Spying on the Koch Brothers

By Mechanic, Michael | Mother Jones, November/December 2011 | Go to article overview

Spying on the Koch Brothers


Mechanic, Michael, Mother Jones


BROS AND CONS

Eavesdropping on the discreet retreat where the elite meet to plot Obama's defeat

On a gorgeous weekend in late June, hundreds of America's wealthiest conservatives descended on the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, outside Vail, Colorado. The head of a 14-point elk watched impassively from atop a stone fireplace as the guests made their way into a lobby framed by massive wood beams and appointed with plush leather sofas. The entire four-star, 180-room alpine resort was theirs for the weekend, booked in advance by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch for the brothers' hush-hush strategy "seminar" and fundraiser.

The guests' name tags bore monikers that would be familiar to anyone involved in political fundraising. Though the Vail guest list is a jealously guarded secret, the Koch network includes Rich DeVos, cofounder of Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic, and a prolific donor to Focus on the Family and other conservative causes; John Childs, a "notoriously media-shy" Boston private-equity guy who's worth an estimated $1.2 billion and last year doled out $750,000 to outside expenditure groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads; Diane Hendricks, a billionaire roofing-supply magnate who joined the Kochs in supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's recent attacks on public-sector unions; and Charles "Talk Chuck" Schwab, who, along with his wife, Helen, has given more than $330,000 to the Republican Party and its candidates since March 2010- and not a penny to the Democrats. The sort of people who would see nothing amiss about paying $9.05 for a hard-boiled egg from room service

Flitting among such masters of the universe was a quartet of gop governors by the sweet smell of campaign cash. Of the four- Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Rick Perry of Texas, and Rick Scott of Florida- only McDonnell saw fit to disclose the trip on his public calendar.

If the June 2010 Koch (pronounced "coke") seminar in Aspen, Colorado, was any measure, the fortunate few could expect a rousing weekend of workshops, lectures, and panels with titles like "Understanding the Persistent Threats We Face," "Winning the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government," and "Is America on the Road to Serfdom?" But this year, the real focus was making Barack Obama a one-term president.

After settling into rooms featuring custom millwork, feather beds with 400-threadcount linens, and "premium dog bowls" for canine companions, on Sunday evening the attendees were herded outside, where, in the shadow of Beaver Creek Mountain, they broke bread inside a pavilion bedecked with flowers, colored lights, and glittering chandeliers. Audio technicians set up speakers around the perimeter and blasted out static to deter eavesdroppers. (Presumably the attendees were admonished, as they had been in Aspen, not to blog, tweet, or leak information about the event.) As guests tucked into a repast catered by Wolfgang Puck's Spago, Charles Koch took the stage. …

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