David and Charles Koch, oil tycoons with strong right-wing views and connections, look set to tighten their grip on US politics
-by Ed Pilkington
November 7, 2011- The secretive oil billionaires the Koch brothers are close to launching a nationwide database connecting millions of Americans who share their anti-government and libertarian views, a move that will further enhance the tycoons' political influence and that could prove significant in next year's presidential election.
The database will give concrete form to the vast network of alliances that David and Charles Koch have cultivated over the past 20 years on the right of US politics. The brothers, whose personal wealth has been put at $25bn each, were a major force behind the creation of the tea party movement and enjoy close ties to leading conservative politicians, financiers, business people, media figures and US supreme court judges.
The voter file was set up by the Kochs 18 months ago with $2.5m of their seed money, and is being developed by a hand-picked team of the brothers' advisers. It has been given the name Themis, after the Greek goddess who imposes divine order on human affairs.
In classic Koch style, the project is being conducted in great secrecy. Karl Crow, a Washington-based lawyer and Koch adviser who is leading the development, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did media representatives for Koch Industries, the brothers' global energy company based in Wichita, Kansas.
But a member of a Koch affiliate organisation who is a specialist in the political uses of new technology and who is familiar with Themis said the project was in the final preparatory stages. Asking not to be named, he said: "They are doing a lot of analysis and testing. Finally they're getting Themis off the ground."
The database will bring together information from a plethora of right-wing groups, tea party organisations and conservative-leaning thinktanks. Each one has valuable data on their membership – including personal email addresses and phone numbers, as well as more general information useful to political campaign strategists such as occupation, income bracket and so on.
By pooling the information, the hope is to create a data resource that is far more potent than the sum of its parts. Themis will in effect become an electoral roll of right-wing America, allowing the Koch brothers to further enhance their power base in a way that is sympathetic to, but wholly independent of, the Republican party.
"This will take time to fully realise, but it has the potential to become a very powerful tool in 2012 and beyond," said the new technology specialist.
Themis has been modelled in part on the scheme created by the left after the defeat of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Catalyst, a voter list that shared data on supporters of progressive groups and campaigns, was an important part of the process that saw the Democratic party pick itself off the floor and refocus its electoral energies, helping to propel Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.
Josh Hendler, who until earlier this year was the Democratic National Committee's director of technology in charge of the party's voter files, believes Themis could do for the Kochs what Catalyst helped do for the Democrats.