Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) talks a good game as an uncompromising conservative. But before he vowed to destroy Obamacare only to admit he may use it, before he forsook rock'n'roll—back when he was a private appellate lawyer charging $695 an hour, Cruz forcefully argued positions that contradict what he now espouses. Some examples from the Ted Cruz Wayback Machine:
Federal stimulus money
THEN: In 2009, he wrote a brief arguing that giving federal stimulus money to retired Texas teachers "will directly further the greater purpose of economic recovery for America."
NOW: Obama's economic program is "yet another rehash of the same big-government stimulus programs that have consistently failed to generate jobs."
BIG JURY AWARDS
THEN: As a lawyer, Cruz defended a $54 million jury award to a severely disabled New Mexico man who had been raped in a group home, asserting that "a large punitive damages award is justified by the need to deter conduct that is hard to detect and often goes unpunished."
NOW: Wants to spread Texas-style tort reform—which caps punitive damages at $750,000—to the rest of the nation.
The death penalty
THEN: Cruz worked on the Supreme Court case of a Louisiana man who'd been wrongfully sentenced to death, stating that prosecutorial misconduct undermined "public confidence in the criminal-justice system."
NOW: "I trust the criminal-justice system to operate, to protect the rights of the accused, and to administer justice to violent criminals."
There are few members of Congress more opposed to using government funds to boost the economy than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). As a candidate in 2011, he blasted President Barack Obama's job creation agenda as "yet another rehash of the same big-government stimulus programs that have consistently failed to generate jobs." Government, he went on, "doesn't create jobs. The private sector…creates jobs." In office, Cruz has inveighed against the president's "failed stimulus, which reminds us that jobs are not created by the federal government"—a message he's sure to repeat if he launches a presidential bid, which looks more likely by the day.
But before entering politics, when he was a $695-an-hour lawyer in private practice, Cruz once delivered a full-throated defense of the stimulus spending he now condemns. In a little-noticed legal brief Cruz filed in July 2009 on behalf of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, he argued in favor of the legality and constitutionality of the Texas state government using federal stimulus money to cut a one-time $500 check to some 250,000 retired teachers. Moreover, Cruz touted the economic benefits of the payments and noted that they would help fulfill the mission of Obama's stimulus. These $500 checks, Cruz wrote, "will directly impact the [Texas] economy…and will directly further the greater purpose of economic recovery for America."
At their most recent retreat in Southern California two weeks ago, the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and 450 of their donor-allies announced plans to spend $889 million over the next two years to influence state and federal elections and shape the national discourse. The money would go to bankrolling political activity, funding think tanks and academic research, and fueling grassroots organizing efforts around the country—all in support of the Kochs' pro-business, free-market-centric ideology. That eye-popping, nine-figure goal made national headlines, but what wasn't reported was that the Kochs and their allies were already well on their way to banking that huge amount of money.
Donors at the Palm Springs confab pledged $249 million toward funding the Koch brothers' grand plan, according to two sources with knowledge of the fundraising haul. A spokesman for Freedom Partners, the organization that hosts the donor summits and helps distribute the money raised at them, declined to comment. If the Koch network raises comparable sums at its remaining donor retreats between now and November 2016—it tends to hold two to three such gatherings a year—it will easily meet, if not surpass, its $889 million target.
The retreats—first hosted by the Kochs in 2003, when a mere 17 people attended—serve not only as strategy sessions but as showcases and fundraisers for an array of conservative and libertarian organizations, including more politically active outfits like Americans for Prosperity, wonky think tanks, and issue-based nonprofits focusing on veterans issues, health care, and seniors. Typically, toward the end of each retreat, donors gather for lunch and take turns pledging big amounts for Koch-backed causes.
If the Kochs hit their $889 million goal, it would more than double the $407 million raised by the brothers' network during the previous presidential cycle. After all that spending failed to produce major gains for the GOP in 2012, donors were left scratching their heads—and blaming the Republican Party's field of candidates, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney. But in the recent midterm elections, the Koch network reportedly set a $290 million target and ultimately fared far better, propelling conservative stalwarts, such as Iowa's Joni Ernst and Arkansas' Tom Cotton, to victory and helping the GOP retake control of the US Senate.
"If you're going to play in this arena, you don't play only when it's lukewarm, you play when it gets hot, too, and it's gotten hot," says a friend of the Kochs. "They're still playing."
Now more than ever, elected officials, especially politicians with presidential aspirations, covet an invitation to appear at a Koch donor retreat. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke at the Kochs' June 2011 event in Vail, Colorado. In his introduction of Christie, David Koch described the governor as "my kind of guy." Ernst, a self-described "little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa" then running for US Senate, appeared at the Kochs' summer 2014 retreat, and she thanked the people in attendance for helping drive her ascent, according to leaked audio of her remarks. "The exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you," she said, "that really started my trajectory."
