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

    Thanks to those five Supreme Court justices. I am wondering how much each those justices had in their wallets? Real threat to our democracy and its values…

    January 28, 2011 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  2. William

    God Bless the Koch brothers. I and most people are interested in growing the economy and fostering free enterprise . We sure as heck know Obama's policies have done nothing but the opposite. All the liberals ignore what Soro's has done and then blast the Koch's – go pound sand. I work for a conservative corporation and we openly discuss how to donate to conservative causes which we used not to do until Obama stated bashing business in ever other speech.

    January 28, 2011 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  3. OneMoreTime

    Supreme Court Justice in secret meeting with Tea Party
    Billionaire secret meeting with Tea Party, and of course, Eric Can'tor (there to get his marching orders, no doubt)
    Palin, Bachmann, Angle, Gingrich, DeMint, Santorum, etc all want to be your President.
    If this mess doesn't make you sit up and pay attention, we will be lost.

    January 28, 2011 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  4. The Real Tom Paine

    I sell test and measurement equipment, and my company counts Koch Industries among its clients. I ahve found that Koch sites, by and large, don't purchase equipment for predictive maintainace as readily as other companies like Dow and DuPont. They are willing to put the lives of their workers at risk to keep their trust funds.


    January 28, 2011 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  5. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    He looks evil!

    January 28, 2011 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  6. S. In California

    Yeah they are for the AVERAGE American alright.

    January 28, 2011 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  7. Santa Fean

    George Carlin would say Koch is one your owners. We are comfortable slaves. The Fascists have won for now. Big money rules America. Clearly.

    January 28, 2011 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  8. Marcus

    This weekend:
    A review of all strategies used against the current POTUS, an evaluation of them all and a proposal of alternatives to those which 'did not worked out so well'. Oh yeah, some jokes that only they will laugh (or those who blindly support them) about those Americans who are 'against the USA' (translation, those who does not follow their lines)...
    Any real and concrete proposition about the future of the USA?
    I stand correct: Any real and concrete and viable alternative proposition concerning the future of the USA?

    January 28, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  9. jokerster

    Ahhh, the Koch Brothers, the founders of the Tea Party.....Now the big BUCKS will be flowing again and the Republicans will turn back to the BIG BUCKS to do things in Congress......what a bunch!!!!!

    AGAIN, the KOCH Bros. are the TEA PARTY!!!!!!!!

    January 28, 2011 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  10. Robert

    All this rage at the Koch brothers, but none at Soros, is one much diffrent then the other?

    January 28, 2011 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  11. LacrosseMom(real one)

    Here they go again, these Koch brothers! The so-called-Tea Party is their invention, their creation! That's why so many of us get angry whenever the MSM calls the "Tea Party" a "movement"! A movement is started by regular people, gathering in homes and so forth. The Kochs have been investing millions in the "Teas" in order to put into power the nuts they approve of!

    Wake UP America!

    January 28, 2011 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  12. Marcus

    William – 'I and most people are interested in growing the economy and fostering free enterprise . We sure as heck know Obama's policies have done nothing but the opposite.'
    Then anyone can go checking the numbers of the economy at the time of Obama's inauguration and the numbers today and see that you are another misinformed fella who doesn't need facts to sustain your beliefs...
    Really man, this is not a country where the govt can shut down the web in order to get the opposition mute and deaf and have all its claims (about everything, especially the state of the economy) thoroughly analyzed by anyone with a web connection.
    This is why if you want to tell us WHY you donate money or hours of your time to conservative cause, just state the obvious: YOU are a conservative man. Simple.
    Just don't say anything that can be so easily debunked.

    January 28, 2011 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  13. Marko

    Here are the true leaders of our country and the world. The politicians do their bidding. In this country, Europe and now Asia. Average Joe and Sue don't stand a chance. Our real names to them are Consumer 102365220 and Consumer 102365221, etc.

    January 28, 2011 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  14. Oregon Calling

    Nothing gonna happen here..... move along folks.......... yeah right....

    Peace 🙂

    January 28, 2011 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  15. gb0423

    wonder if there will be any discussions about the proposed Repub legislation to end all public financing of elections?...the fat cats plan on getting fatter and the moronic right in this country is happy to fill up the food bowl for them

    January 28, 2011 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  16. Video Guy

    Looks like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. is getting his Marching Papers.

    January 28, 2011 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  17. CBR

    Anytime that a group holds "secret" meetings and has a political agenda we should all take notice. No, we do not need to be invited but we should be aware of the topic and who attends.

    This idea is a double-edged sword. Should the Republicans who balked at the travel expenses incurred by Democrats go to this meeting where thouands of dollars will be spent. It is easy to point a finger but not so easy to have the finger pointing at you. Politics in America -very few members of Congress refuse to go such meetings. Hopefully they are the ones who are not influenced by outside groups or lobbyists..

    January 28, 2011 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  18. Matt

    Robert: YES, there is a HUGE difference between Soros and the Koch borthers! Soros campaigns for ideals that are actually AGAINST his own self interest financially speaking. The Koch brothers, on the other hand, are attempting to subvert our democracy to enrich themselves. If you can't see the difference you are truly blind.

    January 28, 2011 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  19. Allen M

    Tea Partiers, you've been had!

    January 28, 2011 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  20. Lisa P

    "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."

    And if you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to show you...

    January 28, 2011 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  21. Jake

    Private individuals can meet in private without allowing reporters or government stooges into the meeting. This is true for billionaires and paupers. Common Cause is simply using this private gathering as a red herring to gain attention for its noxious views which have consistently been rejected by the American people. Robert Reich needs to get a life.

    January 28, 2011 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  22. Chris

    The Republicans continously hammered Obama regardring transperancy. But every time I hear about a Repbulican in a meeting, its always refered to as closed-door, private, and secret.

    And Right Wingers will whip themselves into a frenzy over Soros, but we have Koch blatantly colluding with the GOP, and its absolutely fine, right?

    January 28, 2011 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  23. al in memphis

    Some how this does not come across like Bill Gates is meeting with political party members. Bill Gates has a record of standing for education. I'm certain the Kochs have a record of what they stand for as well - big business.

    I'm waiting to hear about the secret meeting among business and politicians where the agenda is getting jobs back from overseas. Or how about the one where they all pay a flat tax for enjoying the benefit of operating and benefiting from the worlds largest market.

    It was said that during the last days of Rome there was opening bidding for the throne of the Emperor.

    January 28, 2011 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  24. Rick McDaniel

    Someone might consider acting like decent Americans, and creating jobs for our citizens, in the US.

    January 28, 2011 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  25. kayla

    america, you voted for greed

    January 28, 2011 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
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