The Bain-ing of the Koch Brothers

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 19 2014 8:57 AM

The Bain-ing of the Koch Brothers

West Virginia's 3rd Congressional District is one of the Democratic Party's toughest 2014 holds. Like the rest of the state, it used to vote solidly for Team Blue. In 1976, when Rep. Nick Rahall won his seat, the state was handing a 58-42 landslide win to the Carter-Mondale ticket. The Democrats carried every single county in what is now the 3rd, an area that spreads across the southern, coal-producing part of the state.

That wasn't the case in 2012. The Obama-Biden ticket lost West Virginia in a historic rout, losing every single county—a feat not even George McGovern had achieved. The national Democrats only won 33 percent of the vote in the 3rd, their worst performance in the whole state. This sent Republicans salivating after Rahall's district, committing money to remove a coal-country Democrat and enticing an ambitious Democratic legislator to switch parties.

Advertisement

This is how the House Majority PAC is trying to fight back. Its new ad portrays Evan Jenkins, whom voters might be more culturally and politically attuned to, as a stalking horse for the "New York" Koch brothers who want to privatize the Social Security of stock-photo old people.

I bring this up because the New York Times gave the A1, Sunday section treatment to a longread by Nick Confessore. It concerned a topic that's never been especially secret, or interesting, beyond the libertarian movement—David Koch's 1980 run for vice president on the Libertarian ticket. Koch committed millions of dollars to the party, was (understandably!) crestfallen by its weak performance, and turned his attention to funding think tanks. This story was told (in a less comprehensive way) seven years ago, in Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism, which the Times then called a "sloppily written history" that irritatingly ran more than 700 pages.

Nothing unusual here. We call stories like this one "deep dives" because other people know the water is there and didn't go as far in. But what is the news hook for the Times story? It's the increasing, unrelenting, all-in Democratic focus on the Kochs. Seven weeks ago, BuzzFeed's Evan McMorris-Santoro noted that North Carolina Democrats were attacking Republicans who benefited from the Koch-funded and -founded Americans for Prosperity by digging into the 1980 Libertarian campaign. Democrats would "treat the Kochs like a candidate for office and try to make Republicans answer for the Kochs’ libertarian ideology." I was struck, a couple of weeks later, when I interviewed Sen. Bernie Sanders and he quickly turned the topic to the 1980 Libertarian Party platform.

Greg Sargent has been saying this for a while: The point of the Democrats' Koch obsession is to tie Republicans to a radical, corporate, plutocratic policy agenda in a way voters can understand. They've thrown their weight against the wheel for months, and Harry Reid is mocked by Republicans (and some reporters) for constantly invoking their name in his daily floor speeches. But how else would the Kochs be politically "hot" enough to become the focus of regular, day-driving stories in big media? Previous A1 stories have looked at Americans for Prosperity's spending on a small-town Iowa race and the 2014 ambitions of the organization. The insane sums spent by Koch groups would be interesting enough on their own, but Democrats are also making it impossible to cover 2014 without covering and explaining the Kochs. 

(Disclosure: I worked from 2006 through 2008 at Reason magazine, which is published by a foundation that's partially funded by the Kochs.)

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.