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Mar 09 2012

The Koch Lawsuit Against Cato

I’ve been wanting to write something about the Koch brothers’ lawsuit against the Cato Institute, but I haven’t really been able to put what I wanted to say into words. Turns out I don’t have to, because many of the people who work there have done it for me.

First, some background. David Koch founded the Cato Institute and the organization papers give equal shares of control to four people: David and Charles Koch, Ed Crane (president of the organization) and William Niskanen, who recently died. The legal question at issue in the suit is whether Niskanen’s share passes to his widow or whether that share disappears, giving the Koch brothers full control of the organization.

But that’s really only the latest step. It’s now coming out that the Koch brothers have been very active behind the scenes in asserting more control over the group for quite some time now. Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at Cato, tells the story over at Volokh:

Last year, they used their shares to place two of their operatives – Kevin Gentry and Nancy Pfotenhauer – on our board against the wishes of every single board member save for David Koch. Last Thursday, they used their shares to force another four new board members on us (the most that their shares would allow at any given meeting); Charles Koch, Ted Olson (hired council for Koch Industries), Preston Marshall (the largest shareholder of Koch Industries save for Charles and David), and Andrew Napolitano (a frequent speaker at Koch-sponsored events). Those four – who had not previously been involved with Cato either financially or organizationally – were likewise opposed by every member of our board save for Gentry, Pfotenhauer, and David Koch. To make room for these Koch operatives, we were forced to remove four long-time, active board members, two of whom were our biggest donors. At this moment, the Kochs now control seven of our 16 board seats, two short of outright control.

Why are they forcing out Cato board members, all strong, principled libertarians who have been heavily involved with Cato – financially and organizationally – for years? The answer was given in early November of last year when David Koch, Richard Fink (he of many Koch hats), and Kevin Gentry met with Cato board chairman Bob Levy. They told Bob that they intended to use their board majority to remove Ed Crane from Cato and transform our Institute into an intellectual ammo-shop for American for Prosperity and other allied (presumably, Koch-controlled) organizations. That statement of intent is certainly consistent with what we’ve been hearing from both Kevin Gentry and Nancy Pfotenauer. They’ve frequently complained during their short time on our board that Cato wasn’t doing enough to defeat President Obama in November and that we weren’t working closely enough with grass roots activists like those at AFP…

Let’s take a look at a few of these new board members of ours. Kevin Gentry is a social conservative activist who’s also vice-chair of the Virginia GOP. Nancy Pfotenauer is a former spokesperson for the McCain campaign who has argued on television in favor of theIraqwar and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy pertaining to gays in the military. Ted Olson is a Republican super-lawyer who’s never identified himself as a libertarian.

Just before the last shareholders meeting, the Koch brothers also nominated –but were unable to elect – eight additional individuals for our board. Those nominees included the executive vice president of Koch Industries, a staff lawyer for Koch Industries, a staff lawyer for the Charles Koch Foundation, a former Director of Federal Affairs for Koch Industries, a former Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (and who was, incidentally, a McCain bundler), and a lifelong Wichita friend of Charles Koch. Aside from those functionaries, they also nominated a couple of people with public profiles that make the jaw drop:

John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog, whose firm counts Koch Industries as a client. Hinderaker has written, “It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.” Hinderaker supports the Patriot Act and the Iraq War and calls himself a neocon.

Tony Woodlief, who has been president of two Koch-created nonprofits and vice president of the Charles Koch Foundation. Woodlief has blogged about “the rotten heart of libertarianism,” calling it “a flawed and failed religion posing as a philosophy of governance” while complaining about libertarians “toking up” at political meetings.
Now, who’s more likely to “ensure that Cato stays true to its fundamental principles of individual liberty, free markets, and peace into the future” – these Republican operatives and bloggers or the ousted board members who are among the most independent, principled, and energetic libertarians you’ll ever find?

It is important to note, as Taylor does, that the Koch brothers have supplied less than 5% of Cato’s funding over the last decade, and less than 10% throughout the history of the organization. Taylor also notes that the Koch brothers have been all but non-existent in terms of influence over Cato until the last few years:

Shareholder control has been dormant for decades. The shareholders have not met – in person or on the telephone – from 1981 through 2008. No shareholder had asked for a meeting over that time despite a requirement of annual meetings. In every sense, the Board of Directors has run the Cato Institute, not the shareholders. Whatever success Cato has had, it is success that was produced by the Cato’s board of directors, management, staff, and donors – not the shareholders who, save for Ed and Bill Niskanen, have been uninvolved in Cato for decades.

But now they want to stack the board of directors with people loyal to their vision of Republican-favored policies. My friend Jason Kuznicki, also a Cato employee and someone I respect immensely, adds to the discussion:

When I learned that the Kochs were suing Cato, I’m sorry to say that one of the first things I felt was vindication. I’d been saying for years that Cato was essentially an independent shop. The suit makes no sense unless I was right all along.

I’ve worked at Cato for five and a half years. In that time I have never seen a single decision made in consideration of the Koch brothers’ wishes. Cato has always appeared to be run by two people: its president, Ed Crane, and its executive vice president, David Boaz. It was like that when I was hired, and it’s like that now.

