Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

Money File: Koch Brothers and the Media

The now high-profile billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, are not only major funders of conservative causes and candidates but also exert significant influence over media outlets and public opinion generators.

In June of 2010, the Koch brothers, who together own the second largest privately held company in America, held a conference in Aspen to plot strategy for the November 2010 elections. The list of attendees was leaked, revealing some interesting ties the Koch brothers have to the mainstream media.

The Koch Brothers have donated millions of dollars to various media groups that downplay or deny climate change. (Photo: Sam Osborn)Among the attendees were conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and Washington Examiner political columnist Tim Carney. Also in attendance were Philip Anschutz, owner of the Examiner newspapers and the Weekly Standard, and Charles Krauthammer, a frequent Weekly Standard contributor, as well as representatives of several think tanks that feature prominently in conservative media.

However, the Koch brothers' influences in the media extend far beyond simple dinner parties. According to a report from Greenpeace, the Koch brothers have contributed millions of dollars over the past years to organizations that deny or downplay climate change.

"It's difficult to track these things. They aren't like campaign contributions in that they aren't obligated to report them," said Derek Cressman, the regional director of operations for the western states for Common Cause. "It's one of the more dangerous, nefarious things going on here. The Koch brothers have been very clever about funding surrogates to advocate their point of view. It would be one thing if you heard an oil executive saying greenhouse gases don't cause global warming, but hearing that from a 'think tank person' makes it sound more credible."

One such think tank is the Cato Institute, a "public policy research organization dedicated to the libertarian principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace," whose "scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues." In reality, Cato takes hard-line and often partisan positions in favor of industry deregulation and against taxes.

Among these policy issues that Cato analyzes are environmental issues, including denial of global warming. Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at Cato, famously responded to the 2003 World Watch Report linking climate change to severe weather events by saying, "There is absolutely no evidence that extreme weather events are on the increase. None. The argument that more and more dollar damages accrue is a reflection of the greater amount of wealth we've created."

Charles Koch co-founded the Cato Institute in 1977, and David Koch currently sits on the board of directors. According to the 2010 Greenpeace report, the Koch brothers donated more than $1 million to Cato between 2005 and 2008. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. According to a report published by Mother Jones, Koch family foundations have donated $13 million to the Cato Institute since 1998.

The Cato Institute, for its part, downplays such contributions.

"Charles Koch was one of our founders, and he did give money to Cato," said Khristine Brookes, vice president for communications at Cato. "This was in the hundreds of thousands, but I have a hard time believing it would add up to the millions of dollars."

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