A colleague came into our office the other day to complain about the Koch brothers. To be honest, being only moderately versed in doublespeak, we did not really follow all of it.
Something, something, something, the Kochs are bad, they use billions in oil money to lobby against environmental regulations, rather than investing in development. Something, something, something. Citizens United was wrong.
We told him our commitment to freedom of speech was near absolute.
We were careful to clarify that we did not mean “free speech”—thoughts are free, but speech requires a forum, and fora have always been paid for by someone—but rather speech that is free of forceful interference.
Frustrated, he left with the parting shot that, “I guess the First Amendment, to you, then, means that elections can be bought by anyone with enough money to buy them.”
We called after him down the hall, “Money follows ideas. Not the other way around.”
He should have waited another day. Then he could have watched us squirm as we were forced to defend the Koch brothers’ bid for control of Cato.
The Kochs’ version of the story is that they have a contractual right to obtain controlling interest now that shareholder Bill Niskanen has passed away. If Cato really believes in property rights, it will respect that right. In any case, the additional shares will not be used interfere with Cato’s libertarian mission or activities.
The other version of the story is that the Kochs want to use Cato as a resource for their non-libertarian political organization, Americans For Prosperity, whose current mission is to defeat Obama. In an effort to make Cato more useful to that mission, the Kochs will inevitably interfere with its libertarian essence.
The Kochs are right to thrown down a challenge about the sanctity of contract and property rights. It is, as always, where we stand in the hard cases that defines us. To serve as a useful arm of the libertarian movement, Cato must honor contract and property rights, even when exercised by the Kochs.
More importantly, if the Kochs win, what do they have? A building? Computers and office supplies? Support staff? Even some bank accounts?
Cato would be useful to Americans For Prosperity precisely because Cato has achieved a level of success, respect, authority and resources that—despite the Kochs’ billions—Americans For Prosperity has not. Cato’s success is a reflection of the dedicated libertarian analysts who work there. As Julian Sanchez’s pre-resignation letter illustrates, the minds of those analysts are not for sale.
And without them, Cato is just a building and a name.
It bears noting that the Kochs have not been Cato’s biggest contributors for a number of years.
Sleep easy, friends. Money follows ideas.
Not the other way around.