Even they don’t call all the shots, either; plenty of things get published that they actually disagree with, including some of my stuff. The people who spin elaborate fantasies about the Kochs acting as our puppet masters were, and are, dead wrong. They’ve been wrong since at least the early 90s, if not earlier. I’ve been saying so for years. Now the whole Cato Institute is in open revolt against the Kochs, a revolt that grew up with astonishing speed…

A socially conservative, hawkish Cato wouldn’t be Cato anymore. It would be the west annex of the Heritage Foundation…

The real work that Cato does, above all of its specific issue advocacy, is to show that the ordinary constellations of opinion, both left and right, aren’t necessarily so good. Many of Cato’s ideas are already out there, on the left or the right. What Cato does is fit them together in a way that we find is much more consistent and principled. We might be wrong, but at the very least we’re a reasonable challenge to the status quo.

What does Cato say that no other think tank says? Militarism is not the foreign policy best suited to the free market. In fact, it’s the worst foreign policy for a free market. The War on Drugs is not only unnecessary in a free market, but ending it would be a straightforward implementation of free market principles. And the freedom to buy and sell is a sick joke without robust civil liberties for all. Conversely, most people want their civil liberties partly so that they can earn a living and enjoy economic opportunities.

That is what Cato is about. That is also apparently why the Kochs are trying to destroy it…

What we are witnessing here is a very important moment in the history of conservative-libertarian fusionism. Possibly its death knell. To the extent that any of my colleagues have spoken, it’s fair to say that this is what they have said as well.

I don’t fear being fired anymore. They’d have to fire all of us if they wanted Cato to do their bidding. If they did, we’d just reorganize somewhere else. The donors and the audience would follow the productive people who actually did the work, not the people who sat on their shares and waited for Bill Niskanen to meet his maker.

He’s not alone. Julian Sanchez has already issued a pre-resignation letter, saying he will quit if the Kochs win their battle for control. There is an open revolt going on, and if the Kochs succeed in taking full control of the group they may find the building virtually empty when they get there. And that’s a good thing.

Now, I know that Raging Bee and many other liberals will fume and spout off in the comments and elsewhere about this, but I don’t care. Naomi Klein was wrong from the start when she claimed that Cato and Heritage were blood brothers in the fight for a right wing utopia. They may agree on lower taxes and less regulation, but there were huge disagreements between them that mirror the disagreements between libertarians and conservatives in general. And those disagreements are over very important issues.

Cato, and libertarians in general, are strongly opposed to our government’s perpetual military interventions abroad; Heritage and conservatives in general never met a chance to bomb a third-world nation that they didn’t love. Libertarians are strongly opposed to the death penalty and work tirelessly to expose the many injustices in law enforcement and the courts — police misconduct and brutality, prosecutorial immunity, access to DNA evidence, the abuses of forensic science, the need for strict controls on eyewitness identification and interrogations, the militarization of law enforcement and the incredible and racist destruction brought on by the war on drugs. Conservatives tend to be strongly pro-law enforcement and opposed to any reforms that would make the system more fair and just.

I believe that Cato Institute scholars, and libertarians in general, are wrong about wanting less economic regulation (though they are often right about the poor design of many regulations). The last thing I want is to tear down the many protections put in place for the environment, worker and consumer safety and much more. But when it comes to civil liberties, the work they do is consistent, important and — most importantly — exactly where liberals ought to be on those issues (and where many liberal organizations, like the ACLU, already are).

Ezra Klein wrote about this and agrees with me that progressives should be taking much of the output of Cato far more seriously:

I am not exactly a libertarian. I’m a technocrat. I believe in the government’s ability, and occasionally its responsibility, to help solve problems that the market can’t or won’t resolve on its own. I find much of Cato’s hard-line libertarianism — to the point of purging Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey, libertarians who explored making common cause with liberals on select issues — naive, callous and occasionally absurd. And yet, it’s among a handful of think tanks whose work I regularly read and trust.

That’s because Cato is, well, “the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life.” It advocates those principles when Democrats are in power, and when Republicans are in power. When I read Cato’s take on a policy question, I can trust that it is informed by more than partisan convenience. The same can’t be said for other think tanks in town.

The Heritage Foundation, for instance, is a conservative think tank that professes to pursue goals similar to Cato’s. Where Cato’s motto is “individual liberty, free markets, and peace,” Heritage’s mission is the advancement of “conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

In practice, however, whatever the Republican Party wants, so does Heritage. In 1989, Heritage helped develop the idea of universal health care delivered by the private sector through an individual mandate. In the early 1990s, it helped Senate Republicans build that concept into a legislative alternative to President Bill Clinton’s proposed reforms. In the early 2000s, Heritage worked with then-Governor Mitt Romney to implement the plan in Massachusetts. Then, when Obama won office and Democrats adopted Heritage’s idea, Heritage promptly fell into step with the Republican Party and turned ferociously against it.

