Civil Liberties

Who Is More of a Hypocrite on Gay Rights, Koch Brothers or Famed Gay Marriage Attorney Ted Olson?

The LGBT movement's famed lawyer works for one of the top funders of anti-gay hate.

Photo Credit: Washington Blade

Everyone knows politics is filled with hypocritical marriages of convenience. But one of the weirdest is illuminated in filmmaker Robert Greenwald’s new documentary, Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition: Ted Olson, the Republican lawyer leading the bipartisan team for LGBT rights, is also the personal lawyer for the anti-government, far-right billionaires David and Charles Koch.

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It would be one thing if the libertarian Kochs (brother David was the party’s 1980 vice-presidential candidate) put their money where their professed values were. David Koch told reporters at the 2012 Republican National Convention that he backed LGBT rights. But he and Charles Koch have given multiple millions to the GOP’s most ardent gay-bashing political leaders in Congress and anti-gay think tanks—Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation, for example.

“To the Kochs, political donations are an investment,” Greenwald wrote in response to David Koch's RNC comments. “They can try to pinkwash their record by claiming to be for gay rights... The reality is that they’re perfectly fine with propping up those who are stepping on the LGBT community and bending politicians to their will. The Kochs just need to know they’ll get a good return on their investment down the road.”

Greenwald’s updated documentary raises the question who is more of a hypocrite on gay rights, the Kochs or their personal attorney, Republican super-lawyer Ted Olson? How a lawyer can argue the same-sex marriage cases in California and at the Supreme Court while still representing the Kochs—whose political network seeks to destroy gay marriage—is more than perplexing. It shows how cynical and twisted our system is. 

One of the more eyebrow-raising sections of the film describes how the Kochs cultivated two Supreme Court justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, before the court ruled in 2010’s Citizens United case, which threw out limits on the campaigns the Kochs like to bankroll. It notes that the lawyer for the right-wing media group—whose name was Citizens United—was Ted Olson, adding that he is now the Koch brothers' personal lawyer.   

Olson is not just any lawyer. As the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin wrote in a 2012 profile of the case, he “was a titanic figure in conservative legal circles. (Citizens United founder David) Bossie first met him in the '90s, when Olson and his wife, Barbara, were outspoken fellow-critics of Bill Clinton. (Barbara Olson was killed on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.) As a lawyer at the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore, and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as Solicitor General. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the Justices.”

That credibility is exactly why strategists behind the same-sex marriage lawsuits chose Olson for the lead Republican role in a team paired with famed Democratic lawyer David Boies. As Yasmin Nair wrote for AlterNet this month in a piece critiquing Jo Becker’s new book on that epic struggle, these two legal superstars were given front-row seats in a movement that was decades in the making.    

In some ways, it appears that both the Kochs and LGBT campaign leaders picked Olson for the same expedient reason—because they want to win. But while Olson is a hero to the gay rights movement, he’s also working hard for the Kochs who are bankrolling Republican efforts to destroy gay marriage and thwart equal rights.

In 2012, writing for FireDogLake, Greenwald unpacked the hypocrisy of David Koch asserting he supports gay rights.

“He is the latest to pretend to be for gay marriage,” Greenwald wrote. “I say 'pretend' because even though he has told a reporter that he disagrees with Republicans on the issue, he is, in practice, doing what he’s always done: supporting politicians and groups that have worked to stymie gay rights at every turn.”

Greenwald lists the donations the Kochs have given to anti-gay politicians: “In 2006 and 2012, they donated nearly $20,000 to Rick Santorum, the archetypal culture warrior of the Right,” he said. “Recently they’ve given large amounts to Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, George Allen, Orrin Hatch, Jim DeMint, and even Michele Bachmann—a who’s who in the pantheon of anti-gay officials. In bankrolling the Right, the Kochs are supporting politicians fighting to prevent gay equality from being reflected in the law.”

The Kochs also support some the biggest right-wing institutions opposing gay rights, he said,citing $4.5 million to the Heritage Foundation between 1997 and 2010.

“This is a group that once backed out of participating in the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in part because LGBT Republicans were co-sponsoring it,” Greenwald wrote. “Heritage has also opposed minimal legal protections for LGBT individuals from discrimination or violence on the grounds that these are just slippery slopes toward marriage equality. One Distinguished Fellow at Heritage wrote that conservatives who would ‘appease’ gays and lesbians by allowing them the freedom to enter into contracts such as civil unions and domestic partnerships are the ‘Neville Chamberlains of the cultural wars.’”

Why would the Kochs support such anti-gay politicians and organizations if they are for LGBT rights? Why would Ted Olson work for the LGBT movement as well as for the Kochs? It appears they are both driven by personal enrichment and political power.

But if the question is who is more of a hypocrite, the answer has to be the Kochs, who have created a right-wing political machine spending $400 million in the 2012 election cycle. Olson may be well-paid, but he’s the valued legal counselor, not the puppet master.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).