Koch Party Time: Billionaire Brothers Show Off the Republican Politicians They Bought
Photo Credit: A.M. Stan
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TAMPA, FLA. -- In a beautifully appointed meeting room overlooking Tampa Bay, David Koch, principal in Koch Industries and benefactor of Americans For Prosperity, basking in the glow of what, for him, has been a very good couple of years, now capped off by the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, Wis., a favorite of AFP, as the vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party. Since 2010, when Tea Partiers swept the House of Representatives and state houses across the nation, Koch has been on a roll, moving the G.O.P. in line with his hard-core anti-regulatory, anti-labor, anti-health-care reform, anti-safety net, anti-environmental agenda -- thanks to a relentless effort to build a get-out-the-vote infrastructure and a torrent of backlash against the nation's first African American president.
But to hear Koch tell it, he wants nothing more than to benefit all of humankind through his largess. "I try to do things in life that make the world better place, Koch tells a USA Today reporter just before he steps up to a microphone to deliver remarks to several hundred convention delegates and party dignitaries, who are grazing on a dazzling display of hors d'oeurves that includes beef tenderloin, sushi and a splendid cheese board.
"I'm very philanthropic," Koch continues, adding: "I'm a major contributor to cancer research, medical research. I'm a big supporter of cultural institutions and educational institutions. In fact, the smallest area of my activity is political institutions."
Not content to leave it there, Koch adds: "[M]y brother and I have built a great company, which we think is a fabulous achievement. We employ 50,000 people. We're very successful, and we're proud of all of the employment we provide to so many people."
Translation: I'm a job creator.
The event at which Koch appears on the final day of the Republican National Convention is sponsored by Americans For Prosperity, and billed as a salute to entrepreneurs, a message in keeping with the Romney campaign's false accusations against President Barack Obama that he stands against business, especially small business owners.
"With all due respect to the president," says Americans For Prosperity President Tim Phillips, "we're calling this [event] 'They Did Build It: The Reception.'"
The invitation also tells attendees that both Koch, chairman of the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, and Art Pope, the North Carolina businessman who chairs the foundation's sister organization, simply known as Americans For Prosperity, will be honored at the event. Structured as non-profits under the tax code, neither group is required to publicly reveal its funders, though Koch and his brother, Charles, are presumed to be major donors.
In his remarks to the group, Koch speaks of his long involvement "in the public policy arena" with his brother, Charles, noting their work with institutions ranging from the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., to the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles.
"The institution I feel the most closely attached to, and the most proud of, is Americans For Prosperity," Koch says. "And my brother and I provided funding to create this wonderful organization about 10 years ago. And when we started, it was very small, and we've grown enormously now to an organization that has 2 million grassroots activists -- we call them a citizen's army."
Any doubt that Koch has reinvented the GOP in his own image is easily dispelled by a check of the podium roster at this year's Republican National Convention, presided over by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who, as chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, was involved in a 2010 vote-caging scheme executed by Americans For Prosperity. The aim of the scheme was to suppress the vote of young people and African American voters in Milwaukee.
One of the biggest stars of the convention's opening night was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who became a right-wing superstar when, last June, he turned back a recall effort by progressives and Democrats in the wake of the passage of his bill that gutted collective bargaining for the state's pubic employees, and slashed education funding. Americans For Prosperity spent $3 million on ads supporting Walker in the recall, in addition to launching rallies and other organizing events that aided Walker in his fight to hold onto his office. Another $7 million was spent by AFP on promoting the Walker agenda almost as soon as he took office, and the organization put 75 trained staffers on the ground to turn out the right-wing vote in the recall election.
But perhaps none are as beloved by Koch and his allies than Ryan, whose support from Americans For Prosperity helped propel him to the helm of the powerful House Budget Committee. In his remarks to his assembled admirers, Koch articulates a message on deficit spending that is echoed in Ryan's budget plans and rhetoric. In fighting deficits Koch said, Americans For Prosperity seeks to save America "from financial ruin."
Introducing U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson at the podium, AFP President Tim Phillips acknowledges the special role Wisconsin, where AFP has been organizing and building infrastructure since 2005, has played in his organization's success. Johnson is yet another example of that success; AFP's embrace of Johnson allowed him to best other, more authentic Tea Party-type candidates, much to the consternation of some local Tea Party groups.
Joining Johnson in the Koch-lauding parade of pols is Rep. Tom Price, Ga., and Sen. Jon Kyl, Ariz., along with state legislators from Kansas, the home state of Koch Industries, and North Carolina, home of Art Pope, the other honoree. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a popular speaker at AFP events, is also in the room.
Before his appearance at the podium before his fans, I caught up with Pope, who is believed to have been behind the takeover of the Wake County school board, which tried to end the county's desegregation program until the public voted those members out of office in October 2011. (For more on Pope, read this article by the New Yorker's Jane Mayer.)
Talking to AlterNet, Pope was gracious, saying he welcomed the Democratic National Convention in his home state next week, and hoped the Democrats would find the city of Charlotte to be as hospitable as the Republicans found Tampa. But unlike some Tea Party leaders who bray that the right has turned the tide of public opinion forever in its favor, Pope is more cautious. The Tea Party sweep of the 2010 congressional elections, he said, "does not signify a permanent realignment." Rather, he said, "It's an opportunity." An opportunity that he'd like to see Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan maximize, he said, "to fix the country's problems."
Pope added that he didn't expect to see Obama win North Carolina in the presidential race, despite the Democrats' choice of Charlotte for their convention.
For more on the Koch brothers' relationship with Mitt Romney, click here.