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Sugar Daddies


What these sugar daddies specifically want from Mitt and his party, besides the usual conservative bullet points (codified in Paul Ryan’s tax-cutting, government-shredding budget), is clear enough: the widest possible regulation-free berth for any vulture businesses they have a hand in, from nuclear waste to “health” nostrums, from new houses to financial products created from those homes’ subprime mortgages. A particularly large wish list is likely to emanate from the Koch brothers, whose privately held business interests are many. Such has been their zeal to protect their gas and oil holdings that they shoveled nearly $25 million into organizations fueling climate-change denial from 2005 to 2008—nearly three times what Exxon­Mobil spent on such spin during that period, in Greenpeace’s accounting. To preserve another profit center, a Koch subsidiary has also backed the recently disbanded Formaldehyde Council, which argued that formaldehyde is “a natural part of our world” rather than “a complete carcinogen,” which is how it is classified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. osha, of course, is exactly the kind of federal agency that would lose funding and gain Koch apparatchiks as staff members in a Romney administration.

Because most sugar daddies are actual people, not corporations, their feelings get hurt when these embarrassing facts are pointed out. The Koch brothers’ lawyer Ted Olson has gone so far as to argue that criticism of his clients by the president and others is akin to the oppression (his word) suffered by the McCarthy era’s innocent victims—who, some may recall, often lost their jobs and sometimes were jailed for their beliefs. In truth, the sugar daddies often have more in common with Joe ­McCarthy himself and bullies like the columnist Walter Winchell who enabled his witch hunts. VanderSloot and the Kochs have a long history of trying to intimidate (often with costly legal actions) the publications or websites that report on them. After Jane Mayer published her 2010 New Yorker examination of the Koch brothers’ often covert role in the tea-party uprising, the Daily Caller, a Washington-based outlet sponsored by Foster Friess and run by Tucker Carlson, assigned a reporter to slime her. (The investigation was spiked once other outlets got wind of it, with even the New York Post rallying to her defense.)

The billionaires’ other tactic for trying to deflect scrutiny is a Gilded Age standby: philanthropy. It’s all but impossible to attend a cultural event or endure a medical procedure in New York City without encountering the name David H. Koch. In February, a few months after Bloomberg Markets magazine, hardly a left-wing rag, reported that a European subsidiary of Koch Industries had long made an end run on American sanctions and sold petrochemical equipment to Iran, Koch played the philanthropy card with a more sympathetic publication, the Palm Beach Post. He gave its reporter a privileged invitation to his “painstakingly restored” Addison Mizner mansion to talk up his largesse to medical research. Koch’s flack told the reporter that her boss hoped his legacy would not be his political activities but “finding a cure for cancer.” A more likely legacy will be his uninhibited financial support of the union-busting rise of the Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, whose current effort to survive a June 5 recall election may in the end prove the second most consequential political battle of 2012.

“In a sense, David Koch is becoming the Andrew Carnegie of his age,” wrote his Palm Beach Boswell. Not exactly. Carnegie, arguably the least egregious of the Gilded Age titans, offers a stunning contrast to Koch. His philanthropic obsessions led him to give away almost all of his wealth, with a reach unmatched by any of his sugar-daddy descendants. He argued for estate taxes and declared that the “proper use” of money was “for public ends” that “would work good to the community.” He had socialist roots in Scotland, preferred frugality to luxury, and was entirely self-made. The Koch brothers, by contrast, inherited hundreds of millions of dollars from their father, Fred, who also bequeathed them a paranoia and unrestrained hatred for political adversaries that would have been anathema to Carnegie. Fred Koch, a founder of the John Birch Society, published a manifesto, A Business Man Looks at Communism, in 1960. It accused Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, of being under the sway of the Kremlin, and described welfare programs as a plot to attract blacks to cities and “foment a vicious race war.”

It defies rationality that the current crop of sugar daddies is in such a rage at the country that has done so well by them. Their tax rates are at modern lows, the Dow has recently hit a four-year high, and their businesses are booming. “Big U.S. companies have emerged from the deepest recession since World War II more productive, more profitable, flush with cash and less burdened by debt” was how The Wall Street Journal summarized the lay of the land this month. It’s workers whose jobs were shed by those companies and remain unemployed who have a right to be enraged, not the sugar daddies. Economic inequality remains at nearly pre-recession levels as 99 percenters struggle to hold their ground, let alone move up the economic ladder.


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