'Secret' weekend meeting fires up debate over $$$, politics & influence
David Koch at an event in New York.
January 28th, 2011
04:11 PM ET
7 years ago

'Secret' weekend meeting fires up debate over $$$, politics & influence

Washington (CNN) - This weekend, at a posh resort near Palm Springs, California, two billionaire corporate titans will convene a semi-annual meeting of a politically well-connected set. It will include wealthy donors and powerful Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

At David and Charles Koch's meeting, attendees will discuss items like how best to promote free markets and how to help elect conservatives. Donors are expected to be asked to donate to conservative causes.

It will be conducted virtually in secret, with no press or public allowed and many attendees keeping event details on the hush.

That's fueled criticism that this gathering is a sort of secret cabal - a "Billionaires Caucus," critics say. Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration, even said that the Koch brothers' meeting represents "a threat to our democracy."

Those and other criticisms were leveled during a Thursday telephone press conference for reporters organized by the liberal-oriented, nonprofit group, Common Cause. On Sunday, the group will hold events to counter the Koch's weekend conference: hosting a panel discussion titled, "Uncloaking the Kochs" and spearheading a protest rally, both near the Rancho las Palmas resort, the site of the Koch meeting.

A central issue inflaming this debate: the role of corporate money in politics, especially after last year's landmark Supreme Court campaign finance ruling. That decision, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, found that the "government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker's corporate identity."

During the telephone press conference, Reich said that decision "opens the floodgates to any amount of money by corporations and rich individuals" to be used in the political system - echoing the sentiment of many others. And many of them, Common Cause included, accuse the Koch brothers of funding a conservative political network to advance their corporate interests and political beliefs.

Koch Industries is the second largest privately-held company in the United States. It's based in Wichita, Kansas, and is involved in industry areas such as energy, fibers, and chemicals, among others.

Koch Industries spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer responded specifically to criticism of the weekend meeting.

"Those that are attending the conference believe that everyone benefits from the prosperity that emerges from free societies," Pfotenhauer said. "This gathering is meant to discuss strategies for promoting policies that will help grow our economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs."

The Koch Foundation is one of many donors to The Heritage Foundation. Rory Cooper, director of communications for Heritage, reacted to the criticism of the Koch meeting - though he explained his group has nothing to do with it.

"I don't understand the criticism of people getting together and talking about politics and governance," Cooper said. "I think a lot of the people who I've seen, making those statements, so far, have been people who are not transparent in their own regards. So I think that there's certainly a great deal of hypocrisy here."

This issue of transparency - of who's disclosing what - also enflames the debate.

Common Cause's effort to "Uncloak the Kochs" stems from their claim that the brothers are secretly funneling money into efforts that will, eventually, advance their interests. Van Jones, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, partly put it this way: "They are the King Kong and Godzilla of bad policy, trampling through our democracy. And they must be exposed and they must be stopped."

Koch Industries' website denies charges like these.

"For more than 40 years, these brothers have been open and steadfast proponents of individual and economic freedom," it states. "Through their personal involvement and private foundations, they have lawfully supported activities and causes consistent with their beliefs."

Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress also faces questions about its political ties and level of donor transparency. Its president and chief executive officer is John Podesta, former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and an ally to the Obama White House.

As for donors, there are questions about who donates to the Center for American Progress - some accusing the group of keeping its donor list secret.

When pressed on this point by CNN, the group would only reiterate its "concern with the Kochs."

Common Cause, which faces the same question, responds differently.

"We are revealing our donors," Bob Edgar said. "If you contact us, you can have access to that. We have strict policies of sharing that information. You just need to contact us."

Meanwhile, as liberal or Democratic-aligned groups play up the Koch brothers' ties to conservative groups - others say it's not much different from what progressive organizations do.

Conservative critics often cite wealthy donors, like billionaire George Soros, who help fund liberal groups, like the Democracy Alliance. And they say what Soros and liberals are doing is not much different than what the Kochs and other conservatives are doing: promoting their political beliefs.

Participants in Thursday's telephone conference call vehemently outlined what they see as differences.

Edgar of Common Cause said: "It's not millions of dollars, it's billions of dollars available to them. It's the size of their reach. A few years ago, there was an analysis done of how much the radical right has invested in trying to shape policy versus all of the progressive, liberal organizations. The difference in volume and amounts of resources is very different."

Filed under: Fundraising • Republicans
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Republicans = Fascists

    What else would you expect from Out Of Touch Eric Cantor. While people are asking where are the jobs, he's palling around with, billionaires.

    January 28, 2011 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  2. ~~ JULY ~~ ( Palin is the new Paris Hilton )

    David and Charles Koch are buying America .... one Eric Cantor at a time.

    January 28, 2011 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  3. Pretzel Logic

    Why do I get the feeling this "meeting" will look suspiciously like the party scene in "Eyes Wide Shut"?

    January 28, 2011 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  4. Randy

    David and Charles Koch are two trust fund babies with a mean streak. They sadly however reflect the a contingent of the super rich in this country that have declared war on the middle class.

    January 28, 2011 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  5. fayse

    My take on this is, that the Koch brothers want to use their wealth and power to buy elections and then they can shape the US they way they want it. John Birch Society / Tea Party all backed by the Koch family. This information is available on the Internet.

