The Koch brothers have emerged as the left’s favorite bogeymen, tied to numerous advocacy groups attempting to influence elections at the state and federal levels, but the brothers’ lasting impact won’t be the political campaigns they’ve financed but the institutions and networks they’ve constructed on the political right. While the Koch name gets all the headlines, in this effort the brothers are not, in fact, alone.
Hiding the shadow of their bigger-name brothers is a group of fellow travelers, tied to one another by their large donations aimed at pushing forward a business-friendly agenda, including rolling back labor and environmental regulations. But the many of the members of this network share something else with the Kansas-based billionaire brothers: they have pursued business ventures that target low-income communities as customers and employees, essentially profiting off poverty.
Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded advocacy group that spent $122 million in the 2012 election cycle and was expected to match that amount this season, endorses corporation-friendly positions under the guise of helping the poor. The group promotes the belief that raising the federal minimum wage does “more harm than good” and “does not help low-skilled and unemployed Americans”; it also warns that the White House’s proposal to tighten carbon emission regulations “will harm minority and low income communities the most.”
The Koch brothers and the groups they fund have taken both the credit and the heat for these positions, while few of their fellow billionaire donors to Koch-funded institutions rarely make headlines or are asked to explain their support for the extreme right-wing views espoused by the groups they fund.
“[A] lot of the portraits of [the Koch brothers] portray them as reticent or reluctant crusaders, but I think they also have accepted and embrace this role, to their advantage, of being so heavily identified with it,” Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, a group that calls attention to the “capacity for progressive change in the American South,” told The Nation. “And it may provide shielding for other people who play this role.”
Earlier this year, a leaked document from one of the brothers’ secretive biannual meetings revealed the names of more than forty top conservative donors who were singled out for one-on-one meetings with the brothers and their top strategists. But exact dollar amounts and their connections to Koch-founded institutions remain elusive. Do these donors work in parallel with the brothers or in direct collaboration?