In the beginning, way back during the GOP presidential primary, Charles and David Koch, the billionaire funders of the Republican right, didn’t seem all that keen on Willard Mitt Romney as he made his bid for the party’s presidential nomination. But now they’re all in behind the Mittster, as evidenced by, as AlterNet reported, the vaguely threatening letter Koch Industries sent to its U.S. employees and retirees, auguring bad things if the wrong guy happened to get (re)elected.
But this was not love at first sight. First, there was that troublesome Massachusetts healthcare program (you know, the one with the individual mandate?) that bore Romney’s signature. Then there was his inability to move the very base the Koch brothers had built through Americans for Prosperity and its foundation, the astroturfing organizations founded by the brothers, who own Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States.
It hasn’t even been a year since Romney addressed an Americans for Prosperity Foundation conference in Washington, DC, and was received with faint applause by a crowd that went wild for pizza magnate Herman Cain. But ‘round about April, something changed. Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator with interesting ideas about human sexuality, was making life difficult for Romney by showing a knack for winning primaries despite a lack of money and general weirdness.
Romney’s chances for winning the primary in the Midwest Province of Kochistan — otherwise known as Wisconsin — were looking iffy. At that point, it seems, the Kochs apparently decided they’d better get behind a candidate who might actually have a shot at beating President Barack Obama. After all, by helping Cain stay in the race as long as they had, via his frequent speaking gigs at Americans for Prosperity events and a campaign staff drawn from AFP’s Wisconsin chapter, they had successfully pushed Romney to adopt an anti-tax position the Kochs found palatable. So, at last, Romney found the Koch love he so desperately needed.
Here are five indications that Romney is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers’ political enterprises.
1. Papering Koch Industries employees with voter guides and dark predictions. Earlier this month, Koch Industries president and CEO Dave Robertson sent a letter to employees and retirees of Koch Industries urging them to vote with the following scary observation:
If we elect candidates who want to spend hundreds of billions in borrowed money on costly new subsidies for a few favored cronies, put unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses, prevent or delay important new construction projects and excessively hinder free trade, then many of our 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills.
Hmm…wonder who they mean to be maligning right there. Robertson’s missive is actually a cover letter for a packet of materials that helpfully includes a list of candidates running in the recipient’s state who are endorsed by Koch Industries. All are Republicans, and Mitt Romney tops the list.
Also included in the packet is an op-ed penned by David Koch, a handful of essays by Charles Koch from the company publication, Discovery, and an article from the right-wing Investors Business Daily.
To view the Koch voter guide for its Virginia employees and retirees, as well as Robertson’s letter, click here.
2. Wisconsin primary endorsements from the Koch machine. In the weeks leading up to the Wisconsin primary, things were looking bleak for Mitt Romney. Wisconsin’s right-wingers, it seemed, really, really liked Rick Santorum, but the Kochs were apparently not so enthusiastic about the Pennsylvania senator best known for the phrase “man on dog.” And then Romney experienced a change in fortunes, thanks to the endorsements of a string of Wisconsin politicians whose careers were nurtured by the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Of all of the institutions he and his brother have funded in the “public policy arena,” David Koch said at an AFP gathering during the Republican National Convention, “the institution I feel the most closely attached to, and the most proud of, is Americans for Prosperity.”
Most prominent among the group of Koch-approved Wisconsin pols who found a sudden love for Romney was Rep. Paul Ryan, who is now Romney’s running mate. In the final days of the Wisconsin primary, Romney was hardly ever seen without Ryan by his side. In the end, Romney won Wisconsin by a mere 4 points, despite outspending Santorum by four-to-one, effectively ending Santorum’s bid for the nomination. Had Romney not had the endorsements of the AFP crowd, he may have lost Wisconsin to Santorum.
3. The $50,000-a-head Romney fundraiser at David Koch’s summer home. After he locked up the Republican nomination with the help of AFP, Romney enjoyed the hospitality of David Koch at the multibillionaire’s weekend home in Southampton, NY, where the smart set summers. According to a report in the New York Post, Koch introduced Romney with a riff on Greece’s debt problem, with the suggestion that things in America were headed in that direction.
During the fundraiser, MoveOn.org hosted a lively party outside the gates of the Koch estate, and commissioned a small plane to fly overhead bearing a banner that read, “Romney Has a Koch Problem.”
Inside the gates, the Post reported, Romney told the assembled moguls: “I understand there is a plane out there saying Mitt Romney has ‘a Koch problem.’ I don’t look at it as a problem; I look at it as an asset.”
During the event, according to the Post, Romney and Koch had a tete-a-tete:
Koch was given a private audience with Romney before the event started, heading upstairs with their wives for a personal meeting for 30 minutes before “descending back down like two world leaders with their first ladies,” quipped one attendee.
Wonder what they discussed? Maybe a little blue-skying on potential running-mates?
4. The Ryan pick. If you were choosing a running mate in order to reassure elderly voters, who tend to skew Republican, that you are this country's most trustworthy leader, Paul Ryan, the guy who wants to fundamentally end Medicare and Social Security, probably wouldn’t be your pick. Unless somebody — somebody whose support you desperately need — made you. (Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich denounced the Ryan budget plan as “right-wing social engineering” — before he walked it back.)
When Romney announced Ryan as his vice presidential pick, I wrote: “Looks like the Koch brothers are going to have to throw a whole lot of money at this thing to make it work for them. But we know they've got plenty of that.”
Now, I don’t know that David Koch made Mitt Romney pick Paul Ryan as his running mate, but I suspect that Ryan wasn’t a name that Romney came up with on his own. You see, it's not just money for his own campaign that Romney needs from the Kochs. He needs the engagement of Americans for Proserity to turn out the vote for him on the ground, an aspect of campaigning the Obama campaign is seen to have a great advantage for. You'll recall that AFP proved its ground-game prowess in the 2010 congressional elections, and in the Walker recall election in Wisconsin.
Ryan’s political career — really, the only career he has ever known — is virtually a product of the Koch machine. Until Americans for Prosperity began building its Wisconsin infrastructure, Ryan was a little-known congressman who got elected at a tender age. But after the entrance of AFP to his state, the Ayn Rand acolyte’s fortunes grew exponentially, leading to him ultimately win the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee at the tender age of 40.
As AlterNet documented, in 2008, the Wisconsin AFP chapter gave Ryan its Defending the American Dream award — presented to him by a callow county executive named Scott Walker.
5. Scott Walker’s advice taken. No sooner had Romney named Paul Ryan as his number two than he started running from his running mate. Maybe it was Ryan’s roundly denounced lie-laden speech to the Republican National Convention, or the way Ryan was being hounded by the Nuns on the Bus. But in mid-September, a month after he named Ryan as his running mate, when Romney’s poll numbers were slipping, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — who survived his recall election with a lot of help from Americans for Prosperity — took to the airwaves to lay down the law.
Romney, Walker said, in successive appearances on talk radio and Fox News Sunday, needed to to stop running from Ryan and campaign with him. Walker’s Fox News Sunday interview took place on September 23; on September 25, Romney and Ryan went on the road together for a bus tour of Ohio.
As arranged marriages go, Paul Ryan came with quite a dowry; the inlaws apparently expect to see it used to good effect.
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