The Koch brothers have surprised many of us with a newfound penchant for the public spotlight, yet one can't help but wonder whether it's all just a public relations effort to soften the perception of their political machinations. Perhaps in an ongoing effort to appear less...evil?...the Koch brothers have just given us two statements of staggering hypocrisy.
Charles Koch, a poster boy for crony capitalism, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday entitled "Corporate Cronyism Harms America." The piece contains the following sentence, among many other doozies: "To end cronyism we must end government's ability to dole out favors and rig the market." Um, a Koch brother is saying government needs to stop rigging the rules of the game for powerful corporations? A billionaire industrialist whose network is spending $400 million in this election and who has used his influence to weaken environmental regulations, Social Security, and voting rights? If you don't already get the absurdity, my film Koch Brothers Exposed has the goods.
David Koch, however, has a hypocrisy that needs some unpacking. For his part, he is the latest to pretend to be for gay marriage. I say "pretend" because even though he has told a reporter that he disagrees with Republicans on the issue, he is, in practice, doing what he's always done: supporting politicians and groups that have worked to stymie gay rights at every turn.
Take, for instance, the donations that David and Charles have given to anti-gay politicians. In 2006 and 2012, they donated nearly $20,000 to Rick Santorum, the archetypal culture warrior of the Right. Recently they've given large amounts to Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, George Allen, Orrin Hatch, Jim DeMint, and even Michelle Bachmann -- a who's who in the pantheon of anti-gay officials. In bankrolling the Right, the Kochs are supporting politicians fighting to prevent gay equality from being reflected in the law.
Such support extends to anti-gay organizations. The Koch brothers gave $4.5 million to the anti-gay Heritage Foundation between 1997 and 2010. This is a group that once backed out of participating in the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in part because LGBT Republicans were co-sponsoring it. Heritage has also opposed minimal legal protections for LGBT individuals from discrimination or violence on the grounds that these are just slippery slopes toward marriage equality. One Distinguished Fellow at Heritage wrote that conservatives who would "appease" gays and lesbians by allowing them the freedom to enter into contracts such as civil unions and domestic partnerships are the "Neville Chamberlains of the cultural wars."
Why would David Koch support such politicians and organizations if he's for gay rights? Because what he and his brother really want out of political giving are personal enrichment and power in the long run. In a Politico interview, Koch responded to a question about money in politics by saying, "Well, it's a free society. And people can invest what they want."
Yes, to the Kochs, political donations are an investment. They can try to pinkwash their record by claiming to be for gay rights or (wow) all about eliminating crony capitalism. But the reality is that they're perfectly fine with propping up those who are stepping on the LGBT community and bending politicians to their will. The Kochs just need to know they'll get a good return on their investment down the road.