Feed on

Part of my organization here gets funding from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation. We are proud that they wish to support our efforts to become better educated and better citizens. Of course, as you can imagine, despite us being an independent organization with no university affiliation (outside of the obvious fact that U of R students and faculty work with it), it makes some people angry. I am not going to defend any of it here – I’ve never spoken to the Koch’s nor has anyone from the charitable foundation ever dictated a single thing about what we do or read, but even if they did I would see no problem with it. That said, here is a brief excerpt from an e-mail that was sent to me recently:

Who funds the institute (specific sources of funding and amounts, please), and what is the yearly budget of the Rochester chapter?
How are the funds distributed?  Do they come attached with any stipulations?
If the Koch brother do in fact fund the Rochester Chapter of the AHI, to what extent does their agenda influence the programming of the institute?
The Koch brothers have given campaign donations to Tea Party candidates (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/opinion/29rich.html?pagewanted=all) like Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain, who are openly homophobic, Islamophobic, and deny climate change.  Thoughts?
I won’t share my thoughts with you yet, but I’d like for you to see what the Koch’s have said publicly in regard to similar attacks this time from a direct attack from President Obama. The letter is worth reading in its entirety, so I will publish it below. As for the thinly veiled intimidation in the above questions, let’s just say that those are as close to “intellectual” considerations as we see around here – never once has anyone offered up a reasonable discussion as to why, for example, the Rule of Law is horrific, or that voluntary exchange is oppressive, or anything like it. It’s motivation, motivation, motivation, money, money, money all day long. Nice.
Here are the homophobic, Islamophobic, global warming deniers (think the student took the time to even consider this?):

Mr. Jim Messina
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Dear Mr. Messina:

Because every American has the right to take part in the public discourse on matters that affect the future of our country, I feel compelled to respond directly about a fundraising letter you sent out on February 24 denouncing Koch. It is both surprising and disappointing that the President would allow his re-election team to send such an irresponsible and misleading letter to his supporters.

For example, it is false that our “business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump.” Our business vision begins and ends with value creation — real, long-term value for customers and for society. We own no gasoline stations and the part of our business you allude to, oil and gas refining, actually lowers the price of gasoline by increasing supply. Either you simply misunderstand the way commodities markets work or you are misleading your supporters and the rest of the American people.

Contrary to your assertion that we have “committed $200 million to try to destroy President Obama,” we have stated publicly and repeatedly since last November that we have never made any such claim or pledge. It is hard to imagine that the campaign is unaware of our publicly stated position on that point. Similarly, Americans for Prosperity is not simply “funded by the Koch brothers,” as you state — rather it has tens of thousands of members and contributors from across the country and from all walks of life. Further, our opposition to this President’s policies is not based on partisan politics but on principles. Charles Koch and David Koch have been outspoken advocates of the free-market for over 50 years and they have consistently opposed policies that frustrate or subvert free markets, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican was President.

If the President’s campaign has some principled disagreement with the arguments we are making publicly about the staggering debt the President and previous administrations have imposed on the country, the regulations that are stifling business growth and innovation, the increasing intrusion of government into nearly every aspect of American life, we would be eager to hear them. But it is an abuse of the President’s position and does a disservice to our nation for the President and his campaign to criticize private citizens simply for the act of engaging in their constitutional right of free speech about important matters of public policy. The implication in that sort of attack is obvious: dare to criticize the President’s policies and you will be singled out and personally maligned by the President and his campaign in an effort to chill free speech and squelch dissent.

This is not the first time that the President and his Administration have engaged in this sort of disturbing behavior. As far back as August, 2010, Austan Goolsbee, then the President’s chief economic advisor, made public comments concerning Koch’s tax status and falsely stated that the company did not pay income tax, which triggered a federal investigation into Mr. Goolsbee’s conduct that potentially implicated federal law against improper disclosure of taxpayer information. Last June, your colleagues sent fundraising letters disparaging us as “plotting oil men” bent on “misleading people” with “disinformation” in order to “smear” the President’s record. Those accusations were baseless and were made at the very same time the president was publicly calling for a more “civil conversation” in the country.

It is understandable that the President and his campaign may be “tired of hearing” that many Americans would rather not see the president re-elected. However, the inference is that you would prefer that citizens who disagree with the President and his policies refrain from voicing their own viewpoint. Clearly, that’s not the way a free society should operate.
We agree with the President that civil discourse is an American strength. That is why it is troubling to see a national political campaign apparently target individual citizens and private companies for some perceived political advantage. I also hope the President will reflect on how the approach the campaign is using is at odds with our national values and the constitutional right to free speech.

Philip Ellender
President, Government & Public Affairs
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

5 Responses to “Well, Our Kids Learn it From “Our” President”

  1. Harry says:

    WC, the link before the letter to Messina did not work.

    One of the dictionary definitions of fascism I remember reading as a kid was that fascism seeks to eliminate dissent.

  2. Rod says:

    I would love to strike up a friendship with the Koch brothers so they could influence my newspaper columns and make me a tool of the radical Austrians.

  3. This is from the University of Michigan and I accept it as an indicative cross-section of research funding at American universities:
    “Federal research spending at U-M rose 9.8 percent over the previous fiscal year, accounting for 66.7 percent of total research expenditures.
    “Funding from the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal sponsor of U-M research, increased 12.6 percent. National Science Foundation research spending at U-M was up by 10.3 over last year. And although Department of Defense research expenditures dropped by 4.9 percent, Department of Energy research funding rose by 30.4 percent.
    “Research expenditures from industry grants and contracts rose by 4 percent to $40.8 million, recovering in part from a 9.3 percent drop the previous year.
    One of the year’s largest awards was $12.5 million from the Department of Energy for the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center?Clean Vehicle Consortium (CERC-CVC), a partnership led by U-M to advance clean vehicle energy technologies in the United States and China. The funding will be matched by consortium members to provide at least $25 million in total funding over the next five years.”

    Follow this link (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf05306/) to see direct funding from the Federal government.

    Generally speaking, academic freedom in the USA comes not so much from the First Amendment as from the plethora of places at which to teach. The biography of AAUP founder Edwin A. Ross speaks volumes. Stanford’s loss was Wisconsin’s gain, perhaps (Go Badgers!).

  4. Speedmaster says:

    Sadly, if you even mention “Koch Brothers” or “Koch Foundation” in front of a group of self-identified progressives, many of them will quickly become unhinged and lose what little grasp of logic that began the discussion with. It’s like tossing a mist of gasoline on a campfire.

  5. Ben says:

    The problem here isn’t that the Koch brothers are expressing dissent through their right of free speech, it is that their political lobbying and super pacs allow them to disproportionately influence american politics and discourse. People angry at the Koch brothers are disgusted by the post-citizens united plutocracy which has developed in America. This is a systemic issue as there are also liberal super pacs, think tanks, and lobbyists.

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