As our nation celebrates its independence, two men are bending our government to their will. I speak, of course, of the Koch brothers. Here are 12 things to know about them.
1. They are the fringe 1 percent: David Koch, 71, and Charles Koch, 75, are each worth about $20 billion. Koch Industries is the second largest privately owned company in the U.S. with annual revenues of $100 billlion.
2. They own practically everything: Based in Wichita, Kansas, they own companies around the world in oil drilling, refining and pipelines; natural gas, chemicals, minerals, fertilizers, fibers and polymers, paper products, commodity and financial trading; timber, cattle ranching; and business development.
Through their holdings and subsidiaries, they make products we use or encounter every day, like Dixie cups, Stainmaster carpet, Chevron gas, Georgia-Pacific plywood, (more about GP below), Dacron fabric and many, many familiar names.
3. They think they own their employees: Last year, they wrote to their employees, some 65,000 in all, telling them which candidates and causes to support and that their jobs could be at risk if the desired results did not obtain. This muscling of workers is allowed because of the Citizens United decision, which the Kochs supported through legal briefs — including one from the far-right Cato Institute, which they founded and fund.
4. They back Scott Brown: The Koch political action committee dropped $2,500 on Brown in February. Previously the Kochs had directed $50,400 to his campaign. Brown glad-handed David Koch at a recent MIT event, thanking him for support in his special election win. “Your support during the election, it meant a, it meant a ton. It made a, it made a difference and I can certainly use it again.” Watch the conversation here.
5. Right from the start: The brothers founded the powerful but little-known, starve-government, no-regulations, no-taxes-on-the-wealthy group Americans For Prosperity.
Their father, an oil man, was a charter member of the John Birch Society, a lunatic fringe group that in the 1950s accused President Dwight Eisenhower, among many others, of being a communist agent.
6. They are already attacking the Court’s health care ruling: The brothers’ Americans For Prosperity goliath has begun a $9 million TV ad campaign in 12 swing states targeting the Affordable Care Act as an Obama tax, Politico reported. AFP is a major backer of several superPACs, including Karl Rove’s multi-million-dollar GPS Crossroads, which has been running TV attacks against Democrats across the country.
7. They are major polluters: The University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top 10 air polluters in the nation. Greenpeace found that they gave tens of millions to lobby against environmental legislation, not counting all of their oil and gas lobbying. A new documentary revealed abnormally high rates of cancer among residents of a small Arkansas town who live near a wastewater channel for Georgia-Pacific, a Koch Industries mainstay.
8. They are in the climate change denial business: A report by Greenpeace called the company a “kingpin of climate science denial.” They finance a broad network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups that oppose laws promoting clean energy and wise climate policies. ThinkProgress.org, an award-winning liberal blog, reported that David Koch denied the existence of climate change and shrugged when asked if carbon pollution causes global warming.
9. David Koch believes global warming is good: In 2010, New York Magazine quoted David Koch as saying global warming will be a good thing for the planet and will help “support enormously more people because a far greater land area will be available to produce food.” He is, after all, in the fertilizer, cattle, and oil “bidness.”
10. They were a major force in the Wisconsin recall: They invested tens of millions in saving Gov. Scott Walker and state legislators from being recalled. So extensive was their political activity, observers said Wisconsin became “a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers.” The duo are major backers of ALEC, the Republican state-law-writing and lobbying outfit. One of ALEC’s major victories was Florida’s stand-your-ground law at the heart of the Treyvon Martin case.
11. They host the rich and powerful: The ever-secretive Kochs have, for nine years, held invitation-only, heavily-guarded political strategy and fundraising seminars for executives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and a large group of businessmen, including major hedge fund managers, the CEO of Bechtel, oil billionaires and others. Their highest priority: the defeat of President Obama.
Seen mingling with average billionaires were Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who (coincidentally?) sided with the Koch brothers on the Citizens United case and the Affordable Care Act case.
12. They are changing our government: Leaving aside their multi-million dollar lobbying to get their way in state capitols, they are also changing the face of Congress. They were the earliest bankrollers of the Tea Party movement, now 66 members strong in the U.S. House. Virtually every Republican candidate for president sought their support and money. From Romney to Gingrich to Santorum to Bachmann to Perry to Cain, they all solicited the brothers’ blessing.