The passing of free market and libertarian activist David Koch on Friday was met by much of the media with a dignified reaction that highlighted Koch's politics, but without portraying him as the cause of all that is wrong with the contemporary political climate. MSNBC Live guest host Chris Jansing took a different route, instead choosing to label the "billionaire conservative donor" Koch "as one half of the Koch Brothers came to symbolize the influence of dark money in America" and hype NBC's recently concluded docu-series American Swamp where the Koch Brothers are portrayed as the nefarious billionaires out to control American politics.
After introducing Ken Vogel of The New York Times and hyping his book on the subject of money in politics, Jansing introduced a clip from American Swamp where Katy Tur asked Jane Mayer of The New Yorker to explain just who the Koch brothers are. Mayer warned that Koch Industries may seem innocent enough with their Stainmaster Carpet and Dixie cups, "but they are huge refiners of oil."
Tur then asked about the various political groups that the Koch Brothers have supported. As an Always Sunny in Philadelphia meme-like chart was forming on screen, Mayer declared that, "What you would realize if you go through the paperwork, it was daisy chain of money and if you were able to trace it back, a lot of it would come from this group of 400 of the richest, most conservative people in the country who work with the Koches and funded it."
Back in studio Vogel argued that the Koch Brothers have changed American politics not so much because they've succeed in getting their libertarian policies enacted, but because "he and his brother Charles Koch changed the tactics of American politics. Including the way it is funded and the mechanisms that are used to try to influence public policy as well as elections."
That change, that came as a result of Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 has made the Koch Brothers the boogeymen of left-wing journalists and politicians who have talked about "dark money" because the federal government had banned private corporations from airing documentary films about political candidates within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days within a general.
That should be considered a win for free speech and a positive legacy item for David Koch, not the nefarious win for "dark money" that MSNBC Live wants to make it out to be. If MSNBC or CNN decides to air an anti-Trump documentary in October 2020, they can in part thank David Koch for standing up for their right to do so.
Here is a transcript for the August 23 show:
MSNBC Live with Katy Tur
2:27 PM ET
CHRIS JANSING: The man who helped rewrite the modern American political playbook has died. Billionaire conservative donor David Koch, as one half of the Koch Brothers came to symbolize the influence of dark money in America. He was committed to funding conservative causes nationwide, but Koch was perhaps best known as one of the primary donors fueling the Tea Party movement. Joining me, New York Times political reporter Ken Vogel, also author of "Big Money: $2.5 billion, one suspicious vehicle, and a pimp on the trail of the ultra-rich hijacking of American politics" So, perfect guy to talk about this, Ken, our own Katy Tur spoke to Jane Mayer author of “Dark Money” about the Koches for her show “American Swamp” and I want to play a little bit of that.
KATY TUR: So, who are the Koch brothers? Explain it to me
JANE MAYER: They are owners of the second largest private company in America. Probably everybody has some product from Koch Industries in their life. They make everything from Stainmaster Carpet to Dixie cups to Georgia Pacific Lumber, but they are huge refiners of oil.
TUR: You might see an ad and it is funded by one of those groups and it has one of those group’s name, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that group has anything to do with David or Charles Koch.
MAYER: ‘Cause a lot of the groups have the very bland names. America Future Fund or Americans for Job Security. Who is that really? What you would realize if you go through the paperwork, it was daisy chain of money and if you were able to trace it back, a lot of it would come from this group of 400 of the richest, most conservative people in the country who work with the Koches and funded it.
JANSING: So, using that as a basis, talk about how significant David Koch's impact has been on American politics.
KEN VOGEL: Yeah, he fundamentally changed, he and his brother Charles Koch changed the tactics of American politics. Including the way it is funded and the mechanisms that are used to try to influence public policy as well as elections. They did that by assembling, convening really the network of like-minded donors whose money they collected and channeled into the vast network of think tanks, advocacy groups, even media outlets, that the goal was to sort of drive a similar message. That message to being an effort to reshape American politics around their small government civil libertarian and Libertarian even capital-L Libertarian ideals. Now, it gets more complicated when you try to assess their legacy and David Koch's legacy on those actual policies and politics, because in many ways, Donald Trump is a repudiation of that politics that they pushed.
JANSING: So, you back in 2012, I think, you wrote about David's apostasies when it comes to social issues. Where did his priorities lie when his cultural liberalism came into conflict with his fiscal conservatism?
VOGEL: David Koch ran for the vice presidency on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, in 1980 a time when nobody was talking about gay marriage. He was very progressive on gay rights and maybe not gay marriage, but gay unions, gay partnerships back then in a way that was totally anathema with the Republican Party and he held on to many of those beliefs that were more libertarian in nature including not just on social issues, but also when it comes to national security and foreign policy. He and his brother were much more non-interventionists than the Republican Party. Now, that said, he and his brother did find a way to sort of look past those differences into pouring a ton of money into the groups and candidates that furthered the Republican Party proper even when the Republican Party and standard bearers were far afield from the libertarian ideals.
JANSING: Ken Vogel, thank you so much.