Similarly, when Representative Paul Ryan was developing his budget and needed a friendly think tank to run the numbers, he turned to the Heritage Foundation. And boy, they made those numbers sprint. Heritage’s analysis showed Ryan’s budget driving down unemployment to 2.8 percent. When the mockery that ensued proved too much for the think tank to bear, it quietly replaced the analysis with another that didn’t include unemployment predictions.

On my radio show on Tuesday, my guest Jeremiah Bannister and I talk about this quite a bit. I believe that what Jason Kuznicki said about this being an important moment in the libertarian/conservative fusion is true. And I believe this is an opportunity to build a new set of alliances between progressives and libertarians, a “liberaltarian” fusion (and I’m hardly alone; Markos Moulitsas has been saying this for years). There is a great deal of common ground here, more common ground than there has ever been between libertarians and conservatives, and together maybe we could have the kind of influence over Democrats that Heritage and AEI have long had over Republicans.

Maybe we could actually force the Democratic leadership to take civil liberties seriously, something that Obama, Reid and Pelosi have refused to do in spectacular fashion. Maybe we could actually build a consensus in favor of less executive power, greater accountability and justice and fairness in a law enforcement apparatus that doesn’t give a damn about those things now. I think the opportunity is there and we should seize it.

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  1. 1
    jamessweet

    Ted Olson is one of the lawyers for the good guys in the Prop 8 case. He seems a little out of place in the slate of new board members the Koch brothers brought on board. There’s no doubt he is a partisan, but he seems less hack-ish than the other names.

    But then again, I did not know he was an attorney for Koch industries; I guess that explains it.

  2. 2
    Dennis N

    I think we can all get together on this and agree the Heritage Foundation is garbage. See, we have common ground already!

  3. 3
    slc1

    Re jamessweet @ #1

    Being as how the Koch brothers are unbelievers, it is quite possible that they have nothing against same sex marriage.

  4. 4
    Ed Brayton

    james — Olson is a legendary conservative lawyer, a former Solicitor General under Bush, the attorney in Bush v Gore in 2000. What is out of place and utterly unexpected is his advocacy in the Prop 8 case, where he’s done phenomenal work.

  5. 5
    Randomfactor

    I think Olson’s work against Prop 8 is essentially an outlier in his main path. I’m pleased to see it, but I don’t think it defines him.

    And I find it delightful that the Cato folks are waking up to how they, too, are just getting played by the Kochheads, along with most of the media.

  6. 6
    Marcus Ranum

    Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas!

  7. 7
    democommie

    Well, since I never put much stock in anything that the Cato Institute said to begin with nothing’s going to change for me.

  8. 8
    eric

    The CATO institute reports I’ve read have been biased, goal-oriented rather than evidence-based, and in some cases howlingly wrong. But the one thing they haven’t been is a mouthpiece for the republican party. They are an advocacy-oriented think tank, yes, but they are honest and up-front about their advocacy. Consumers of their work know what they are getting. The whole policy community will lose if another relatively independent voice is turned into a sock puppet for one of the two major parties.

    I hope that CATO’s lesson isn’t lost on the economic, wall-street conservatives. Support for free market capitalism isn’t enough to satisfy the party faithful. Dissent from GOP social policy is only ever tolerated out of realpolitik necessity. The moment social conservatives think the knives will work, they’ll bring them out.

  9. 9
    D. C. Sessions

    It is important to note, as Taylor does, that the Koch brothers have supplied less than 5% of Cato’s funding over the last decade, and less than 10% throughout the history of the organization.

    No, it’s a total red herring. Ask yourself how much of the funding for Facebook was put up by Zuckerberg. Does that in any way alter Zuckerberg’s rights regarding Facebook?

    The Kochs have an ownership interest in Cato. Unless there are other principles at stake which substantially counter the rights that they have as a result of ownership, then the only issue here is whether that ownership entitles them to the control that they’re asserting.

    The irony of that is that in order to assert such countering principles, one has to step outside of the libertarian ethos as defined by … Cato.

  10. 10
    Nick Gotts

    Many of Cato’s ideas are already out there, on the left or the right. What Cato does is fit them together in a way that we find is much more consistent and principled. We might be wrong, but at the very least we’re a reasonable challenge to the status quo. – Jason Kuznicki quoted by Ed

    No – there is nothing reasonable about lying. As long as the Cato Institute publishes brazen lies about climate science, anyone who works for them is a lying scumbag and an enemy of humanity.

  11. 11
    d cwilson

    Naomi Klein was wrong from the start when she claimed that Cato and Heritage were blood brothers in the fight for a right wing utopia.

    But the Koch’s lawsuit, if it prevails, will fix that. The Kochs have been pretty aggressive since the 2008 in asserting more direct control over organizations that receive their money. They’ve always been hard-core libertarian, but they weren’t this out-front in attaching so many strings to their donations. I see this lawsuit as an extension of some of their other recent actions, such as giving money to the economics departments of universities, with the stipulation that they have veto power over the hiring of new professors.

    For all the wailing the right does about “academic elites”, it’s pretty disturbing to know that the real elites of this country are trying to dominate academic and intellectual inquiry in areas such as economics and public policy.

