Profile of Koch brothers misguided

The Aug. 30 issue of The New Yorker Magazine ran an article called “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War Against Obama.” The article, of course, is about the Koch family from Wichita, and primarily about brothers Charles, who runs Koch Industries from its Wichita headquarters, and David, who lives in New York and spends much of his time involved in philanthropy.

The author of the article obviously doesn’t like the Kochs and, more importantly, doesn’t like their politics, their privacy or their philanthropy. She portrays the Kochs as sinister figures hiding behind a plethora of companies and foundations and supporting political and social groups who oppose the liberal/progressive agenda. Undoubtedly, the purpose of the article is to be a “wake-up” call to the American public about the “evil” Koch family.

Personally, I find that the article is rather “ho-hum” and that most Kansans involved in political and financial affairs already know about the Kochs and their support for causes they believe in. David Koch’s run for the vice presidency on the Libertarian ticket several years ago was hardly a secret. I also think that unless the Kochs have acted illegally in some way in their political and philanthropic activities, then they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.

The whole idea that a desire for privacy, even anonymity, when one makes donations is sinister is one I reject wholly. Although I can hardly claim to be a major donor to any cause, I do give what I can to various causes I believe in and I almost always stipulate that gifts I give be anonymous. I do that not because I have something to hide. I just believe that true charity should by anonymous.

As a result of The New Yorker article and follow-ups in various media around the United States, there seems to be a movement intent on portraying the Kochs as part of a sinister, wealthy, elite conspiracy aimed at taking over the world. I have two answers to that.

First, if there is such a conspiracy and it has been so badly concealed that a reporter from The New Yorker was able to uncover it, then we’ve nothing to worry about because the conspirators are incompetent.

If, on the other hand, there is a group of wealthy industrialists who are using their wealth to support a political agenda they favor, then, so long as they are in compliance with state and federal laws, they are fully entitled to do so. If there are folks out there who don’t want this to happen, then change the law. But until the law changes or people like the Kochs break the law, I think that they, just like you and I, have a right to give their money to whomever they want, and if they wish to maintain their privacy, that’s their right as well. It’s a free country, isn’t it?

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.