    January 28, 2011 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  6. whoa!

    good old American style corporo-fascism at work.

    good job Cantor, nothing quite like a "family values" conservative working to destroy the very foundation of our democracy!

    January 28, 2011 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  7. BobInIrvine

    Pretz, thanks for the visual. Not! 🙂

    January 28, 2011 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  8. Bertina

    I'm sure everyone at the meeting has no interest whatsoever in jobs. This is what you get Repubs for voting for people like this.

    January 28, 2011 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  9. ...

    Evil incarnate. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that everyone do a quick Google search of the Koch brothers. You may be surprised by what you find...

    January 28, 2011 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  10. Mom concerned for the future

    Koch industries owns a plant that we travel past when driving from our home to my parents' home. It is always spewing tons of smoke (and who knows what else) into the air and it smells so bad that we know to close up our car's vents as we approach the plant. I feel very sorry for those who have to live around it. Meanwhile the Koch brothers are spending their BILLIONS of dollars spreading misinformation about climate change (among other things) because they do not want our government to make them clean up their act and our air. Of course, they live far from their dirty plants. These brothers are miserly old coots who would rather pollute our planet than spend their money on pollution control equipment and they are willing to pay off Republicans to make they can continue to do so.

    January 28, 2011 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  11. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Every republican in the house and senate has been bought and paid for by bilionaires and foreign corporations.

    January 28, 2011 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  12. GI Joe

    Aren't the Koch's from a German Dynasty??? GERMAN???

    January 28, 2011 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  13. DJ in TX

    Where is the Tea Part "outrage" with this?f The new majority leader meets with billionaires in private. I wonder how much campaign donations Mr. Cantor receives from this. Why isn't he meeting with 'the regular people", the ones he's supposed to representing...............Com on Tea Party, I thought you didn't like big corporations running government.

    January 28, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  14. d

    Unfortunately, "freedom" to these people means "freedom to do whatever you'd like, as long as you have enough money to buy your way out of the consequences". The more "freedom" they get, the less free the rest of us non-billionaires will be. Too bad the media never seems to realize that class warfare can go both ways. To them, it's only class warfare when people are picking on the ultra-wealthy. Boohoo.

    January 28, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  15. Bruce Kitchell

    These are the same Koch's that own Georgia Pacific. Consider this when you consider purchasing their products be they building products or paper products.

    January 28, 2011 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  16. cecilia

    just wondering what they will do with American once they own it completely. Wonder if they will still let poor Americans and Democrats live here.

    January 28, 2011 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  17. Jim Carr

    Now you can see who runs the Goverment

    January 28, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  18. Monica

    The world is in disbelief, watching the GOP screw the American public. What I don't understand is how can intelligent people believe the words that come out of their mouths, yet every action they take is against the people (they obviously only care about corporations, big oil, Wall Street, Slamming Obama and lining their greedy little pockets). KICK THEM OUT!! They want to strip you of your healthcare, let you die if you can't afford an organ transplant, invest your Social Security in Wall Street (when in fact it is in perfect shape for another 80 years!!). The list goes on and on. They try to SCARE THE HELL out of the American public (Republican Response to the State of the Union Address for example – the REAL one that is, not that wingnut Bauchman). OPEN YOUR EYES PEOPLE, OBAMA IS THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO YOU.

    January 28, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  19. Tom-Vermillion Ohio

    His picture looks a mugshot. Prophecy, perhaps?

    January 28, 2011 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  20. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    The word on the street is that theKoch brothers are having a similar meeting in Florida this next week. I am sure they are thinking, if they are going to spend billions to get Mittens elected, they want to be able to run the republican agenda.

    January 28, 2011 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "This gathering is meant to discuss strategies for promoting policies that will help grow our economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs."

    Translation: "This gathering is meant to discuss strategies for promoting policies that will help grow our influence, power and profit margins, eliminate any and all regulation and oversight of our behavior and create American indentured-servitude."

    January 28, 2011 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  22. yaho

    money power in action

    January 28, 2011 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  23. Sniffit

    "Wonder if they will still let poor Americans and Democrats live here."

    There won't be any parties because there won't reallyk be any government, just corporation puppet masters, and you won't be considered "poor"...you'll just be "owned" and part of the non-ruling class. If they're smart, they'll still let you buy some shiny things to distract you from the fact that you were born into functional indentured servitude via consumer debt products.

    January 28, 2011 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  24. rusty155

    So the Republican Party and the Tea Party are one in the same. The Republican party and the Tea party are letting the riches people like the Koch Bros. and some other too buy and run American. American people better wake up be for the Republican and the Tea Party sell away all are right. The people of VA.you hired Eric Cantor , but now he going too work for the TEA Party Koch Bros.The people of American keep letting the Republican party and the Tea party only worry about the Rich, big business and wall street we won't have any jobs and the one that we have won't pay any thing.The rich only worry about getting richer, not any one else and that the fact. You think the Koch bros. and other Billionaire are spending all that money on the Tea Party for nothing.

    January 28, 2011 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    Where's Robespierre when we need him?

    January 28, 2011 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
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