-By Julian Brookes
April 20, 2012- If the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting – oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.
But no need to invent – Charles and David Koch are the real deal. Over the past 30-some years, they've poured more than 100 million dollars into a sprawling network of foundations, think tanks, front groups, advocacy organizations, lobbyists and GOP lawmakers, all to the glory of their hard-core libertarian agenda. They don't oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the the holiness of free markets. Still, you can't help but notice how neatly their philosophy lines up with their business interests.) They like to think of elected politicians as merely "actors playing out a script," and themselves as supplying "the themes and words for the scripts." Imagine Karl Rove’s strategic cunning, crossed with Ron Paul’s screw-the-poor ideology, and hooked up to Warren Buffett's checking account, and you’re halfway there.
For years, the brothers shunned the spotlight. David Koch used to joke that the family business, the Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries – with annual revenues* estimated at $100 billion, it's the second-biggest private firm in America – was "the largest company you’ve never heard of." But when Barack Obama became president, the Kochs, like a lot of right-wingers, flipped out. They threw their weight behind a stealth campaign to turn back the president’s "socialist" agenda: They were early backers, some say puppet masters, of the Tea Party movement, and when the tea-infused GOP retook the House in the famous midterm "shellacking" of 2010, it was with a big assist from Koch money. (They later blessed the brief, ill-fated presidential run of Tea Party-favorite Herman Cain. That's how crazy – or cynical – these guys are.) Progressive activists and the news media started paying attention – most notably ThinkProgress and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker – and pretty soon the Kochs had become the poster boys of "the 1 percent" and a surefire fundraising tool for the Democratic Party; at the mere mention of the Koch name, liberal wallets fall open.
Now the Kochs are the subject of a blistering (but to all appearances factual) documentary by the activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald. Koch Brothers Exposed aims to show how the brothers' machinations affect the lives of "living, breathing human beings," as Greenwald put it to me at the film’s New York premiere in late March. "When I learned about the damage the Kochs were doing to our democracy, I wanted to make sure more Americans understood what they're up to."