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OPINION: What I learned from the Koch Brothers

OPINION: What I learned from the Koch Brothers

By Alexi Barnstone

This is an opinion piece and does not reflect the opinions of the USU or the Pulp editorial staff

I never thought that I would say this. As a self-respecting left leaning ideological university student these words give me tremors. But here they are nonetheless;

The Koch Brothers have taught me something.

The Koch’s $80 Billion-dollar deep pockets were lined on an oil refinery. David and Charles Koch are part of the second wealthiest family in America. They are the founders of the Cato Institute, Americans For Prosperity and have strong ties to Fox News. They are hard right libertarian activists and the paychecks behind a lot of what goes on in the depths of the GOP.

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The Koch’s were quick to become ideologues of the burgeoning libertarian movement in the 1970s and 80s. Stretching the neoliberal narrative to its utmost lengths, calling for extreme deregulation and privatisation of everything, even extending criticism to Reagan for being too soft and democrat like in his governance.  

In 1980 David Koch’s failed in a bid for the presidency, and nothing exemplifies this extreme libertarianism more than his campaign promises. David Koch wanted to quash federal campaign finance laws and abolish the Federal Election Commission, an organization he described as despotic. He wanted to repeal minimum wage laws purporting that they limited people’s capacity to find employment. Advocated the complete separation of education and state claiming that government schools lead to the “indoctrination of children and interfere with their free choice” and promised the dismemberment of the Environmental Protection Agency – an unsurprising stance for a man drowning in oil money. In fact his desire to abolish did not stop there. Other things David Koch promised to be rid of was corporate tax, social security and welfare. Quintessential libertarian capitalism.


The campaign failed horribly, Koch only won 1% of the vote. However, the campaign experience proved valuable. It taught the family a lot about the inner workings of the political system. After the failed bid, as journalist Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism reports, David Koch viewed politicians as "actors playing out a script". Henceforth the Koch brother’s role in politics would take a new form. Instead of taking center stage they would attempt to write that script.

One of the most influential right-wing groups in America is Americans For Prosperity (AFP) which has roughly 3 million members and 500 staff across the country. The AFP supports libertarian policy and thought, promoting free market fundamentalism, deregulation and small government. It is the political position often labeled the ‘pro-business’ stance. The political organization was founded in 2004 by David and Charles Koch. Investigative journalism in the past decade has unveiled that the Koch brothers donate considerably to their foundation however the amount is unknown since the AFP is listed as a nonprofit and does not have to publicize donator identity or pay tax.

The AFP has radically shifted the conservative party. When the Tea Party movement broke out in 2010 the AFP played a role in facilitating support for the movement. It funded workshops to help train Tea Party activists in online recruitment and activism, an area republicans felt the Democrats had a better grasp on after the 2008 election. The AFP’s corporate funded ‘grassroots activism’ has edged the conservative party in new directions.

The Koch brothers also founded the Cato Institute in 1977 with a group of other board members from Koch Industries. The Institute now stands as the largest Libertarian think tank in the world. While reporting to be a pillar of the “principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace” it has been unveiled as a machine for partisan politics.  As reported by the New York Times, the Koch brothers have worked tirelessly to install a clear partisan affiliation inside the organization. Their ploys went as far as supplanting board members in a coup to take complete control of the direction of the organization.

In 2012 there was a bitter falling out among board members which devolved into a court case over ideological differences. Many inside the institute believed that the partisan direction the organization was headed would detract from its ability to conduct independent research. The Koch brothers sued their own organization to gain an additional seat on the board and hold a majority in the organization. It enabled them to dictate exactly the direction of the Institute.

The Cato Institute now holds strong ties with many Fox News reporters, an organization widely recognised for its own republican bias.  Recently Tucker Carlson, famed Fox News pundit, known for baiting ill-equipped extreme leftists onto his show so that he can portray the entire democratic party as malignant, was called out on his own network for being a sell out to big corporate interests.

In a segment that was intended to pad Carlson’s mythic CV of anti-elitism Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and Economist, took Carlson off guard when he refused to pander to the host of Tucker Carlson Tonight. He told Carlson that he was a “millionaire funded by billionaires” and “not part of the solution but part of the problem”. Bregman didn’t only extrapolate on the ties Carlson had to the Murdoch family, but also to the Kochs. Bregman pointed out that Carlson was a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

But Tucker Carlson does not stand alone. Dozens of Fox news pundits and employees have strong ties to the Cato Institute.

These are only a few of the ties the Koch brothers hold to the conservative wave in America. From the Cato Institute to the AFP they have taken to an entirely new form of political activism; writing the script. With their money they have created think tanks that dictate the narrative, nonprofits that spread the dogma at a grassroots level, and news organisations that report it. As I said at the beginning of this piece, the Koch Brothers taught me something.

What did they teach me?


They taught me that opulence begets power. That with enough money you can reshape the political landscape under your feet, fundamentally altering a political party and its outlook. That instead of standing on a podium you can write the script.

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