Before the Koch brothers entered the political space, which began in a meaningful and coherent way with the founding of Americans for prosperity in 2004, most outside groups were the equivalent of pop-up shops. They will come out of nowhere in the midst of an election – usually a presidential one – spend millions of dollars (from a handful of wealthy donors) and then disappear. From one choice to the next, there was very little continuity in these groups and, importantly, there was no repository for the data collected or lessons learned.
What David and Charles Koch did in the early mid-2000s was the equivalent of building not just a permanent store, but a whole block of them. In doing so, they were helped ̵
1; strongly – by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed political actors like them to spend more freely on their direct efforts to uphold their preferred policies and policies.
Instead of throwing away their considerable wealth – they are both billionaires – in any political operation at night, they were building their own from scratch, not looking at short-term profits, but affecting longer-term changes in culture. So it wasn't just a quasi-political organization. There were brain trusts to incubate the libertarian ideas Koch preferred. There were various foundations for influencing public policy outside the context of campaigns. It was a one-stop-shop political and political shop, sort of like a Republican Shadow Party, but made in the libertarian forms of the Kochis and fully controlled by them.
This was not the only thing the Koch brothers did differently. While most outside groups, by the time Americans for the sake of prosperity did not throw all the money raised from television ads, the Koch brothers instead focused much more on building basic infrastructures – once again focused on sustainability rather than immediate success. Prior to the 2016 election, Americans for Prosperity had state directors in 34 states, according to Jane Meyer of New York.
And while most outside groups sought to use their money to influence presidential races and other high-profile competitions, the cats often poured their money into far less sexy projects than influence state policy (through their contributions to the American Legislative Exchange Council) and winning a majority in state legislatures across the country (thanks to donations from the Republican State Leadership Committee).
The last work that did what the Koch brothers did differently – and changed how they think about what outside groups can do in politics – is their commitment to spend hundreds of millions of their own dollars on their various political and political projects. In the 2012 campaign, Kochs spent about $ 400 million. They promised to spend nearly $ 900 million on the 2016 election, but backed away when Donald Trump – a candidate far removed from Cox's conservative, libertarian position – emerged as the GOP nominee.
At the Koch Brothers Conference in 2018, it became clear that the umbrella organization was changing its focus. "The division of this White House is causing long-term damage," Brian Cookie, co-chair of Koch's network, told CNN. (David Koch also stepped down from the organization in 2018, citing continued health issues.)
Earlier this year, Cochs told donors and supporters that he would not be involved in the 2020 presidential race at all. a decision that was blown up by the Republican National Committee. "Some groups claiming to support the Conservatives are giving up their commitments when deciding their business interests are more important than those of the country or party," read a letter the RNC sent to its donors on the news of Kochs' withdrawal . "This is unacceptable."
In the spring, Koch's network renamed "Stay Together" and outlined a changed mission for the organization in a letter to supporters. Charles Koch wrote:
"We are living in a period of unprecedented progress – economic, social, technological – but not everyone has shared in this progress. While many people are ahead, too many are lagging behind. Our fee is clear: we must stand together to help each person rise. In many ways, this new name already expresses who we are … But this new name also means a new chapter – and a new call to action. "
Then there is no doubt that what the Koch brothers meant – and wanted to mean – for American civilian life, changed long before David Koch's death this week. But his passing is in many ways the end of an era that began in 2004 and dominated politics, especially among Republicans, at least in 2016.
That the Koch organization could even attempt this rotation to a less political and more bipartisan position speaks to the power of what Charles and David Koch built.
You can argue for days what kind of influence they have had on politics, but you cannot dispute that they have changed in major ways – how and what external groups can do when it comes to their day of public discourse, In this regard, what Cochs built – and done – is extremely consequential.