  12. 12
    pinkboi

    I must admit to having overestimated the amount of financial support Cato got from the Kochs. I was seriously under the impression that they donated a larger share and were simply asleep at the wheel – a happy accident for those in Cato. I think the silver lining is that there will be more of a call to start a new non-Kochtopus thinktank that puts at least as much effort into libertarian-liberal fusionism as it does into conservative-libertarian fusionism (the former would match better with my own politics). When the only game in town is either Cato or the conspiracy theory-mongering tendencies of the Mises institute, this, though unfortunate, can also be a good wake-up call.

  13. 13
    Ing

    Now, I know that Raging Bee and many other liberals will fume and spout off in the comments and elsewhere about this, but I don’t care. Naomi Klein was wrong from the start when she claimed that Cato and Heritage were blood brothers in the fight for a right wing utopia. They may agree on lower taxes and less regulation, but there were huge disagreements between them that mirror the disagreements between libertarians and conservatives in general. And those disagreements are over very important issues.

    Sorry but their disagreement over whose boot it is that crushes my skull (metaphorically speaking) isn’t important to me.

  14. 14
    slc1

    Mr. Raging Bee seems a little slow off the mark today.

  15. 15
    Deen

    Jason Kuznicki wrote:

    That is what Cato is about. That is also apparently why the Kochs are trying to destroy it…

    I highly doubt that the Kochs want to destroy Cato because of their position on foreign policy or the war on drugs. In fact, my guess is that it’s precisely the credibility that Cato has on these topics with moderates and liberals that makes Cato interesting to the Kochs. Because, after all, the Cato institute has another position where they do agree with the Kochs, on a topic that is much closer to their hearts: climate change. What credibility Cato still has makes it an ideal tool to promote more FUD about climate change.

    I have to say, I find it a little curious that the topic of climate change hasn’t come up in any of the articles discussed here at all. While many of the articles explicitly brought up the earlier suspicions and allegations of Koch influence within Cato, none seemed to want to hint where those suspicions came from in the first place: Cato’s bias on climate change. So I’m clearly not the only one to notice that the Kochs and Cato have a joint cause in climate change denialism. Is it just me, or is there an elephant being ignored in this room?

    By the way, this doesn’t contradict the Kochs stated goal to get rid of Obama at all. I mean, if you look at Cato’s page on climate change, the first thing you’ll read is an attack on Obama. Clearly, when it comes to climate change, Cato is already doing what Koch wants. They just need to do more of it, as this campaign looks to be a bit outdated.

  16. 16
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Ing:

    Sorry but their disagreement over whose boot it is that crushes my skull (metaphorically speaking) isn’t important to me.

    Damn fucking straight.

    I agree entirely with Amanda Marcotte that the Cato people are getting a taste of their own damn medicine: learning that they’re nothing but commodities to the corporate masters they’ve been sucking off for decades.

    To quote one of her comments, “Wow. Watching the Koch/Cato story unfold is like eating black, sweet, rich cherries of shadenfreude. AND SUCKING ON THE PITS.”

  17. 17
    harold

    Ed –

    Well, back in the nineties I used to think that libertarians were potential allies for liberals on social issues.

    The Bush era changed all that. I realize that they can make insincere claims that they “never supported” Republican policies, but as a group they didn’t reject the authoritarian right wing when they had the chance.

    I tried to figure out a self-proclaimed libertarian in a discussion on a biology-oriented blog. His vomit-inducing argument was the he “prioritized economic liberty”, and he made putrid comments about how social programs are the result of “envy”. He was defending the support of outright creationist science-denying authoritarian politicians, on the absurd grounds that they favor “economic liberty” more than Democrats.

    Here’s the problem. Perhaps there are some principled libertarians whose ethical stance compels them to support Somalian style economic policies, in the interest of pure liberty as they see it. I suppose those libertarians may be potential allies, although you did mention Cato “purging Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey, libertarians who explored making common cause with liberals on select issues ”

    But for every one of them, there are a hundred mean spirited jerks who take the “economic liberty” stuff as a dog whistle signal of approval for callous to sadistic attitudes toward vulnerable people. They see “libertarian” as a label they can use to justify their immature, selfish, petulant, poorly thought out, and unjustifiably angry ideas. These guys (yes, it’s nearly always “guys”) are mainly neo-cons who are looking for something “cooler” to call themselves. A lot of them are like those “stealth apologetics” creationists who won’t admit that they’re creationists and try to play “gotcha” games. They call themselves ‘libertarian”, but they’re actually right wing, and perhaps sometimes ethnic bigots.

    I’ve become somewhat cynical about self-proclaimed libertarians as a group.

  18. 18
    democommie

    “I have to say, I find it a little curious that the topic of climate change hasn’t come up in any of the articles discussed here at all. While many of the articles explicitly brought up the earlier suspicions and allegations of Koch influence within Cato, none seemed to want to hint where those suspicions came from in the first place: Cato’s bias on climate change.’

    Huh?

    Are you saying that nobody has ever suggested on this blog that Cato’s “science” writing might be tainted in that regard. If that is the case you haven’t been reading enough of the posts and comments on the blog.

