The Koch boys are at it again

Mitch Bendis

Since the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010 that allowed unlimited private donations to political campaigns, the Koch brothers have faded into the mainstream media’s light now and then. The Koch brothers, David and Charles, are business moguls with a net worth of nearly 50 billion dollars each. That is an incredible amount of money, and the brothers do well to make more and spend more. As many people know, David and Charles spend a lot of money on political movements. Whether it be political action committees for candidates or ideological watchdog groups, the Koch brothers can be expected to have their hands in the cookie jar of many. 

In the past week, two big news stories from the press seemed unrelated: the sale of Time magazine to Meredith Corporation and the failed Project Veritas sting. Project Veritas, a right-wing organization that aims to uncover bias within the mainstream media, was embarrassed on the national stage last week when the Washington Post uncovered a long-planned Veritas operation against the Post. The sting by Veritas involved an employee of theirs posing to Post reporters as an Alabama resident, with false accusations against Roy Moore. The gambit, according to the Post, was to bait the reporters into revealing a partisan agenda against Moore and Alabama Republicans. Not only did the Post refuse to give in, but they also released an investigative story about the shady and unethical journalism that Project Veritas practices.

A few days later, Time magazine announced that they were bought for 2.8 billion dollars by a new owner: Meredith Corporation, an Iowan media group known for its local flavor. However, the specifics of the deal raised a few eyebrows: $650 million of that deal came from an equity firm owned by none other than David and Charles Koch. With the reputation the Kochs have gathered, many media advocates cried foul; a former editor of Time spoke about his fear of a Koch-ran magazine using the Time name to peddle an anti-climate change agenda, 

“it is perverse and dangerous for two billionaires with no commitment to factual truth to be permitted to buy a magazine that has been a voice for reason and use it to further their narrow business interests.”

The same day Time was sold, media outlets started reporting on another revelation related to the Koch brothers: a charity associated with the Kochs donated almost two million dollars to Project Veritas. All of a sudden, David and Charles were in the national limelight for shady money deals once again. Donors Trust, the charity that donated to Veritas, is an umbrella charity that receives millions from private organizations, like Koch-owned companies, and distributes the funds to smaller conservative charities. According to the Donors Trust website, they are,

“absolutely committed to a clearly defined purpose and mission – supporting causes and public policies that preserve our constitutionally protected liberties and strengthen American civil society through private institutions rather than government programs.”

The outcry over the Kochs’ involvement with Time and Veritas is, however, extremely overblown. Regarding the Time acquisition, Meredith Corporation released a statement clarifying the Koch brothers’ involvement in the deal. Meredith stressed that the Koch firm will receive no seats on the board of directors and will not be involved in any editorial or managerial decisions, opting instead to be “passive partners” in both Meredith and Time. The Kochs simply do not seem interested in using Time to push their political agenda, as they have both frequently commented on their belief in maintaining Time’s storied and principled reputation. Even if the Kochs wanted to influence Time’s content, they would have no structural or legal way to do so; they are simply investors in the new Meredith Corporation. While they will own a substantial amount of the company, they are still just stock owners. They will receive financial reports, vote on stockholder matters, and collect their dividends. They have absolutely no way to influence editorial decisions, end of story.

The Koch connection to Project Veritas is also weak, at best. The money trail from Koch to Project Veritas is as follows: Charles Koch serves as chairman of the tax-exempt Knowledge and Progress Fund, that Fund donated millions to the Donors Trust, who then donated $1.7 million to Project Veritas. At the time of writing, there is no clear evidence that the money given to Veritas was ever owned by a Koch in the first place.

Obviously, these two stories hitting at the same time is a public relations nightmare for the Koch brothers. David and Charles already have a terrible public image, and this double-whammy will not gain them any friends. However, as it relates to Time and Project Veritas, the Koch brothers have done nothing wrong or unethical. They are simply doing what many successful business owners do: investing, acquiring, and donating.