Here's to Saint Charles
America’s wealthiest owe a significant debt of gratitude to their patron saint, Charles G. Koch. Mr. Koch’s Herculean efforts have virtually ensured that the United States’ plutocracy and its complimentary corporatocracy will continue their reign in America’s highly dysfunctional democracy. Blessed with a significant number of Americans still rendered somnambulant by a mass media machine, Koch and his fellow patricians are riding high.
Mr. Koch has virtually endless resources at his disposal to keep “his people” in power. Charles owns 40% of the shares of the largest privately held company in the world. Koch Enterprises generated revenues of $40 billion in 2004. Koch recently acquired gargantuan lumber and paper producer Georgia Pacific, which significantly expands his empire of oil, pipeline, fiber, and chemical enterprises. By shunning public sale of Koch Enterprise stock, Charles Koch has maintained a tight-fisted grip on his company while cloaking its finances behind a veil of secrecy.
It's in their blue blood
Causes enhancing the power of America’s Capitalist elites are a Koch clan obsession. They live to pursue lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy, shifting the burden of subsidizing America’s burgeoning military, oil, pharma, and prison industrial complexes to the middle class and poor.
As they press to defang consumer, labor and environmental protection laws to shelter corporations from liability and increase their profit-making capacity, the Koch family vigorously toils to enhance corporate power.
Consider that Fred Koch, Charles’s father, was a charter member of the John Birch Society, which pushed for the repeal of income taxes and civil rights legislation. Practicing a racist agenda on behalf of the White wealthy elite, the JBS was formed on the pretext of fighting Communism. Fred’s interest in the JBS allegedly stemmed from having witnessed the Purges under Stalin in the 1930’s. Despite his concern for Stalin’s victims, Fred still remained in Russia to make money by upgrading Communist oil refineries. A true Capitalist.
Happiness is not for sale, but in America, power and influence are
David Koch, Charles’ brother, founded the Cato Institute in 1977 and was a presidential candidate in 1980 as a Libertarian. Charles, David and Cato are no friends to America’s working class or minorities. Staunch supporters of social security privatization and property rights, Cato strongly opposes affirmative action and government regulation. With such an obviously biased agenda, it is rather curious that the “liberal” mainstream media often cites Cato as a neutral source.
In 1996, the Cato Institute itself wrote:
"Dozens of huge corporations, eager to roll back government regulatory powers, are among Cato's largest donors."
With the backing of one of the wealthiest families in America, Koch Family Foundations provides funding to several think tanks similar to Cato, each of which “nobly” crusades for the rights of the “oppressed” upper class and fights for the freedom of corporate America.
According to the Nation (in a 1996 article documenting Bob Dole’s incestuous relationship with the Koch group) the reverse Robin Hoods from Wichita, Kansas have "lavished tens of millions of dollars in the past decade on 'free market' advocacy institutions in and around Washington."
In 2004, Koch Industries made $587,000 in campaign donations, more than any other oil company. From 1998 to 2004 the Koch family and its enterprises gave $3.9 million in political contributions. Compare that to the $3.8 million contributed by Exxon Mobile, which is six times the size of Koch. During that same period, the Koch boys spent $2.4 million lobbying Congress to pass “humanitarian” legislation that would repeal the estate tax and significantly reduce the capacity of consumers to sue.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that 79% of Koch’s campaign funding in 2004 went to Republicans, including $121,000 to Todd Tiahrt, the US Congressman representing Wichita (where Koch Enterprises is head-quartered); $109,000 to George Bush; and $53,000 to the Hammer, Tom DeLay. Evidently Charles and David forgot that one is often judged by the company one keeps. Or perhaps they simply don’t care.
For people with such a professed aversion to government, it seems a bit odd that Charles Koch and kin would part with their beloved greenbacks so readily to participate in political activities. Slicing through their rhetoric, it appears they are far more interested in manipulating the United States government than in minimizing it.
In 1996, Triad Management, a shell corporation with little purpose or substance, began influencing federal elections by airing attack ads. Since Triad did not publicly disclose the source of its funding, wealthy individuals could exceed legal limits on campaign contributions by donating to Triad. In essence, Triad was a vehicle for laundering money.
One of its chief beneficiaries was Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who defeated Jill Docking in the 1996 Senatorial race with a Triad-financed anti-Semitic ad campaign. Evidence indicates that Koch was Brownback’s primary financier, through Triad of course. In exchange, Brownback has represented Koch interests so well that he has earned a 100% rating from the Cato Institute.
