When Political Mega-Donors Join Forces: How the Koch Network and the Democracy Alliance Influence Organized U.S. Politics on the Right and Left
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 October 2018
As economic inequalities have skyrocketed in the United States, scholars have started paying more attention to the individual political activities of billionaires and multimillionaires. Useful as such work may be, it misses an important aspect of plutocratic influence: the sustained efforts of organized groups and networks of political mega-donors, who work together over many years between as well as during elections to reshape politics. Our work contributes to this new direction by focusing on two formally organized consortia of wealthy donors that have recently evolved into highly consequential forces in U.S. politics. We develop this concept and illustrate the importance of organized donor consortia by presenting original data and analyses of the right-wing Koch seminars (from 2003 to the present) and the progressive left-leaning Democracy Alliance (from 2005 to the present). We describe the evolution, memberships, and organizational routines of these two wealthy donor collectives, and explore the ways in which each has sought to reconfigure and bolster kindred arrays of think tanks, advocacy groups, and constituency efforts operating at the edges of America's two major political parties in a period of intensifying ideological polarization and growing conflict over the role of government in addressing rising economic inequality. Our analysis argues that the rules and organizational characteristics of donor consortia shape their resource allocations and impact, above and beyond the individual characteristics of their wealthy members.
- Research Article
- Studies in American Political Development , Volume 32 , Issue 2 , October 2018 , pp. 127 - 165
- Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018
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5. See the lists of twice-yearly Koch and DA meetings in Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Theda Skocpol, and Jason Sclar, “When Wealthy Political Contributors Join Forces: U.S. Donor Consortia on the Left and Right” (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, PA, September 2016).
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20. Further information about core organization appears in Appendix A.
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27. Kenneth Vogel, “Koch World 2014”; Kenneth Vogel, “The Koch ATM,” Politico, November 17, 2015.
28. See http://seminarnetwork.org. In this and other public-facing presentations, the Koch network splashes pictures of ordinary Americans from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to present itself, and especially AFP, as a “grassroots” endeavor. Little to no information is provided about the authoritative, centralized structure and direction of the network or about the very wealthy donors who sustain it. In actuality, the Koch network is not democratically governed; it is structured like a private investment corporation and an ideological cadre-led political party. To attract donors, it issues confidential documents like the Americans for Prosperity Partner Prospectus: January 2017 (Arlington, VA: Americans for Prosperity; available as a leaked document at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3457972-Americans-for-Prosperity-Partner-Prospectus.html).
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41. Koch, “Invitation Letter for January 2011 Koch Seminar.”
42. See Holly Deason and Doug Deason, “What Do the Koch Brothers Want? To Defend the American Dream,” editorial, Dallas Morning News, February 2, 2015; O'Connor, “Donors Who Fund the Koch Brothers’ Causes Say They're Tired of Being ‘Demonized’”; Bill O'Neill, “Defending the Koch Brothers before the Ohio 2016 Campaign Heats Up,” editorial, Cleveland.com, April 26, 2015; Chris Rufer, “End This Corporate Welfare,” editorial, New York Times, March 23, 2015; Ken Yontz, “The Kochs Are Fighting for Your Future,” editorial, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, May 1, 2015.
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44. Similarly, as Appendix B shows, 39 percent of Drutman's top political donors in 2012 had fortunes generated from this same sector.
45. Quoted in Shaffer, “How Vast the Left Wing Conspiracy?” 8.
46. Quotation from Koch, “Invitation Letter for January 2011 Koch Seminar.”
47. Bai, The Argument, 110–13.
48. A more complete analysis of the full run of DA conferences, using all of the programs except one in 2006 that has not been located, appears in Vanessa Williamson, Curtlyn Kramer, and Theda Skocpol, “Wealthy Progressive Donors and the Shifting Organizational Terrain of American Politics: The Impact of the Democracy Alliance, 2005 to 2016” (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 2017).
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50. Schulman and Kroll, “The Koch Brothers Left a Confidential Document at Their Donor Conference”; see also Hertel-Fernandez et al., “When Wealthy Political Contributors Join Forces.”
51. Darren Goode and Kenneth Vogel, “Kochs Launch New Super PAC,” Politico, June 16, 2014 (updated June 17, 2014).
52. The table uses data from LaMarche, “Democracy Alliance 2020 Vision”; Democracy Alliance, 2020 Vision Portfolio Snapshot: Spring 2015 (prepared for Spring 2015 Democracy Alliance Investment Conference, San Francisco, CA).
