Tea Party and the Right  
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The Koch Brothers' Tangled and Far-Reaching Web

The Kochs spend tens of millions trying to shape federal policies that affect their global business empire.

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Gregory Zerzan is a good example. Zerzan was a senior counsel for the House Financial Services Committee before serving as an acting assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George W. Bush administration. Zerzan then worked as counsel and head of global public policy for the International Swaps and Derivative Association before joining Koch Industries as a lobbyist.

Koch clout is augmented by campaign donations to parties and candidates for federal office — $11 million in the last two decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — and generous gifts from three family foundations to universities and conservative organizations and interest groups.

According to IRS records, the Koch foundations are essential donors (having given $3.4 million from 2007 through 2009) to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a nonprofit known for its support of the Tea Party movement. Among the organizations that have each received a million dollars or more over the last five years from Koch foundations are the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and two conservative think tanks at George Mason University in Virginia: the Institute for Humane Studies and the Mercatus Center.

The Kochs primarily donate to conservative candidates and causes but have given more than $1 million in the last decade to the liberal Brookings Institution. And among politicians they supported last year was Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat elected governor of New York with $87,000 from the Koch family.

The emergence of “the Koch web — political action, campaign giving, funding of groups engaged in political action and campaigns, conferences to expand political and policy influence — is a striking phenomenon,” said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The Center asked Koch Industries and its lobbyists in Washington, in a dozen emails and telephone calls over more than two weeks, to comment on the firm’s lobbying efforts. Koch’s representatives declined the opportunity.

But in a March 1 column in The Wall Street Journal, Charles Koch defended his and his company’s practices. “As a matter of principle our company has been outspoken in defense of economic freedom,” Koch wrote. “This country would be better off if every company would do the same. Instead, we see far too many businesses that paint their tails white and run with the antelope.”

Ethanol

The Koch brothers are renowned as free market libertarians. But as a major trader in energy and financial markets, Koch Industries also knows how to hedge.

As its corporate officials and  publicists decried ethanol as a costly government boondoggle, the Kochs bought four ethanol plants in Iowa in recent months, with a combined annual capacity of 435 million gallons. In Washington (where ethanol tax subsidies cost the Treasury some $6 billion annually) Koch representatives lobbied Congress on ethanol and other biofuel subsidies.

 “New or emerging markets, such as renewable fuels, are an opportunity for us to create value within the rules the government sets,” Flint Hills Resources President Brad Razook told his employees in the January company newsletter.

Koch Industries’ status as an ethanol player goes beyond its new Iowa plants. Koch blends ethanol and gasoline nearby, in its Minnesota refinery. By its own account, the company’s subsidiaries, Flint Hills and Koch Supply & Trading, currently buy and market about one-tenth of all the ethanol produced in the United States.

The Kochs seem to have recognized that their actions might seem hypocritical and in a January 2011 newsletter the company tried to explain things to employees who have been “scratching their heads and wondering: what is going on?”

 
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