Of major theft, environmental crime, and wrongful death
In their relentless pursuit of the sacred tenets of free markets and deregulation, the Koch brothers and their multi-tentacled corporate entities have committed several egregiously immoral and criminal acts. Fortunately for Charles and David, the Gods of Capitalism have smiled upon them. Leaving carcinogenic pollutants and death in its wake, Koch Enterprises has emerged relatively unscathed.
In 2000, Bill Koch, another of Fred’s sons, appeared on 60 Minutes II and characterized Koch Enterprises like this:
"It was – was my family company. I was out of it," he says. "But that’s what appalled me so much... I did not want my family, my legacy, my father’s legacy to be based upon organized crime."
When he made that statement, Bill Koch had already parted ways with his brothers and filed a federal lawsuit alleging that much of Koch Industry’s oil profit was derived from theft and fraud. In December of 1999 a jury decided that Koch stole oil 24,000 times by “adjusting” the volume they had collected. Koch’s own records showed that their “adjustments for errors” translated into at least 300 million gallons of oil in their favor. Koch Industries eventually settled the suit for $25 million.
Koch Industries has the largest network of gas and oil pipelines in the United States. Quite an achievement. Unfortunately, Koch chose increased profits over the environment. In 2000, it paid $30 million for violating federal environmental laws. Koch had caused over 300 oil spills in seven states because it didn’t maintain its pipelines properly.
In 1996, Danielle Smalley and Jason Stone died tragically before they reached their twentieth birthdays. These Texas teens were in the vicinity of a Koch high-pressure gas line that was leaking when it suddenly exploded. Danielle and Jason were incinerated, their bodies burned beyond recognition. Danielle’s family won a $296 million wrongful death judgment as a result of Koch’s criminal negligence. Koch eventually paid the Smalleys an undisclosed settlement.
Does Bill Koch think about the charred remains of Danielle and Jason when he writes checks to Cato and its ilk?
Bill Koch again captured the essence of Koch when he commented:
"Koch Industries has a philosophy that profits are above everything else."
As the 2000 election approached, the Koch brothers’ political contributions proved to be money very well spent. It seems that the Koch conglomerate had dumped 91 metric tons of benzene, a cancer-causing agent, near its refinery in Corpus Christi. They added insult to injury by attempting to conceal their crime. Facing a 97 count indictment, possible prison time for company executives, and potential fines of $352 million, Charles and David needed a “white knight” to ride to their rescue.
Enter George Bush, who “won” the election with the aid of $800,000 worth of Koch donations. Striking a blow for the free market, Attorney General Ashcroft dropped almost all of the charges. Koch Industries pled guilty to falsifying documents and paid a settlement of a mere $20 million. No one served jail time.
Putting outsiders in and bringing insiders out
To ensure the continued success of their malignant influence on the United States government, in 2005 Koch hired a “Beltway insider”. Matt Schlapp became their director of Washington lobbying. Schlapp had been working in the White House’s Office of Political Affairs.
Disturbingly, Elizabeth Stolpe, a former Koch lobbyist, now holds a significant position on the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Another former Koch employee, Alex Beehler (who reported to David Koch), exerts influence on federal environmental policy from his position with Environment, Safety and Occupational Health.
Charles Koch has covered his political bets going both ways. Very impressive, in a Machiavellian way.
A criminal by any other name...
Charles Koch also gets an “A” for somehow manufacturing a respectable public image. On 3/13/06 Forbes ran a story about Koch entitled "Mr. Big". Much to the discredit of the publication, Forbes writer Daniel Fisher focused almost exclusively on the buyout of Georgia Pacific and the “Capitalistic virtues” of Charles Koch, a man who belongs in prison.
Charles Koch is indeed an “American success story” by the measure of those who still believe in the real American Way, which is the suffering of the many for the pleasure of the few.
For those who know the American Dream is a nightmare, Charles Koch puts a human face on the ruthlessness of Capitalism as it is practiced in the United States. Born into America’s de facto aristocracy, Koch is one of the privileged top 1% of Americans who hold a significant portion of the world’s wealth.
While the poor and working class of the world bleed, sweat, cry, and die to keep the money flowing from the spigot for such men, Koch, his friends, and his progeny reside comfortably in their secure castles and counting houses.
No wonder Mr. Big smiled so brightly for the Forbes photo.
Jason Miller is a 39 year old sociopolitical essayist with a degree in liberal arts and an extensive self-education (derived from an insatiable appetite for reading). He is a member of Amnesty International and an avid supporter of Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch. He welcomes responses at email@example.com or comments on his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at http://civillibertarian.blogspot.com/.