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In Defense of the Koch Brothers

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

For the Koch brothers, an ideal government would support gay marriage, freedom of speech, balancing the budget, and capitalism.

The 2018 midterm elections are only 10 months away, and with primaries in full swing for seats across the United States, donors are preparing to ramp up spending for the November election season. In what is being presented as an unprecedented move, the Koch Brothers have pledged $400 million to support candidates they deem like-minded enough. For some, this move is going to be met with outrage and cries of “keep money out of politics” or “the rich are controlling our democracy,” but for others who are willing to look into the issue with more depth, this is politics as usual.

It is easy to take the example of the Koch’s, billionaire businessmen who donate almost exclusively to Republicans, and become upset. After all, the Republican Party is the party of the rich, greedy white man, is it not? Actually no – not so much. The thing about the Koch Brothers (and their network of like-minded donors, with whom they coordinated this move) is not exactly what they are doing, but rather who else is doing it. While it may seem like the super rich throwing their money around to get their way, it is in practicality a different beast. The wealthy on both sides donate huge sums. The Koch’s are not your average Republicans, and they actually represent a vast swath of the American public’s views on government.

To begin with anything but the blatant hypocrisy of those who are angered by Koch donations yet unphased by left-wing billionaire donations is an egregious amount of intellectual dishonesty. According to OpenSecrets.org, a database of political contributions, Koch Industries has been a major donor over the years. With donations averaging $10,000-15,000 the Koch’s company has been seen giving out small gifts to many candidates and committees. The brothers raised about $100 million between the 2008 and 2012 elections in attempts to defeat Barack Obama, but the bulk of their contributions go to smaller races across the country, and take the form of considerably smaller sums. The Koch brothers also donate mostly to nonprofit groups rather than directly to campaigns or PACs.

The appropriate comparison, given the above information, is billionaire George Soros. Mr. Soros became a household name during and after the 2016 Election due to a massive attack campaign by Breitbart, in which they flooded the internet with stories about his attempts to influence politics. Looking beyond Breitbart’s questionable legitimacy, one sees a very different animal in George Soros than in the Koch brothers. A quick stroll through OpenSecrets.org finds that Mr. Soros donates often, and in million-dollar lump sums given directly to PACs which support progressive causes. And, while the Koch brothers stayed out of the contest between Trump and Clinton, Mr. Soros pledged $25 million to Hillary Clinton and her associates. In 2004, he spent $25 million in an attempt to prevent the reelection of George W. Bush.

The billionaire has been actively committing massive amounts of money to Democratic and progressive causes for years. Anyone who criticizes the Koch brothers while turning a blind eye to George Soros is clearly upset not by money in politics or the disproportionate influence of the wealthy, but rather that the Koch brothers disagree with them on politics. It is not about money; it is about ideology.

That ideology, of course, is not what many think in the case of the Koch Brothers. While often portrayed by the Left as a couple of greedy businessmen out to steal everyone’s money and establish a ruling class of Republicans, nothing could be further from the truth. While their money generally finds its way into the coffers of Republican Campaigns, the Koch brothers are not Republicans.

David Koch was the Libertarian Party Vice Presidential candidate in 1980, and was faithful to the platform of that party. His brother, Charles, was quoted after the campaign as saying that conventional politics “tends to be a nasty, corrupting business …I’m interested in advancing libertarian ideas.” The Brothers’ political activity has taken many forms, from large gifts to the ACLU to fight the PATRIOT Act, to large donations to the campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney for president, and even Scott Walker for governor. Apart from funding campaigns, the Koch brothers support many foundations and think-tanks, most of them libertarian, not Republican. Included among these groups are The Reason Foundation, The Cato Institute, and American Enterprise Institution, and more.

As for their opinions and funding regarding President Trump, the General Counsel for the brothers, Mark Holden, stated that the brothers would only support a candidate who “did not engage in personal attacks and mudslinging.” Openly refusing to back the party nominee does not seem like partisan politics.

A terribly written article in Newsweek from one month before the election actually attempted to both acknowledge the Koch brothers’ opposition to Mr. Trump and paint both as evil. It was typical behavior from an outlet like Newsweek, but it highlighted an important point. The Koch brothers are not funding the Republican Party – they are funding certain Republican candidates, and they are very selective. Politicians like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Thomas Massie, and Mark Meadows might see Koch money; however, those who present themselves the way that Donald Trump did or vote like John McCain are unlikely to see a penny. In this way, the Koch brothers prove themselves not financial puppet masters of the Republican establishment, but rather liberty-minded crusaders in search of a better, more freedom-focused America.

This desire for freedom is not one felt only by those with the billions of dollars. In 2016, presidential candidate Gary Johnson, who was unpopular even within the Libertarian Party, polled as high as 13%. Assuming the sample is representative, that shows that at least 26 million Americans are liberty-minded enough to consider voting for a weak Libertarian candidate. Similarly, small-government conservative Ted Cruz won a quarter of Republican Primary votes.

There is a clear demand for policy that favors a free market, hands-off approach to government. For the Koch brothers, an ideal government would support gay marriage, freedom of speech, balancing the budget, and capitalism. If you poll Americans, they tend to support all of these ideals.

Americans in the middle and lower class do not have money to fund like-minded campaigns the way billionaires can. As a result, the candidates we get are often tethered to billionaire interests. The Koch brothers are driven not by financial gain (as proven by their generous philanthropic and academic grants and endeavors which yield no quantifiable monetary reward) but rather by principles of freedom and equality, furthering the interests of millions of under-privileged Americans who share their views.