Political movements need money. And that means that political movements tend to owe some debt to rich people who give them money. One question that naturally arises is whether those rich people are giving money out of ideological conviction, or as part of a business oriented lobbying strategy. And certainly this has been one interpretive front in the ongoing battle over how to understand the political activities of the Koch Brothers. Their defenders would like you to believe that these are just two rich guys who happen to love liberty. Their detractors tend to note that the liberty to pollute mankind’s commonly owned atmosphere is actually a pretty strange form of liberty, albeit one that serves the interests of a firm heavily involved in the natural resource extraction industry.
Nobody in life is purely cynical, and doubtless the Koch Brothers believe in their own mission, but time and again they seem primarily interested in a conception of liberty that’s good for their bottom line. A report in the Nation yesterday that Koch Industries was instructing its employees how to vote offers some compelling evidence in favor of the progressive interpretation of these events. This kind of conduct used to be illegal, but thanks to Citizens United it’s now arguably permitted for firms to try coerce their employees to vote for favored candidates. But are the Kochs trying to use their economic power to advance abstract political ideals, or are they trying to boost Koch Industries’ profits?
According to the Koch Industries PR team it’s all about the bottom line:
Today’s article in The Nation Magazine contains a series of inaccurate and irresponsible claims about Koch Industries and its outreach to employees regarding the endorsement of individual political candidates. Our October 2010 letter to employees clearly stated, ” …deciding who to vote for is a decision that is yours and yours alone, based on the factors that are important to you. Koch and KOCHPAC support candidates we believe will best advance policies that create the economic conditions needed for employees and businesses such as ours to survive and prosper.”
The materials in the packet are entirely consistent with the law and Koch Industries’ record of public statements in support of free-market policies and previously disclosed contributions by KOCHPAC to candidates for public office. Unions have long communicated their preferences to their members knowing full well that inside the voting booth those members would make their own decisions. We are confident that our employees who reviewed the information we sent them did the same.
That seems pretty clear cut. The Kochs are rich businessmen and their wealth gives them social and political influence that they want to use to advance the interests of their company.