53. Eric Lach, “Meet the Man Who Runs the Koch Brothers’ Secret Bank,” TalkingPointsMemo, September 16, 2013.
54. Wenzl, “How to Change a Company and a Country.”
55. See, e.g., Americans for Prosperity Partner Prospectus: January 2017, which outlines AFP's involvement in the 2016 down-ballot races.
56. Democracy Alliance, 2020 Vision Framework for the Democracy Alliance (prepared for Spring 2015 Democracy Alliance Investment Conference, San Francisco, CA); Democracy Alliance, 2020 Vision Portfolio Snapshot: Spring 2015. Matea Gold, “Wealthy Donors on Left Launch New Plan to Wrest Back Control in the States,” Washington Post, April 12, 2015.
57. “The Koch Network: A Cartological Guide,” OpenSecrets.org, January 7, 2014, available at https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2014/01/koch-network-a-cartological-guide/.
58. Robert Maguire and Viveca Novak, “Koch Group's IRS Report Unlocks a Few Mysteries,” OpenSecrets Blog, September 18, 2013; Robert Maguire, “A Least 1 in 4 Dark Money Dollars in 2012 Had Koch Links,” OpenSecrets Blog, December 3, 2013; Mayer, Dark Money.
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60. Lach, “Meet the Man Who Runs The Koch Brothers’ Secret Bank”; Vogel, “Koch World 2014”; Vogel, “The Koch ATM.”
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62. Koch organizations are defined as those listed in Appendix A, plus the Institute for Humane Studies, which the Kochs started supporting decades ago.
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69. Peter Stone, “How a Network Led by the Billionaire Koch Brothers Is Riding the Trump Wave,” The Guardian, December 7, 2016.
70. Bai, The Argument, afterword.
71. See Rufer, “End This Corporate Welfare.”
72. Teles, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement.
73. Deason and Deason, “What Do the Koch Brothers Want?” This op-ed was also cosigned by other wealthy Dallas Koch seminar members, namely, Thomas O. Hicks, Thomas Hicks Jr., Elaine Marshall, E. Pierce Marshall Jr., Sally and Forrest Hoglund, Tandy and Lee Roy Mitchell, and Gayla and Jim Von Ehr, who all said they could be reached through the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, “an organization they support and that organized the Koch brothers’ recent gathering.”
74. The feistiness of wealthy Koch donors who resent being criticized by the left and have decided to “stand up” for what they believe comes through splendidly in O'Connor, “Donors Who Fund Koch Brothers’ Causes Say They're Tired of Being ‘Demonized.’” This article provides a glimpse into social ties and moral solidarity that make the Koch seminars an excellent example of the sort of elite social movement sociologist Isaac Martin featured in his book Rich People's Movements.
75. Hubbard is quoted in Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti, “Inside Koch World,” Politico, June 15, 2012.
76. Hamilton is quoted in O'Connor, “Donors.”
77. Shaughnessy is discussed in O'Connor, “Donors.”
78. Fettig is quoted in O'Connor, “Donors.”
79. O'Neill is discussed and quoted in O'Connor, “Donors.”
80. Shaughnessy is quoted in O'Connor, “Donors.”
81. Philip Bump, “Americans for Prosperity May Be America's Third-Biggest Political Party,” Washington Post, June 19, 2014.
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87. Skocpol and Hertel-Fernandez, “The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism.”
88. Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation (in press), chap. 7.
89. David Leonhardt, “In Health Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality,” New York Times, March 23, 2010.
90. Mayer, Dark Money, 185–97.
91. Eliana Johnson, “Inside the Koch-Funded Ads Giving Dems Fits,” National Review, March 31, 2014; Mayer, Dark Money, 238.
92. Paige Winfield Cunningham, “Meet the Group Blocking Obamacare's Medicaid Expansion,” Washington Examiner, April 8, 2015.
93. Americans for Prosperity, Partner Prospectus: Winter 2015 (Arlington, VA: Americans for Prosperity) available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2035387-merged-document-2.html; Americans for Prosperity Partner Prospectus: January 2017.
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98. Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Vanessa Williamson, and Theda Skocpol, “Elite Donor Consortia and the Shifting Landscape of U.S. Political Organizations” (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, CA, August 2017), 30–49.
99. Steven Teles, “Organizational Maintenance, The Funder-Grantee Nexus, and the Trajectory of American Political Development” (paper presented at Conference Honoring the Life and Work of James Q. Wilson, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 4, 2013).
100. See, e.g., Bartels, Larry M., Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, 2nd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Page, Benjamin I. and Gilens, Martin, Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2018)Google Scholar.
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