  19. 19
    slc1

    Re Harold @ #18

    I believe that Mr. Michael Heath has commented on the CATO Institute’s attitude toward climate change on numerous occasions. He has basically characterized them as liars.

  20. 20
    Area Man

    I’ve long held that, while there may be such a thing as principled libertarianism, libertarian institutions, rhetoric, and even the name itself are extremely prone to ideological capture by self-interested plutocrats. The only surprising thing here is that Cato was able to function independently for as long as it did. (And it’s not as if they were pure as the driven snow to begin with.)

    I’m not sure why people who advocate a system in which the wealthy and powerful get whatever they want are suddenly shocked that the wealthy and powerful are taking them over.

  21. 21
    Ichthyic

    conservative-libertarian fusionism

    confusionism?

    :)

  22. 22
    Ichthyic

    I’m not sure why people who advocate a system in which the wealthy and powerful get whatever they want are suddenly shocked that the wealthy and powerful are taking them over.

    libertarians are notoriously myopic.

  23. 23
    baal

    (though they are often right about the poor design of many regulations).

    This is by design.

    Regulation A is effective annoying and hard to change for Company BigBoy.

    Company BigBoy lobbies for Regulation B.
    …time passes

    Company BigBoy’s Industry group goes nuts how RegA and RegB create an overlapping and confusing set of regulations. Won’t someone please stop with the poor design /hand wringing.

    Everyone agrees and suddenly it’s Reg A that is the ‘job killing’ regulation or that you know what, Company BigBoy really should only have to follow RegB.

    A law change to shift regulators or scope of A’s impact just a little.

    Tada!!! Company Bigboy is happy and the eager defenders of A weren’t annoyed or had a schism along the way since some of RegA defenders thought RegB made a lot of sense.

    This is SOP. If you want an example, take a look at BOA moving derivatives from Merril Lynch to a FDIC insured sub. Total shenanigan.

    There are lots of examples in the FDA vs dept of agriculture overlap as well.

  24. 24
    Ichthyic

    Baal has the right of it.

  25. 25
    jakc

    In my experience in dealing with state legislatures, libertarian Republicans are increasingly trapped in their alliance with conservatives. One reason is that most are generally conservative, with a few libertarian principles; they aren’t that distinct from social conservatives. The Ron Paul supporters who are Republican legislators are in general also supporters of the drug war. A genuinely libertarian Republican would likely face a primary challenge, especially if that legislator were to make alliances with liberals. And while the Republican party is a conservative party, the Democratic party is not a liberal party. It is a party controlled by moderates who rarely have much concern about civil liberties. Democrats have been better than Republicans on most civil liberties, though certainly not good, because liberal Democrats have a little more influence than libertarian Republicans; a liberal can win a D primary against a moderate. A real libertarian would not beat a social conservative in an R primary.

    The idea of a liberal-libertarian alliance is beguiling, but unlikely.

  26. 26
    Troublesome Frog

    I suppose that being unflinchingly loyal to a particular ideology might be marginally better than being unflinchingly loyal to a particular political party, but I have to ask again: why is either of these acceptable in an institution that ostensibly produces useful public policy research?

    I always hear arguments like, “Cato economic research is often garbage, but it’s great on criminal justice!” That may be the case, but it’s an indication that you might not be dealing with a real research institution. You’re dealing with an advocacy organization. If their position is advanced by producing good research, they’ll do that. If their position is served by pissing into the pool of human knowledge, they’ll do that instead.

    Go ahead and cheer the good research when it happens, but don’t be lulled into believing that these organizations exist to inform the public. Good research is simply an accidental byproduct of the main goal.

  27. 27
    Michael Heath

    Jason Kuznicki writes:

    The real work that Cato does, above all of its specific issue advocacy, is to show that the ordinary constellations of opinion, both left and right, aren’t necessarily so good. Many of Cato’s ideas are already out there, on the left or the right. What Cato does is fit them together in a way that we find is much more consistent and principled. We might be wrong, but at the very least we’re a reasonable challenge to the status quo.

    Cato is a primary supplier of arguments and so-called experts to Congressional Republicans, read – conservatives, which they use to deny climate change.

  28. 28
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    Naomi Klein was wrong from the start when she claimed that Cato and Heritage were blood brothers in the fight for a right wing utopia.

    Heritage can only fantasize about having the level of conservative influence Cato has in effectively fighting for the most important challenge humanity now faces, the threat from climate change and the right’s ability to get the U.S. government to effectively deny the threat.

    Ed – Raging Bee goes over the top on his criticisms, especially the other day where in a rare thread, I didn’t support or defend his arguments. But in your own venue he’s consistently been far more prescient and accurate than you have regarding the effective relationship between conservatives and Cato and libertarianism and conservative politicians. Over the past several years the biggest story I see coming out of libertarianism is its increasing influence with conservative politicians operating at the federal level.

