From its perch in a spacious brand-new headquarters blocks from the White House, the Cato Institute has built on its reputation as a venerable libertarian research center unafraid to cross party lines. Now, however, a rift with one of its founding members — the billionaire conservative Charles Koch — is threatening the institute’s identity and independence, its leaders say, and is exposing fault lines over Mr. Koch’s aggressive and well-financed brand of Republican politics.
The rift has its roots, Cato officials said, in a long-simmering feud over efforts by Mr. Koch and his brother David Koch to install their own people on the institute’s 16-member board and to establish a more direct pipeline between Cato and the family’s Republican political outlets, including groups that Democrats complain have mounted a multimillion-dollar assault on President Obama. Tensions reached a new level with a lawsuit filed last week by the Kochs against Cato over its governing structure.
“We can’t be perceived as a mouthpiece of special interests,” Robert A. Levy, chairman of Cato’s board, said in an interview. “The Cato Institute as we know it would be destroyed.”
At a tense meeting in November at Dulles Airport outside Washington, David Koch and two family emissaries laid out what they described as the “intellectual ammunition” they envisioned that Cato could provide by supplying its brand-name research and scholars to Koch-financed political advocacy groups, according to Mr. Levy.
The one Koch-financed group mentioned by name at the meeting was Americans for Prosperity, which played a major role in the Republicans’ 2010 takeover of the House and is now preparing for the November election. Structured as a nonprofit, the group does not have to disclose its donors. It has backed Tea Party groups, organized rallies and paid for negative advertisements, drawing criticism from campaign finance watchdogs and Democrats over the flow of secret money to political causes…
…Mr. Levy said he balked at tightening ties between Cato and the Kochs’ advocacy groups, expressing concern that the brothers might try to select Cato’s research topics and the timing of its studies. Any perception of political influence could compromise Cato’s nonprofit status and stain its credibility, he said in an interview…
“This is an effort by the Kochs to turn the Cato Institute into some sort of auxiliary for the GOP,” said Edward H. Crane, who is president of Cato and co-founded it with Charles Koch. “What he is doing now is detrimental to Cato, it’s detrimental to Koch Industries, it’s detrimental to the libertarian movement.”
It’s also perfectly consistent with the class-based ideology of people like the Koch Bros. It’s their money, they founded the Cato Institute with their money, they own it. Ethics, responsible social practices have nothing to do with the operation of what is supposed to be an independent body that deals thoughtfully with the future of American society.
The Koch Brothers giveth and the Koch Brothers taketh away. That starts with money and concludes with intellectual freedom. Something libertarians always say they care about.