At the Koch brothers’ big California confabulation last weekend, each of the invited candidates who submitted to questioning on the main stage by Politico’s Mike Allen made pointed pitches to ideological proclivities of both the multi-billionaire brothers and their deep-pocketed fellow travelers. But the winner of the pitching contest may turn out to be the one least expected to win himself some Koch-love.
When she wasn’t offering to “throw a punch” at Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina applauded the “patriotism” of Charles and David Koch, implying that their neo-libertarian ideology of self-enrichment was a boon to the nation.
Marco Rubio, in a smooth performance that likely persuaded some of his electability, took aim at the Obama administration’s new EPA “clean energy” regulations, suggesting they would benefit “some billionaire somewhere who is a pro-environmental cap-and-trade person” at the expense of “a single mom in Tampa.”
Reminding those assembled that he had actually rolled back environmental regulations in Wisconsin, Scott Walker also brayed about having damaged union rights there.
And Ted Cruz flat-out denied the very existence of climate change due to global warming, claiming that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was “cooking the books” when it came to measuring the earth’s temperature.
But for all the preening and posturing of the candidates whose interviews preceded his on the conference schedule, the one presidential hopeful who was by far the most awkward—and the most unnatural fit for the neo-libertarian audience at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point—was also the one who displayed a superior understanding the Koch network’s donor base. He is widely seen as the “establishment candidate,” a low-charisma campaigner whose views align less closely with those of the Kochs than, say, Walker or Cruz. His name is Jeb Bush.
In every campaign, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, there’s a bullet point on the candidate’s position page that is a gimmick—something that no president can guarantee, but any candidate can promise. In Jeb’s case, the promise is a near-doubling of the economic growth rate to 4 percent.
When asked by Allen how he would make that happen, Jeb seemed almost to forget to ring the Koch bell, but when he remembered, he cleverly did so at a frequency that could be heard only by the brothers and their pals. The media, mainstream and progressive alike, missed it entirely.
Bush’s answer to Allen’s question was that he would take better advantage of what he called the energy revolution in fracking and crude-oil excavation. That answer was cheerful enough, one presumes, to a pair of siblings whose conglomerate was founded on a gusher of fossil fuel. But the real money quote came next, when Bush went on to list the reasons why the recent natural-gas and crude-oil boom happened.
“The one that is unique to America? Private property rights,” Bush said. “Private property rights. … And you know what the second was? Private business. Not a public company—a private business. Because a private business, by the way, through trial and error, they can do what they want. They don’t have to worry about the quarterly returns, and get on the call to listen to shareholders or analysts say why it’s stupid to be spending money on something that may be out of the ordinary.”
Koch Industries is the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States. That means that when it acquires publicly traded companies, as it did with Georgia-Pacific in 2005, the earnings and activities of those companies, too, become shielded from public view. That makes the Koch network far more threatening to democracy than the cartels of defense contractors and big pharmaceutical companies and their ilk that have traditionally held sway over Congress.
Like the Kochs themselves, most of the donors who take part in Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce—the Koch-founded umbrella group that sponsored last weekend’s conference—represent private capital and private companies. And they’re close to having total control over one of the nation’s two major political parties—in a political system that makes the emergence of a significant third party virtually impossible.
Take, for instance, the fight inside the Republican Party for control of voter data. A company funded by the Kochs built a voter-data targeting and collection system that many GOP candidates find to be superior to the one available to them through the Republican National Committee. So they use the Koch system, and the data stay with the Koch network, which in itself is a constellation of political and policy-focused nonprofit organizations that are shielded from disclosing the identities of their donors, thanks to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case.
With a House of Representatives elected with Koch money, and likely to stay that way far into the future, the election of a president who is ready to make life easier for the biggest hoarders of private capital could be devastating to any shred of democracy left in our political system.
A loosening of our already poorly-enforced antitrust laws could allow the wholesale gobbling-up of large, publicly traded companies by privately held corporations. The appointment of Supreme Court justices by a president who holds the shrouded workings of private capital in such high esteem promises future decisions that will make Citizens United look like a ray of sunlight.
In his bid to become the third in his family’s dynasty of mediocrity to occupy the White House, Jeb Bush is ready to sell the nation to the most secretive corner of the 1 percent.
With masses of private capital to back him—routed through the Kochs’ opaquely funded nonprofits—he could actually win.