    I enjoyed reading Reason for many years, but even Nick Gillespie can’t make honest arguments about the economy, they’re no more honest than what we get out of any garden variety conservative poll who pulls talking points out of his ass. His guest appearances on Bill Maher’s show are illustrative. Libertarianism has changed, at least with those who wield power. In 2008 the talking heads of libertarians were essentially split between Obama and McCain, now we see all the power allying with conservatives. Sure there are some libertarians who still make some liberal arguments, but the real power wielding and influence is now predominately with conservatives.

  29. 29
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    I believe that what Jason Kuznicki said about this being an important moment in the libertarian/conservative fusion is true. And I believe this is an opportunity to build a new set of alliances between progressives and libertarians, a “liberaltarian” fusion (and I’m hardly alone; Markos Moulitsas has been saying this for years). There is a great deal of common ground here, more common ground than there has ever been between libertarians and conservatives, and together maybe we could have the kind of influence over Democrats that Heritage and AEI have long had over Republicans.

    You need supportive monied interests, the arguments have long been around and aren’t resonating simply because they’re predominately liberal arguments which already have a camp with the Democratic base but with no money to influence power brokers. The liberaltarians make some great arguments, but they don’t have any influence like the conservative-libertarians are enjoying within the Republican party.

    From a position platform these two ideological camps could be a great success developing a framework and position papers and yet suffer from traction approaching zero. It needs money. The Koch Brothers, and George Soros, are prime examples of how money can move positions.

  30. 30
    Michael Heath

    eric @ 9:

    But the one thing they haven’t been is a mouthpiece for the republican party. They are an advocacy-oriented think tank, yes, but they are honest and up-front about their advocacy.

    You are stunningly wrong. Each year Cato publishes incredibly dishonest reports to Congress which the Republicans use word-for-word to obstruct dealing with the threat of climate change. You used to find these papers at Cato’s site here (I assume you still can): http://www.cato.org/global-warming In addition Congressional Republicans rely on Cato “experts” to testify in Congressional Committee hearings where they dishonestly misrepresent the state of climate science. See the YouTube video of Cato’s Patrick Michaels getting corrected by climate scientist Ben Santer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a4R1bKGsN8

    Cato is one of the most dishonest, and effective think tanks in the U.S. And when it comes to energy policy, which is of paramount concern to the U.S. and planet earth, Republicans rely heavily on Cato to provide to dishonest talking points.

  31. 31
    Michael Heath

    pinkboi writes:

    I must admit to having overestimated the amount of financial support Cato got from the Kochs.

    We don’t have sufficient information to understand their amount. We only got their contributions, we didn’t get how much they and their associates paid for the consumption of work product. Where demand drives what is produced.

  32. 32
    Michael Heath

    Area Man writes:

    The only surprising thing here is that Cato was able to function independently for as long as it did.

    I see no compelling evidence in this thread that Cato operates independently. One needs to consider the entire array of stakeholders and how they influence an entity to begin to get such an understanding. For example, we see no analysis on demand and how Cato responds to that demand.

  33. 33
    Deen

    @democommie:

    Are you saying that nobody has ever suggested on this blog that Cato’s “science” writing might be tainted in that regard.

    No, of course not, I’ve been following this blog for a while now. All I was saying is that none of the articles quoted by Ed mention climate change, even though they talk about past allegations of Koch influence. Very little of the coverage of the Koch takeover seems to mention climate change at all, which strikes me as odd. In the sense that it probably should have been entirely predictable that anyone who’d want to defend Cato wouldn’t want to bring up climate change.

  34. 34
    abb3w

    @17, Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform:

    I agree entirely with Amanda Marcotte that the Cato people are getting a taste of their own damn medicine: learning that they’re nothing but commodities to the corporate masters they’ve been sucking off for decades.

    “Just because we support legalized prostitution doesn’t mean we want to live it.”

    Further reading excerpts on the circus spotted here. I, for one, look forward to seeing the seemingly inevitable conclusion as the mass of Cato thinkers try to “go Galt” on the Kochs and form the Uticensis Institute.

    @18, harold:

    But for every one of them, there are a hundred mean spirited jerks who take the “economic liberty” stuff as a dog whistle signal of approval for callous to sadistic attitudes toward vulnerable people. They see “libertarian” as a label they can use to justify their immature, selfish, petulant, poorly thought out, and unjustifiably angry ideas.

    For those readers familiar with Altemeyer’s “Authoritarians” book, I’d suggest the notion that those inclined to Libertarian leanings tend to be low-RWA, but high-SDO. They’re not particularly inclined to follow leaders, but they think that if anyone is near the top of the social merit heap, it’s rightfully them.

    In EvPschy terms, there might even be an advantage to a small fraction of such people in a society — they won’t follow the herd, but will think enough of their own ideas to seek out opportunities that are not yet being harnessed. However, a society that was composed entirely of such would seem likely to be about as stable as an hextrienium nucleus.

    I may just be deluding myself, though.

  35. 35
    Ed Brayton

    Ms. Daisy Cutter wrote:

    I agree entirely with Amanda Marcotte that the Cato people are getting a taste of their own damn medicine: learning that they’re nothing but commodities to the corporate masters they’ve been sucking off for decades.

