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Examining the Kochtopus

The Koch brothers have used their enormous assets to mount a far-ranging, ultrasophisticated assault on American democracy.

"For nearly 40 years, they and their uber-rich allies have been battering the legal structures and mechanisms that give ordinary people some chance to control their own destinies." (Image: DonkeyHotey/cc/flickr)

"For nearly 40 years, they and their uber-rich allies have been battering the legal structures and mechanisms that give ordinary people some chance to control their own destinies." (Image: DonkeyHotey/cc/flickr)

Multibillionaires Charles and David Koch want nothing less than to supplant America's core democratic principle of majority rule — the will of The People — with their core plutocratic principle of inviolable property rights, also known as domination by the wealthy minority. Their notion is that "property" (accumulated wealth and the means to get it) is sacrosanct and cannot be restricted by the pesky majority for the Common Good. Cloaking their efforts with layers of dark-money front groups, the Koch brothers have used their enormous assets to mount a far-ranging, ultrasophisticated assault on American democracy.

From their early involvement in The John Birch Society (daddy Fred Koch being an early member), they continued their rightward march, and by the 1970s, both had plunged into the abyss of a laissez-fairyland plutocracy. With the fervor of religious cultists, they've devoted themselves to the cause of "liberty" — by which they mean the government's only proper role is keeping the avaricious pursuits of the wealthy owner class free from any interference by you, me and the democratic "us." They believe that We The People can neither tax the riches of the owner class nor set rules on how it treats workers, consumers, nature ... and society as a whole.

Even more shocking than their arrogance is just how far they've come and are willing to go with this scheme. For nearly 40 years, they and their uber-rich allies have been battering the legal structures and mechanisms that give ordinary people some chance to control their own destinies. Among the brothers' goals are the following:

  • Kill all restrictions on political spending by corporations and the rich.
  • Suppress the voting rights of students, people of color, the elderly and others who tend to oppose Republican policies and candidates. 
  • Massacre labor unions.
  • Eliminate the right of consumers, workers and others to sue corporations, forcing them instead into corporate-controlled arbitration.  
  • Rip to shreds the social safety net including food stamps, jobless benefits, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Ax regulations that protect people and our environment from corporate abuse. 
  • "Preempt" the right of local people to pass laws that corporations oppose. 
  • Subvert democracy through gerrymandering.
  • Pack courts with pro-corporate judges.

The effect of these and hundreds of other national, state and local attacks is that the wealthy few are now grabbing evermore societal wealth and power, shattering America's commitment to the Common Good. It adds up to a coup — and yet, because it has been built slowly and with deliberate stealth over decades, the public has not yet fully grasped the enormity, complexity and effectiveness of this unprecedented conspiracy of billionaires.

The Koch brothers understood early on that they would need to invest millions of dollars (their combined wealth is over $120 billion) over many years to package, perfume and surreptitiously push their unpopular anti-majority ideas on the public. Transforming their inherited fossil fuel fortune into Koch Industries, they freely tap this revenue directly and massively to finance their political agenda. And because that money is privately held, much of that spending is not publicly revealed.  

 And it's not just the brothers themselves at play here. The Koch-affiliated web of gazillionaire allies, The Seminar Network, aims to unite "the country's top business and philanthropic leaders behind a shared commitment to a ... free and open society." When some 500 donors gathered at a posh resort in January, Charles Koch boasted: "We've made more progress in the last five years than I had in the previous 50. ... The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level." The network has pledged to spend an additional $400 million on the 2018 elections ... including elections at the local and state levels. 

And that's just for this year's elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Koch money goes into all sorts of foundations, business lobbying groups, dark-money groups, higher-education and high school groups (to promote the Koch worldview), astroturf groups like Americans for Prosperity, legislative bill mills like American Legislative Exchange Council that write pro-corporate legislation for states, think tanks (American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, The Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute and State Policy Network) and much, much more.

All is not lost, however. While our "watchdog" press seems committed to ignoring the anti-democracy impact of Koch money, there are independent reporters and researchers on that critical beat of the Koch-tentacled network. Check out Lisa Grave's work on the Kochs on the Documented Investigations website and at the Center for Media and Democracy (www.exposedbycmd.org/koch/). The Center for Responsive Politics has more info on where the Koch money goes. To fight back against the Kochs and fight for the Common Good, check out Our Revolution and Working Families.

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Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

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