Dirty Money: From Rockefeller to Koch
To that end, Koch and his allies have, for example, financed digital advertisements praising Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a Democrat, for her support for relaxing regulations on small banks.* In the months to come, the Koch network may well invest more resources in her reelection bid. One could argue that Heitkamp’s support for the expansion of low-wage guest-worker programs, the deregulation of the financial sector, and fiscal consolidation, and her openness to voting to confirm originalist judges considered friendly to business interests, make her the paradigmatic Koch Democrat—a designation that might prove fatal if she were running for the Democratic presidential nomination, but that shouldn’t weigh her down in the conservative Great Plains. Can we thus expect the Koch network to play an increasingly influential role in Democratic politics? The answer will depend on the Koch network’s priorities: If its commitment to cosmopolitanism comes first, and it is willing to swallow its long-standing objections to the expansion of the public sector, anything is possible.
But consider the possibility that all this talk of transcending partisanship is best understood as a bluff.
First, it is far from obvious that the Democratic Party is a more auspicious home than the GOP for candidates who favor deregulation, tax cuts for high-income households, and the retrenchment of existing social-insurance programs. Though many Republican candidates might be less enthusiastic about these decidedly unpopular causes than the Koch network would like, they are not as uniformly hostile to them as their Democratic counterparts, who tend to favor more stringent regulation, tax increases for high-income households, and the expansion of existing social-insurance programs, if not the creation of entirely new ones. For years, Democrats have denounced the Koch network, to the point where ritualized invocations of the “Koch brothers” have become an essential part of the theater of left politics, and Heitkamp and her fellow farm-state, free-trade Democrats seem more like exceptions that prove the rule. To be sure, the Koch network has been making the case for criminal-justice reform and sharp increases in low-skill immigration, causes welcomed by the center-left, but will its members prioritize these causes over, say, further cuts to the corporate income tax?
Do the Koch brothers really care about criminal-justice reform?
And as for the Republicans under Trump, there is no gainsaying that despite the president’s populist rhetoric, they have overall been quite solicitous of the interests of the country’s wealthiest investors and entrepreneurs. The resulting Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has already proved an enormous boon to wealthy investors, and while its longer-term consequences remain to be seen, it can hardly be criticized for not having done enough to lift the fortunes of the Koch network’s membership. When a number of Republican lawmakers proposed passing a somewhat smaller corporate tax cut so as to allow for a somewhat larger amount of tax relief for working-class households, their efforts were actively opposed by the Koch network, which, in the end, wound up carrying the day.