    To quote one of her comments, “Wow. Watching the Koch/Cato story unfold is like eating black, sweet, rich cherries of shadenfreude. AND SUCKING ON THE PITS.”

    This strikes me as pretty much pure political tribalism. And it misunderstands how think tanks operate. Which corporate masters was Gene Healy sucking off when he wrote one of the best books on the expansion of executive power that you’ll ever read? Which corporate masters are they sucking off when they do very good scholarship to combat the Patriot Act, the death penalty, police brutality, prosecutorial immunity, warrantless wiretaps, torture and a dozen other crucial civil liberties subjects? Yes, they are absolutely wrong when it comes to economic regulation issues. I said that myself. But that doesn’t change the fact that scholars at Cato also do tremendously important work on some of the most crucial issues facing this country. I don’t know why some people have such a difficult time accepting that A) Cato is not one thing, it’s a collection of dozens of different scholars, each with their own specialties; and B) libertarians (just like liberals) can be absolutely wrong on one issue and absolutely right on another, or on many others.

  36. 36
    Midnight Rambler

    Okay Ed, but consider this: how much influence do the things you cite as good have, compared to the crap? Because I’ve never heard of any of the stuff you mentioned, whereas Cato is constantly referred to in the media and by politicians as a source for bullshit on climate change denial and economic libertarianism.

    So yeah, I’m pretty much in full agreement with Ms. Daisy Cutter. They may have a few people who could have been writing for the ACLU, but the big show was in the stuff that fed their corporate paymasters. So it’s hardly a surprise when the beast wants more of a return.

  37. 37
    Nick Gotts

    I don’t know why some people have such a difficult time accepting that A) Cato is not one thing, it’s a collection of dozens of different scholars, each with their own specialties; and B) libertarians (just like liberals) can be absolutely wrong on one issue and absolutely right on another, or on many others. – Ed

    As several of us have pointed out, the Cato Institute produces a constant stream of lies about climate science, which are used by Republican politicians to block urgently necessary action. These “scholars” choose to associate themselves with a parcel of liars – and liars on the most important issue of our time. For that reason alone, they can expect many liberals, and those further left than that, to regard them as bitter political enemies and all their “research” with suspicion.

  38. 38
    slc1

    Re KG @ #38

    These “scholars” choose to associate themselves with a parcel of liars – and liars on the most important issue of our time.

    The scholars cited have no complaint when they are tarred by association with the liars on climate change at the CATO Institute. When one gets into the pen with the pigs, one may expect to emerge with a coating of mud.

  39. 39
    pacal

    The Cato Institute, as some other posters have indicated routinely lies about climate science and submits much of what it studies to a filter of ideological correctness before the results are published. The results must fit the purity of Libertarian ideology and all things that sully those pure results ruthlessly excised.

    Thus one of funniest Cato publications was a idiot piece about the fall of Rome that claimed that the Roman Empire fell because of over regulation. In the case of the piece mentioning the price degrees of the Emperor Diocletian. Aside from waving away the problem that the price degrees etc., were c. 300 C.E. and the Western Roman Empire did not fall until 476 C.E. The writer of this piece of drivel forgot that the Eastern part of the empire did not until 1453 C.E. It certainly took a long time for over regulation to destroy the Roman empire.

  40. 40
    TCC

    The scholars cited have no complaint when they are tarred by association with the liars on climate change at the CATO Institute. When one gets into the pen with the pigs, one may expect to emerge with a coating of mud.

    Finally, someone gave the game away: this is purely guilt by association.

    Seriously, I have no love (or use) for Cato, but this is beyond absurd. The “legitimate scholars are just shooting themselves in the foot by being associated with Cato” argument ignores the fact that 1) that is only a pragmatic argument for those individual scholars, not a logical argument against Cato; and 2) it presents a catch-22 scenario: either the legitimate scholars stay alongside the obvious hackery (and thus get painted with the same brush), the legitimate scholars leave (at which point dismissing Cato as partisan becomes more founded), or the legitimate ones stay and the hacks are ousted (at which point Cato could be accused of ideological purity in the opposite direction).

    And, to be honest, there are plenty of dishonest hacks that are given a platform on otherwise serious outlets – Dana Loesch on CNN, for only one notable example – while those outlets are not then dismissed for having given their implicit support of those hacks. Cato just seems to have some special kind of notability, maybe because of their (rightly earned) abysmal record on climate change. But just as it’s relatively simple to disregard the hacks on legitimate networks, it should be as simple to ignore Cato’s denialist scholars while recognizing when others make cogent arguments. This isn’t rocket science, people.

  41. 41
    pacal

    Ed you say (36):

    Which corporate masters was Gene Healy sucking off when he wrote one of the best books on the expansion of executive power that you’ll ever read? Which corporate masters are they sucking off when they do very good scholarship to combat the Patriot Act, the death penalty, police brutality, prosecutorial immunity, warrantless wiretaps, torture and a dozen other crucial civil liberties subjects?

