Dylan Ratigan Show   |  March 24, 2011

Too much power for the Koch brothers?

A Dylan Ratigan Show panel debates how far the Koch brothers’ influence reaches across the conservative spectrum.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a few years back, practically no one in america knew who these guys were, the koch brothers. much less how to pronounce their name. but now charles and david koch have replaced dick cheney as the chief villains for many. for years, they have been using their vast fortune, estimated at a combined $44 billion to help fund conservative think tanks and politicians. they have been a primary benefactor, of course, for the tea party movement. and now they're vowing to spend $88 million going into the 2012 elections. they are the very symbol of the unholy alliance between business and state that plagues this country. and with us are mark ames and yasha lavigne who are the two journalists who broke the stories about these journalists in 2009 before anyone even believed them. mark, you guys broke this thing and basically the story was crushed one way or the other. walk us through what happened with your journalism in the immediate days following the publication of the story?

>> well, first, i have to say, we worked together at the "exiler" newspaper. so we were already attuned to the politics and saw how billionaires in russia really manipulated a fake democracy. so when we saw this tea party thing, before it got big, they had their first protest rally at the end of february in 2009 . and when we saw this thing forming, we did a bit of investigating, we found out, you know, all trails led back to the ko koches, who we didn't know actually. we were surprised but we thought it was just like in russia . so we published the story in "playboy" and playboy.com, and after a couple of days, the proverbial doo-doo hit the fan. and the person leading the attack was a woman who writes for the atlantic monthly . she writes a blog there. and she later had to disclose that her husband worked for freedom works . she actually admitted she liked the koches, was close to them. on her blog post she said i know the koches personally and always found them to be the most honest people, and they don't -- they don't get involved in astro turfing fake grass roots campaign. but playboy actually took the story down. and that's going to be a whole other story. but it was pretty distressing, because frankly we saw the same thing. we didn't expect that america had become so corrupted that the oligarchs could use the media to discredit a good story. it took a year and a half before our investigation reached something as big as "the new yorker" in august of last year. but before then, it was -- i mean, it was tough. and it really opened our eyes. it was very dispiriting, but opened our eyes to how sort of corrupt and how like russia america has become.

>> if you look specifically at the unholy alliance , between business and state that is so defining of our time right now. just how powerful and effective are these guys at getting what they want on a state level with no bid contracts in places like wisconsin where they may be able to buy energies a y s ies y s ies a asse ts on negotiation. one of their ancestors founded the john burke society. they've been at this for decades.

>> that's right. they go back, actually, their father fred koch made their -- made the family wealth. the first nut of the family wealth working for stalin building refineries in the 1920s and '30s. and with that wealth, he came back and started what would become koch industries today.

>> and give us a sense of what they did with that money politically for influence. whether it was the society or now. in other words, what evidence do you have that they are explicitly manipulating policy as in this alliance?

>> well, you know, they -- they, the father supported -- co-the founded the john burke society,which is a very extremist racist anticommunist organization. it was also primarily interested in promoting the idea of free markets and, you know, battling communism. and really they've carried that on into the second generation, charles and david koch really took what their father did and expanded on it and streamlined it and made it much more effective and nuanced. so that it's actually very difficult to see exactly how they're influencing politics. but what they're doing is moving their prime concern is to move the republican party as far right as possible. that's what they've been doing for two generations.

>> mark ames , how is it you can advocate a free market ideology when that core principal of a free market ideology is a market price . in other words, if you're manipulating the cost of oil, the koch brothers are uniquely doing that, but they're among those who are doing that. if you're artificially keeping credit cheap by subsidizing the banking system , which is in the politicians and the bankers interest, how can you claim to be in favor of free markets while simultaneously manipulating the core price of credit, food, and oil which then denies us all of the benefits of a free market ?

>> you know, this is -- this is something very hard for, i think, americans, myself the to get our heads around. i think the way you have to look at it, again, the way russians look at their oligarchy and how they taught me to look at things. there's a rule for oligarchs where there's no such thing as hypocrisy, it's all the part of the scam, i guess. and then there are rules for us where we honestly believe that if you're promoting a particular ideology that you should be consistent and so on. and that just makes us suckers. but for them, it's a way to -- to push their book, to make more money and to increase their wealth. so they'll use the free market ideology whenever it suits them. and they'll go soft on it in areas where it doesn't suit them. and meanwhile, everybody is just focused on -- we're all focused on trying to keep consistent. they understand the real game and i think they learn this from their father who learned it, perhaps, from stalin for all the years he was there. politics is a very cynical and brutal game. i don't think it was quite as cynical in this country, certainly 30, 40, 50 years ago, i don't think it was as mean and brutal and cynical as it is now. and i think the koches have a big part in making it that way.

>> you guys are on tv with us right now, and the voice of truth only continues to expand. i don't think the alliance between business and state is too hard for folks to understand. and i think the more we explain that and people come to study that, the easier it will be to study r address it. before i let you go, mark, i understand you have a reason to keep them after all.

>> who's going to move the furniture? who is going to program the tivo.

>> all right. listen, thank you, both. and congrats again on your early reporting, and we look forward to seeing more of your current reporting. you can check both of these guys out at theexiled.com.