Invaluable Independence

Liberal Ezra Klein understands what’s at risk in the battle over Cato.

Writing at Bloomberg, Klein (a self-described technocrat) nicely summarizes what’s at stake in the Kochs’ battle to control the Cato Institute:

The Koch brothers’ fortune is estimated at more than $60 billion, a couple thousand times Cato’s annual operating budget. The brothers have started a large number of advocacy organizations, many of which spend their time — and the Kochs’ money — trying to influence the next election. They could start another such group, one dedicated to providing campaign-season ammunition, without noticing the expense.

The puzzle is that the Kochs ever started this campaign in the first place. It’s easy enough to see what they hoped to achieve: They would quietly take control of Cato and then leverage its credibility to help elect a Republican. Unfortunately for them, the cries from inside Cato made the “quietly” part impossible. But it would have been impossible in any case: Cato’s credibility is derived from its independence; it wouldn’t last long separated from it.

What the Kochs have in Cato is an advocacy organization that matters in the years between elections, even when the Koch brothers’ preferred candidate doesn’t win, even to people who don’t share the brothers’ ideology. Cato is an organization that can have more than a marginal impact on elections. It can have a significant impact on policy and governance. That’s a level of influence even the Kochs can’t buy….

It’s Cato’s serious, independent, libertarian research that’s made her great. The Kochs don’t see this, or don’t think it matters; they’re wrong where the liberal technocrat Klein is right.

(Matt Wech, writing at Reason, has a solid summary of commentary on the Koch takeover battle. But for a magazine that’s taken so many strong stands, his summary is only a summary – he takes no stand for or against the Kochs.

Charles & David Koch, I’d guess, have reversed Dr. Moreau’s project to turn animals into men: Koch money turns men into mice.)

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