At the most recent retreat, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made an appearance, as did Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The three senators and possible GOP presidential contenders appeared together on a panel, moderated by ABC News' Jonathan Karl and livestreamed to members of the media, and discussed domestic and foreign policy issues.
The Kochs surprised many with their decision to livestream the panel. In the past year, the notoriously private Kochs have tiptoed their way toward being more transparent about their plans. (The sources of their funding, however, will continue to remain mostly anonymous.) Freedom Partners, the group overseeing the Koch seminars, launched a super-PAC in 2014 that discloses all of its donors, and the brothers themselves and their top aides have recently given interviews to reveal some of their thinking.
If the Kochs hit their $889 million target, they will essentially function as a third party in US politics, and they can expect far greater scrutiny and criticism as their operation continues to grow. But those close to the brothers and their network do not expect them to be spooked by even more attention. "If you're going to play in this arena, you don't play only when it's lukewarm, you play when it gets hot, too, and it's gotten hot," Nestor Weigand, a friend of Charles Koch and Freedom Partners board member, told Mother Jones editor and Koch biographer Daniel Schulman. "They're still playing."
Americans for Prosperity, the free-market advocacy group established by the Koch brothers, mounts battles around the country on issues big and small via its nationwide network of chapters. Right now in North Carolina, AFP is vigorously opposing the revival of a state tax credit for renovating historic properties. The credit, which can be claimed by a company or a person, expired at the end of 2014, and the state's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, is pushing to renew it. AFP is working hard to thwart him. But the group's lobbying on this issue might be a tad awkward for one of its main benefactors: David Koch, who cofounded AFP and currently serves as chairman of the AFP Foundation. He used a near-identical tax credit when he renovated his historic Palm Beach villa—and saved money at local taxpayers' expense.
Donald Bryson, the director of AFP-North Carolina, recently told the Fayetteville Observer that the restoration perk was "another one of those tax credits that complicates the tax code." Bryson went on, "We're all for historic preservation, we have no problems with that. But if people are going to do it, they need to do it within the private market. I don't know why that requires a state tax credit."
What Bryson probably didn't know was that David Koch relied on the same type of tax credit when he spruced up Villa el Sarmiento, his 25,000-square-foot historic oceanfront mansion on Palm Beach's swanky South Ocean Boulevard, a decade ago.
In January 2002, the Palm Beach Post reported that Koch's waterfront mansion received one of six tax breaks approved by the town council under Florida's historic restoration tax credit. At the time, Koch was planning a $12 million remodeling of Villa el Sarmiento, a Mediterranean-revival-style structure built in 1923 and designed by famed architect Addison Mizner. Koch's tax break was expected to cost the city $48,000.
Asked about David Koch's 2002 tax deal and his group's opposition to North Carolina's housing restoration credit, Bryson said the current debate is "a different matter altogether." He added: "The historic tax credit in North Carolina was scheduled to sunset under an agreement made by the Governor and General Assembly in 2013. AFP has consistently advocated for simplifying the tax code, including allowing this credit to sunset. However, as long as these tax credits exist, we don't begrudge taxpayers making use of them."
A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity's national office pointed me to Bryson. A spokeswoman for Koch Industries, where David Koch is an executive vice president and board member, did not respond to a request for comment.
But there's a very good reason the media covers the Kochs so closely: Increasingly, the data shows, they're the biggest outside money players in town. By a long shot.
Robert Maguire, a cracker-jack researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the flow of cash (disclosed and dark money) in American elections, lays out, in just five tweets, why exactly the media report on the Kochs so much—and why it makes perfect sense to do so.
In the 2012 campaign, Maguire shows, the Kochs and their network already ranked as one of the biggest outside entities:
The bulk of that cash was dark money—meaning the true source of the contributions was hidden. And the Koch network's dark money spending made up a notable chunk of all reported dark money spending in the 2012 elections:
And as you can see, the Kochs' $889 million goal for 2016 more than doubles its 2012 budget. The figure exceeds the Republican Party's campaign committee spending in 2012 and isn't far off from what the Obama and Romney campaigns each spent in the last presidential race.
(5/5) Now they're announcing they're going to spend much more in 2016 (http://t.co/sIXozm7ilu) So, that's why there's so much focus on Kochs
So there you have it. The Kochs and their allies—again, just a few hundred people hoping to raise and spend nearly $900 million in 2016—are in a different league than their liberal counterparts. Make no mistake: The Democracy Alliance and its state-level counterpart, the Committee on States, are absolutely deserving of tough reporting and serious scrutiny. But at this point, Kochworld is essentially its own political party, on par with the Democratic and Republican parties, and it should be covered just as rigorously.