Why liberals are rising up against the Koch brothers

Guy Adams on the loathed billionaire Republicans who want to shape America's future

The airship was the very last thing Charles and David Koch expected when they arranged for 200 of their most wealthy and influential friends to spend the weekend in the desert east of Los Angeles.

Sponsored by Greenpeace, it hovered over the luxury spa where they had gathered. On its side were pictures of the billionaire brothers along with a words "dirty money".

Then there was the angry mob. Around a 1,000 liberal activists spent Saturday and Sunday outside the gates of the Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs. Most waved placards condemning "corporate greed" and "crimes against the environment". By close of play, 25 had been arrested, for trespassing.

It was a circus all right. But a fascinating and quite possibly game-changing one: the trade unionists, environmentalists and assorted lefties assembled outside the resort were staging the first major public protest against the Koch Brothers. They are two of the most influential men who, until now, you may very well have never heard of.

The secretive brothers, aged 75 and 70, have built a fortune of around $35billion (£22bn) through their firm Koch Industries, which has oil, timber, chemical and other energy interests and is the second-largest privately-held company in the United States. Much of that money is quietly spent supporting political advocacy groups which advance what critics call a radical right-wing agenda.

In recent years, the Koch Brothers have given tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates. Millions more of their dollars have been given to think tanks such as the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, and lobbying organisations like the US Chamber of Commerce. They have also helped bankroll dozens of cleverly-named pressure groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the Institute for Justice.

Most organisations which benefit from the Kochs' largesse have one thing in common: they help advance an unflinching brand of libertarian conservatism. Some lobby against environmental regulation, or seek to undermine public perception of the threat of climate change, others battle taxes, trade unions and Barack Obama's healthcare reforms.

Many play a crucial role in organising the Tea Party, the headline-prone right-wing movement which likes to tout its "grass-roots" credentials.

Until recently, the Brothers have operated largely in the shadows. But now questions have begun to be asked about their growing role in public affairs. Before November's mid-term elections, the New Yorker ran a lengthy investigative article detailing their "war on Obama". It quoted Greenpeace calling them the "kingpin of climate science denial" and described the ideological network they preside over as the "Kochtopus."

Ever since, public interest in Charles and David Koch's affairs has been quietly brewing; and when the New York Times revealed in October that they had booked the entire Rancho Mirage resort for one of their twice-yearly gatherings of the wealthy and the influential, the seeds of the weekend's protest were sown.

A leaked invitation to the retreat, which finished yesterday, informed guests that they were meeting "to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it". These apocalyptic threats included "climate change alarmism and the move to socialised health care", as well as "the regulatory assault on energy". In his covering note on the invitation Charles asked: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

As news of the event spread, a loose collective of leftist groups – including Greenpeace, several trade unions and citizen's lobby group Common Cause – seized the opportunity to stage a public protest at what it sees as the malign influence of the Koch Brothers and their wealthy friends, who they believe are principally motivated by a desire to advance political causes from which their businesses will directly profit.

The scene outside the gates of the Rancho Mirage at the weekend therefore became a perfect metaphor for America's polarised political environment. As protesters jeered and rolling-news cameras filmed, 200-odd guests, who included Eric Cantor, the Republican House Leader, arrived in SUVs with blacked-out windows. Although most of the delegates succeeded in maintaining anonymity, previous form suggests their number included captains of industry, financiers, businessmen, Republican politicians and a small but influential handful of right-wing journalists.

Last year, the guest list for a similar gathering the Kochs staged in Aspen was leaked. It included the Fox News pundit Glenn Beck, along with Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, two Supreme Court judges who have been central to the institution's lurch to the right, and recently voted to reform electoral finance laws allowing corporations to secretly give unlimited funds to candidates of their choosing.

Many of the protesters on Sunday cited Thomas and Scalia as the reasons they had turned out, saying they wanted to now demonstrate against corporate efforts to "buy" leverage among politicians and the judiciary.

"You don't very often get a chance to be across the street from a bunch of billionaires who are scheming to do things against our democracy," said Kathy Clearly, a retired schoolteacher. A spokesman for Common Cause added: "The Koch Brothers embody this ability to tap vast corporate profits and influence policies that undermine the public welfare."

Defenders of the event accused the protesters of attempting to stifle free speech. Koch spokesman Nancy Pfotenhauer told reporters the meeting was merely an attempt by some of America's greatest "philanthropists and job creators" to "share a common belief that the current level of government spending in our nation is simply unsustainable".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions