In the “Republican Wave” election of 2010, when brothers Charles and David Koch emerged as defining figures in American politics, the greatest beneficiary of Koch Industries largess was the newly elected Congressman Mike Pompeo. Since his election, Pompeo has been referred to as the “Koch Brothers’ Congressman” and “the congressman from Koch.”
Pompeo, who on Friday accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s invitation to take over as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is a foreign-policy hawk who has fiercely opposed the Iran nuclear deal, stoked fears of Muslims in the United States and abroad, opposed closing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, and defended the National Security Agency’s unconstitutional surveillance programs as “good and important work.” He has even gone so far as to say that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden “should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.”
Pompeo’s open disregard for privacy rights in particular and civil liberties in general, as well as his penchant for extreme language and more extreme policies, mark him as a profoundly troublesome pick to serve as the head of a powerful intelligence agency. But he is also one of the most remarkably conflicted political figures in the conflicted city of Washington, thanks to his ties to the privately held and frequently secretive global business empire that has played a pivotal role in advancing his political career.
Pompeo came out of the same Wichita, Kansas, business community where the Koch family’s oil-and-gas conglomerate is headquartered. Indeed, Pompeo built his own company with seed money from Koch Venture Capital.
More important, from a political standpoint, is the fact that Pompeo made the leap from business to government with a big boost from the Koch brothers and their employees. “I’m sure he would vigorously dispute this, but it’s hard not to characterize him as the congressman from Koch,” says University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis.
In fact, that’s a strikingly appropriate characterization for the man who Donald Trump wants “to serve as head of the United States intelligence community; act as the principal adviser to the President for intelligence matters related to the national security; and serve as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.”
As the Center for Food Safety, which has wrangled with Pompeo on food-labeling issues that are of tremendous interest to the global agribusiness and grocery industries, noted in 2014:
Congressman Mike Pompeo was the single largest recipient of campaign funds from the Koch Brothers in 2010. After winning election with Koch money, Congressman Pompeo hired a Koch Industries lawyer to run his office. According to The Washington Post, Congressman Pompeo then introduced bills friendly to Koch Industries while Koch hired outside lobbyists to support them.
Recalling the 2010 election, the Center for Responsive Politics explained that:
Koch Industries had never spent as much on a candidate in a single cycle as it did on Pompeo that time around, giving him a total [of] $80,000. Koch outdid itself again in the 2012 cycle by ponying up $110,000 for Pompeo’s campaign.
When Pompeo ran for reelection in 2014, he faced a tight primary contest with another local Republican who had Koch ties. One of the biggest turning points in that race came when the Kochs sided with Pompeo. “KOCHPAC is proud to support Mike Pompeo for Congress based on his strong support for market-based policies and economic freedom, which benefits society as a whole,” Mark Nichols, the vice president of government and public affairs for Koch Industries, told Politico.
Just as the Kochs have been loyal to Pompeo, so Pompeo has been loyal to the Kochs. He’s a regular at their behind-closed-doors gatherings and he’s outspoken in their defense, claiming that President Obama and “Nixonian” Democrats have unfairly “vilified” Charles and David Koch.
But, of course, the supposed vilification has simply involved a questioning of the influence wielded by billionaires in general and the Kochs in particular over American politics and governance. That’s hardly an unreasonable concern, considering that, as one of the most prominent Koch-backed politicians in the country, Pompeo was called out just weeks after taking office for proposing legislative initiatives that “could benefit many of [the Kochs’] business interests.”
“The measures include amendments approved in the House budget bill to eliminate funding for two major Obama administration programs: a database cataloguing consumer complaints about unsafe products and an Environmental Protection Agency registry of greenhouse-gas polluters,” reported The Washington Post in 2011. “Both have been listed as top legislative priorities for Koch Industries, which has spent more than $37 million on Washington lobbying since 2008, according to disclosure records.”
“It’s the same old story—a member of Congress carrying water for his biggest campaign contributor,” Common Cause’s Mary Boyle complained at the time.
Now, however, it’s a different story, because Donald Trump wants to put “the congressman from Koch” in charge of the CIA.