The Koch Brothers' Reign of Terror: How Their Great Wealth Is Buying Our Government

It seems like every e-mail I receive these days from a Democratic Senate candidate or Senator up for re-election this cycle includes a warning that the infamous Koch brothers will do anything, no matter the cost, to take over the US Senate - and with it, our country. Their fear is not without merit, for if we let the lunatics take over the Senate - as they already have in the Tea Party-controlled House - all will truly be lost. A change of only six Democratic Senate seats to Republicans would make that gruesome reality come true, and would encourage the Kochs and their ilk to engage in further mayhem in the 2016 election in order to elect a Conservative as President.

Millions of dollars are flooding into Senate races across the country from the Kochs and other wealthy right-wingers in order to influence these elections and continue to hold our country hostage. On the plus side, many of these Democratic campaigns are also raising more money than expected, and several are even beginning to move ahead of their Republican opponents in the polls. One sterling example is Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging "Senator Gridlock" Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and is now polling at 49% to McConnell's 46%, according to an e-mail I received recently from Emily's List. Bill Clinton has just announced a second trip to Kentucky in two weeks to campaign with Alison, so clearly the Dems see a winner here. This is on track to become the most expensive Senate race ever, as Mitch's billionaire friends are dumping huge amounts of money into Kentucky to pay for ads smearing Mrs. Grimes. Even so, she has still managed to lead McConnell in fundraising in two of the last three quarters.

Other key Democratic Senate races are also raking in money, meeting and even surpassing their monthly campaign finance goals. They are doing it mainly with small donations from thousands of grassroots supporters, enabling them to get their message out and combat the Republican and Conservative PAC-funded attacks being waged against them in their states. The key players in many of these assaults are the Koch brothers - Charles and David - who have now obtained single-name celebrity status in the national political landscape. We know they are multi-billionaires - indeed, they are tied for sixth among the richest people in the world - and that Koch Industries is the second largest privately held company in the US. But what more do we really know about them, their wealth and the extent of their political activities? And just how have they each acquired their respective $40+ billion in net worth?

It is, quite frankly, astonishing to me that they have time to keep building their corporate empire, since so much of their energy and time goes into buying influence and affecting policy in DC and beyond. In this election year alone, they have committed to spending upwards of $290 million to install their lackeys in public office across the country, and their slash-and-burn campaigns against Democrats are spreading and intensifying as the days dwindle before the 2014 election.

But the Kochs aren't just an election year phenomena, as they also provide hefty funding to right-wing think tanks like the Cato Institute and The Heritage Foundation, as well as their own "social welfare" organizations like Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners and American Encore. They are also big players and funders of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council ("ALEC"), which just had its annual meeting on July 30th in Dallas. Its agenda there, according to Rebecca Wilce in PR Watch, was to consider legislation that would, among other things, severely limit access to Medicaid, expand charter schools, expand US exports of "natural" gas obtained through fracking - as well as making it easier to frack - and undermine the EPA's Clean Air and Clean Water Regulations. ALEC has also been having a profound effect in several states nationwide, creating so-called "business-friendly" policies that destroy workers' rights and throttle unions.

Another angle being played by the Kochs is through the donations they are spreading around to numerous universities throughout the country, mainly in an effort to spread the Conservative message among our young people through "business" courses that tout their free market ideology and advocate for such things as lower taxes for the rich, vouchers for Medicare and cutting our other safety nets like Social Security and Medicaid - all in the name of what they view as good business practices and, certainly, their desired goal of a severely decreased role for our government in regulating corporate America.

And, leaving no stone unturned, the Kochs also fund cultural centers like New York City's Lincoln Center and Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as serving as board members of PBS in both New York and Boston, where they have contributed funding to PBS programs like Nova. It should also be noted that their money and clout likely helped keep an unflattering documentary about them from being aired on PBS.

Lee Fang, writing in The Nation on March 7th, noted that the Kochs spent twice as much in the 2012 elections as the top ten unions combined, with unions spending a total of $153,473,251, while the Kochs' contributions amounted to a whopping $412,670.666 - $4.9 million through their PAC's, and roughly $407 million through undisclosed "dark money" contributions. Fang goes on to chronicle the Kochs' contributions to the GOP since 1995-96, much of it through their shell company, Triad Management, which, as a corporate entity, was not required to report its donations, while unions - which are highly regulated by the FEC and Labor Department - must report all of theirs. Are there any clearer reasons for amending the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court's terrible Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, and remove special interest money from our politics and go to public funding of campaigns?

