he invoked Saddam Hussein and declared, "This is the mother of all wars we've got over the next 18 months, for the life or death of this country." A spokesman from Koch Industries later denied that the Saddam comment referred to Obama.

"This is not pressure," Koch went on, preparing to acknowledge 32 individuals and families who had given more than a million dollars each in the past year to the "Kochtopus"—what political insiders call the network of advocacy groups the brothers have employed in their discreet attempt to shape American political life to their whims. He admitted that the million-dollar club actually had 42 members; the other 10 "will remain anonymous, including David and me," he quipped. "We're very humble."

The crowd went wild when David Koch introduced Christie, the dinner's headliner, mentioning how they'd spoken a few months before the governor proclaimed New Jersey's unilateral withdrawal from a 10-state carbon-trading pact that would cost the Koch brothers' privately held oil, paper, and chemical conglomerate—a major polluter—loads of money. But by and large he stuck to familiar terrain: telling funny stories about sticking it to Democrats and pandering to his audience with platitudes that wouldn't have been out of place at a liberal fundraiser. "If we're going to win this fight, it's the people in this room that are gonna win it," Christie promised. "We cannot let our children down. We cannot let our country down. We cannot let the world down...We are Americans, and we are built for greatness."

But all the speechifying was merely a prelude to the "ask." Before sending his guests off to relax at the Buffalo Bar the following evening, Charles Koch brought it all back around. "As I've said, the mother of all battles [is] coming up a year from November," he said. "And I pledge to all of you who've stepped forward and are partnering with us that we are absolutely going to do our utmost to invest this money wisely and get the best possible payoff for you in the future of our country."

Of course, Koch wouldn't have known that his conclave was being secretly recorded. Or that afterward, the mole would approach blogger Brad Friedman with the sound files. Or that Friedman would deliver them to Mother Jones, and that the world would eventually find out precisely what the Kochs had said, and who their largest donors were.

The story broke on a Tuesday. By that evening, a message from Obama's 2012 campaign citing Charles Koch's "mother of all wars" comment was landing in inboxes across America. "If that offends you, it absolutely should," the email read. "But it should also motivate you, because you are the only thing that can stop them...Can you make a donation of $75 or more right now?"

Michael MechanicSenior Editor

Michael Mechanic is a senior editor at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. You can stalk him on Twitter here. |


Original author: Michael Mechanic
This website, Shred Of Truth, was created because the barrage of lies and misinformation we hear coming from conservative media outlets requires a fact based response. Too many soundbites and falsehoods are being passed off as "news", polluting our news cycle like high fructose corn syrup has polluted our food supply. A proud member of Facts NOT Fox Media, we stay rooted in facts, NOT misinformation.


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