Clarity about the Kochs

There’s deep sadness, but little surprise, in watching prominent libertarians come slowly and ruefully to the conclusion that Charles & David Koch’s attempt to seize control of the Cato Institute is a bad thing. So many of these gentlemen (outside of Cato) approach the topic hesitantly, cautiously.

That hesitation and caution is an embarrassment: the Kochs’ destructive scheming deserves a firm, clear response free of qualifications, caveats, and conditions.

Be clear: the Kochs’ complete control would transform Cato from the finest, independent libertarian institution in the world to a partisan paper-mill for their narrow, increasingly reactionary agenda.

That’s what’s at stake. It’s that simple.

If it should be difficult for some libertarians to say as much, then they’ve not the strength to represent the liberty-movement. Men and women who grow reticent when discussing Charles & David Koch are not men and women who serve a movement committed to protecting vulnerable people from the power of over-reaching government. If the scheming, manipulative Kochs seem too much, then what hope do these people have against a scheming, manipulative state?

Quoted at length in a Volokh Conspiracy post, Cato’s Jerry Taylor ably refutes the Kochs’ flimsy lies about their intentions for Cato.

Consider, from his refutation, the kind of men the Kochs have fought to place on Cato’s board:

This is at odds with both the words and deeds of the Koch brothers of late. Last year, they used their shares to place two of their operatives – Kevin Gentry and Nancy Pfotenhauer – on our board against the wishes of every single board member save for David Koch. Last Thursday, they used their shares to force another four new board members on us (the most that their shares would allow at any given meeting); Charles Koch, Ted Olson (hired council for Koch Industries), Preston Marshall (the largest shareholder of Koch Industries save for Charles and David), and Andrew Napolitano (a frequent speaker at Koch-sponsored events). Those four – who had not previously been involved with Cato either financially or organizationally – were likewise opposed by every member of our board save for Gentry, Pfotenhauer, and David Koch.

To make room for these Koch operatives, we were forced to remove four long-time, active board members, two of whom were our biggest donors. At this moment, the Kochs now control seven of our 16 board seats, two short of outright control.

Why are they forcing out Cato board members, all strong, principled libertarians who have been heavily involved with Cato – financially and organizationally – for years? The answer was given in early November of last year when David Koch, Richard Fink (he of many Koch hats), and Kevin Gentry met with Cato board chairman Bob Levy. They told Bob that they intended to use their board majority to remove Ed Crane from Cato and transform our Institute into an intellectual ammo-shop for American for Prosperity and other allied (presumably, Koch-controlled) organizations. That statement of intent is certainly consistent with what we’ve been hearing from both Kevin Gentry and Nancy Pfotenauer. They’ve frequently complained during their short time on our board that Cato wasn’t doing enough to defeat President Obama in November and that we weren’t working closely enough with grass roots activists like those at AFP.

(It’s worth noting that Americans for Prosperity would be nothing — not grass roots, but dead shoots — without the Kochs’ money. It is what they are.)

All of this has been a longtime coming. Charles and David seek change through the conservative front-group, AFP. In so doing, AFP has changed them, whetting their appetites, and completing their metamorphosis from libertarians to self-interested reactionaries.

Pretending that they don’t see that they’d ruin Cato is absurd: they don’t give a damn about a nonpartisan reputation. They want an instrument of their will.

The Kochs have done good work in the past; it does not absolve them of their bad acts in the present.

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