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Far Right vs. Far Righter: Cato Institute Rebukes Charles Koch’s One-Sided Demands

There is a rift in Washington between the Libertarian research center the Cato Institute and the far-Right Koch Brothers that shows just how deep a divide politics can cause. The issue is that Charles Koch, a shareholder in Cato Institute, wants the research center to provide ammunition for his various political interests, such as Americans for Prosperity, to use in their billion-dollar attack on President Obama this year. The Cato Institute wants to remain an “independent” libertarian think-tank and thinks tightening alliances with the brothers Koch will discredit their reputability.

The rift also lies in the fact that the Koch Brothers are not true Libertarians. That said, most people would agree that Cato is pretty far Right itself. While the Kochs preach many of the key talking points of the Libertarian ideology, they conveniently ignore others such as support of same-sex marriage, guest worker programs and opposition to military intervention and the criminalization of drugs.

In a New York Times article, Edward H. Crane, president of the Cato Institute, talks about the center’s desire to remain a legitimate research center for all libertarian causes, not just those who aim to paint unflattering pictures of Democrats:

The rift has its roots, Cato officials said, in a long-simmering feud over efforts by Mr. Koch and his brother David Koch to install their own people on the institute’s 16-member board and to establish a more direct pipeline between Cato and the family’s Republican political outlets, including groups that Democrats complain have mounted a multimillion-dollar assault on President Obama. Tensions reached a new level with a lawsuit filed last week by the Kochs against Cato over its governing structure.

“We can’t be perceived as a mouthpiece of special interests,” Robert A. Levy, chairman of Cato’s board, said in an interview. “The Cato Institute as we know it would be destroyed.”

At a tense meeting in November at Dulles Airport outside Washington, David Koch and two family emissaries laid out what they described as the “intellectual ammunition” they envisioned that Cato could provide by supplying its brand-name research and scholars to Koch-financed political advocacy groups, according to Mr. Levy.

The one Koch-financed group mentioned by name at the meeting was Americans for Prosperity, which played a major role in the Republicans’ 2010 takeover of the House and is now preparing for the November election. Structured as a nonprofit, the group does not have to disclose its donors. It has backed Tea Party groups, organized rallies and paid for negative advertisements, drawing criticism from campaign finance watchdogs and Democrats over the flow of secret money to political causes.

Charles Koch, chief executive of Koch Industries, a chemical and refining company in Kansas, said he had no intention of taking over the institute. “We support Cato and its work,” Mr. Koch said in a statement. “We are not acting in a partisan manner, we seek no ‘takeover,’ and this is not a hostile action.”

In many ways, the Koch Brothers are the small children who incriminate themselves with their denial, much like the child who blurts out, “I didn’t break the cookie jar” before anyone has noticed it is in pieces. By saying that this is not a hostile action, Charles Koch is admitting that what he attempted was in fact a hostile action. When Americans for Prosperity’s track record is examined it is clear that a majority of their “victories” are, in fact, hostile. The group largely funded the Tea Party uprising that shook up Congress in 2010 and 2012 is simply Round 2, a round Americans who enjoy freedom and equality simply cannot afford lose:

“This is an effort by the Kochs to turn the Cato Institute into some sort of auxiliary for the G.O.P.,” said Edward H. Crane, who is president of Cato and co-founded it with Charles Koch. “What he is doing now is detrimental to Cato, it’s detrimental to Koch Industries, it’s detrimental to the libertarian movement.”

To join the rightward Republican ranks, Cato would have to turn its back on its anti-war, anti-drug war, anti-police state beliefs in order to fall in line, a move that would instantly discredit them. Moreover, their organization is setup in order to fund raise instead of simply receiving endowments and many potential donors are putting the pressure on Cato Institute to reject the Koch Brothers policies:

Mr. Levy, the board chairman, said the dispute was already chipping away at the center’s reputation for independence as it seeks to raise money. Unlike many nonprofit research institutions, Cato does not have an endowment but continually raises money for its operations, with a budget last year of about $23 million. It is now in the midst of a major capital drive.

“We already have major contributors who will say we are not contributing another dollar until we are sure that the Kochs are not calling the shots,” Mr. Levy said. “It is a fund-raising nightmare.”

Exacerbating tensions was an article in 2010 in The New Yorker magazine, in which an unnamed Cato Institute official was quoted comparing Charles Koch and his “market-based management” philosophies to an “emperor” with no clothes. The quote was said to infuriate Mr. Koch.

Charles and David Koch have rarely attended Cato board meetings in recent years, and Cato officials have rarely been invited to the family’s regular galas for influential conservatives. As the relationship with the institute has deteriorated, their donations have declined as well.

Since Cato was formed, the Kochs have donated about $30 million, officials said, but the bulk came in its first decade; by last year, the Kochs gave no money at all.

Via Cato or not, the Koch Brothers will funnel their money into the upcoming election. Citizens United has already allowed them to pump millions into negative and misleading ads as well as sponsorship of voter suppression initiatives and other regressive measures. Cato would be smart to distance themselves from this brazen, one-sided approach.


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