So just what are the sources of this great wealth the Kochs use to fund their nefarious deeds? Koch-owned companies are located in roughly sixty countries and have more than 100,000 employees, with about 60,000 of them in the US. Some of their products include transportation fuels, building and consumer products, electronic connectors, fibers, fertilizers, and pollution filtration and control equipment. They are also big in oil refining, with large holdings in Texas in particular, where the newly opened leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is surely already bringing more millions to their coffers.

Some other key holdings of the Kochs include:

Flint Hills Resources - Through its subsidiaries, Flint Hills operates refineries in Minnesota and Texas, with a combined crude oil processing capacity of more than 600,000 barrels per day. The company also produces and markets petrochemicals, ethanol, biodiesel and asphalt, and owns a 50% interest in a lubricant base oil facility in Louisiana.

Georgia-Pacific - Based in Atlanta, GP and its subsidiaries are among the leading manufacturers of consumer products, packaging, paper, cellulose and chemicals. They are also a leading supplier of do-it-yourself warehouse retailers like Home Depot with their wide variety of building products. Some of their familiar name brands in paper products are Brawny Paper Towels, Quilted Northern and Soft and Gentle toilet paper, and Vanity Fair paper napkins.

Invista - This company and its subsidiaries are among the world's largest integrated producers of chemical intermediates, polymers and fibers. Their technologies for creating mylar, spandex and polyester are used to produce clothing, carpets and many other everyday products.

Molex - Based in Lisle, Illinois, Molex is a global manufacturer of electronic, electrical and fiber interconnection systems. It offers about 100,000 products to a number of markets, including mobile devices, info-tech, consumer electronics, automotive, telecommunications, industrial, medical, military and aerospace. The company operates 45 manufacturing locations in 17 countries.

Koch Pipeline Company, L.P. - Koch Pipeline owns or operates more than 4,000 miles of pipeline that transports crude oil, refined petroleum products, ethanol, natural gas liquids and chemicals. They also have four other companies and numerous other subsidiaries that market and distribute 13 million tons of fertilizer products annually.

Koch Chemical Technology Group - This is a collection of Koch companies that specialize in manufacturing pollution control equipment, no doubt to combat the messes they create with their worldwide activities in extracting fossil fuels through traditional drilling and fracking - hey, if you know you're going to make a problem, it makes sense to have a solution available for sale, too, no?

The Matador Cattle Company - This corporation operates three huge ranches in Montana, Texas and Kansas, with a total of 440,000 acres and 12,000 head of cattle on their books.

These corporations and the Kochs' other holdings bring in an annual revenue of around $115 billion - which sounds low to me, frankly. And one has to wonder how much they are paying in taxes, what with all the breaks they surely get in this business friendly tax climate?

With so much money tied up in the fossil fuel business, it makes sense that the Kochs are also the largest financiers of climate science denial. According to Polluter Watch, Koch Industries has spent millions paying lobbyists to fight climate and energy legislation, and have worked in conjunction with ALEC's Energy and Environment Task Force to distribute anti-environmental bills across the county that delay policy solutions to climate change and prevent the EPA from regulating coal pollution and other dirty fuel industries. In 2013, the Kochs were even inducted into Corporate Accountability International's Corporate Hall of Shame for spending $50 million to fund climate change denial and influencing the Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited corporate dollars to flow into federal elections.

A positive note here is that the world is beginning to see the Kochs for who they really are and reject their tarnished brand, making them among the most hated men on the planet - which they are destroying, by the way, with their fossil fuel products that we continue to buy, in turn giving them the resources to continue to buy off our elected officials. As if in the Kochs' honor, on September 21st in New York City, the People's Climate March will bring thousands out for the largest public action to date on this issue in our country. This march will occur at the same time that world leaders are coming to the UN for a summit on the climate crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging governments to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming-causing pollution. We will be watching this historic gathering and will eagerly anticipate the real solutions it delivers for a better, healthier and more just world. The People get it, and are mobilizing on many fronts to combat the lies and destructive actions of the Kochs and their right-wing allies. Our time has come.

- with Jonathan Stone