America’s richest brothers Charles and David Koch generally like to wield their influence from behind closed doors. The conservative billionaire industrialists might be the most influential political donors in the country, but they work quietly, under the radar.
If they’ve been giving millions towards a Republican victory this election cycle, as has been widely reported, they’ve been doing so via nonprofits that don’t disclose their benefactors, so there’s no paper trail. Younger brother David founded right-leaning tax exempt group Americans for Prosperity, but there’s no way of telling whether he or Charles are funding the outfit, which spends millions on anti-Obama ads in swing states.
Slowly, though, the Kochs are coming out of the shadows as the election draws nearer. This Sunday, David Koch and his wife Julia will host GOP contender Mitt Romney at their palatial summer home on sought-after Meadow Lane in Southampton, New York. This is the first time Koch has hosted an official Romney campaign event — indeed, the first time either Koch has officially come out in support of the Governor’s campaign.
In the fall, the two were firmly behind Herman Cain as their candidate of choice. At an Americans for Prosperity Foundation event I attended in Washington, D.C., Cain called himself a “Koch brother from another mother” to wild applause. Since Cain’s campaign ended, the Kochs have remained mum on who they’d like to see in the White House.
Sunday’s event amounts to a coup for Romney: while he has a significant number of billionaire backers — at least 32 of the Forbes 400 richest Americans at last count — the Kochs are every Republican politician’s dream donors. They’ve made it clear they’ll spend whatever it takes to remove Obama from the top job, and they have deep pockets: $50 billion between them thanks to hugely successful family conglomerate Koch Industries. Some D.C. insiders believe the pair is budgeting about $400 million towards the fight.
Whether Romney-backing super PAC Restore Our Future will benefit from that largesse remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the two are now mobilizing their rich, powerful network out in the open. For years the two have thrown biannual summits where fellow billionaires and power players discuss politics, but these events are shrouded in secrecy, held in resorts that are often completely booked out for privacy purposes. Sunday’s event will see David Koch formally and publicly throwing his hat in the ring for Romney with his rich friends and Hamptons neighbors at his side.
Team Romney isn’t talking about the private dinner, which will cost guests $50,000 a plate ($75,000 per couple). Southampton Police are expected to be out in force alongside the Secret Service on the lush expanse of Meadow Lane, where billionaire tycoon Leon Black and fashion designers Calvin Klein and Tory Burch also have homes.
Also out in force: protesters. As the Koch brothers’ profile has increased, there’s scarcely an event connected to the two that isn’t the target of activists from the Occupy movement. Busloads of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Manhattan will be on the beach on Sunday afternoon, waving signs and chanting. They’ll be joined by like-minded members of MoveOn, United New York, Allign New York, and a handful of other organizations, including the somewhat incongruous Occupy the Hamptons.
Organizer Aaron Black said he sees the Kochs as a representation of everything that’s wrong with US politics. “Our election’s not for sale,” he said. “We’re tired of these guys trying to buy our government.”