    Those matters you list are of overall little interest to “corporate taskmasters”, so the Cato institute researchers can spout off whatever they like. And of course as others have mentioned such stuff gets relatively little play in the media. Meanwhile Cato’s stuff about climate change and economic “freedom”, which is of great interest to “corporate taskmasters” gets a lot of media play. Thus the Cato institute does serve its “corporate taskmasters” quite well in areas of “real” interest to them. The other stuff can be ignored as frills.

    I don’t know why some people have such a difficult time accepting that A) Cato is not one thing, it’s a collection of dozens of different scholars, each with their own specialties; and B) libertarians (just like liberals) can be absolutely wrong on one issue and absolutely right on another, or on many others.

    So the Cato institute is right about some things. So? The Nazis (yes I’ve godwined.), were against smoking. This doesn’t mean that the main purpose of the Cato institute isn’t to promote economic Libertarianism and as such serve its “corporate taskmasters”.

  42. 42
    Troublesome Frog

    I don’t know why some people have such a difficult time accepting that A) Cato is not one thing, it’s a collection of dozens of different scholars, each with their own specialties; and B) libertarians (just like liberals) can be absolutely wrong on one issue and absolutely right on another, or on many others.

    It’s not a matter of being right or wrong. Nobody is right all the time. It’s a matter of being intentionally misleading and leaving their readers less equipped to understand the issue than when they started. That’s the opposite of scholarship. That’s undoing scholarship. So the question is, how much good scholarship does a think tank have to do in one subject to offset the damage they do in other fields? I feel like I’m asking how much charitable work Hamas needs to do in order to net out the murders they commit. Surely there’s a balance point somewhere, but couldn’t we have charity without also killing people?

    My position is not that Cato is always wrong or always dishonest (how stupid would that be?). It’s that the world would probably be a better place if organizations like Cato didn’t exist. Like hospitals where some of the doctors are great and some will kill you or candy factories that make mostly good candy but fill the occasional M&Ms bag with Advil, propaganda organizations that sometimes produce good research as a byproduct aren’t a net win.

    The Jason Kuznickis of the world can surely find good work elsewhere.

  43. 43
    Ichthyic

    libertarians (just like liberals) can be absolutely wrong on one issue and absolutely right on another, or on many others.

    Ed, reality has a well-known liberal bias.

    libertarianism is exactly the opposite.

    you KNOW this to be true.

  44. 44
    democommie

    “And, to be honest, there are plenty of dishonest hacks that are given a platform on otherwise serious outlets – Dana Loesch on CNN, for only one notable example – while those outlets are not then dismissed for having given their implicit support of those hacks.”

    You may consider CNN to be a serious news outlet, I gave up on them years ago.

  45. 45
    slc1

    Re TCC @ #41

    There’s a big difference between associating with people who are wrong and people who are deliberately lying. As Heath points out, the climate change deniers at the CATO Institute are not just wrong about climate science, they are deliberately lying about it.

  46. 46
    Winterwind

    pacal:

    Aside from waving away the problem that the price degrees etc., were c. 300 C.E. and the Western Roman Empire did not fall until 476 C.E. The writer of this piece of drivel forgot that the Eastern part of the empire did not until 1453 C.E. It certainly took a long time for over regulation to destroy the Roman empire.

    Now they’re saying overregulation destroyed the Roman Empire? I thought it was the gays, wasn’t it?

  47. 47
    democommie

    Winterwind:

    It was teh GAY regulators. Everyone knows that GAY and “regulation” are both eeeeeeeeeeevul “lifestyle choices”.

  48. 48
    TCC

    There’s a big difference between associating with people who are wrong and people who are deliberately lying.

    Did you miss the part where I said “dishonest hacks”? That doesn’t necessarily mean only “intellectually dishonest.”

  49. 49
    Nick Gotts

    The “legitimate scholars are just shooting themselves in the foot by being associated with Cato” argument ignores the fact that 1) that is only a pragmatic argument for those individual scholars, not a logical argument against Cato; and 2) it presents a catch-22 scenario: either the legitimate scholars stay alongside the obvious hackery (and thus get painted with the same brush), the legitimate scholars leave (at which point dismissing Cato as partisan becomes more founded), or the legitimate ones stay and the hacks are ousted (at which point Cato could be accused of ideological purity in the opposite direction). – TCC

    You really don’t get it at all, do you? Cato’s primary product is lies. Whether to associate yourself with a fount of lies is not merely a pragmatic question but a moral one. For a “scholar” to do so is to abandon all legitimate claims to be taken seriously as such.

  50. 50
    Nick Gotts

    Incidentally, TCC, the “trilemma” you present has no resemblance whatsoever to a “catch-22 scenario”. I am forced to the conclusion that if you ever read the book, you’ve forgotten it. Cato’s “scholars” are simply in the position of being voluntarily employed by a mendacious propaganda machine; they have to choose between integrity and money, but that’s just a run-of-the-mill moral decision, with no element of paradox (essential to a catch-22) at all. Oh, and Cato is not accused of “ideological purity” of any stripe, but of systematic lying.

  1. 51
    inspired minds

    inspired minds…

    [...]The Koch Lawsuit Against Cato | Dispatches from the Culture Wars[...]…

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