The billionaire Koch brothers, whose outsized political spending has become an issue in the 2012 elections, are attempting to take control of a prominent Washington think tank in a move that would expand their influence in conservative politics, according to court records and interviews. Charles and David Koch, owners of a Wichita-based conglomerate that ranks as one of the largest private corporations in the world, filed a lawsuit this week in Kansas seeking an option to increase their 50 percent control of the Cato Institute.
Cato was most recently divided between four shareholders: the two Koch brothers, Crane and former Cato chairman William Niskanen. The lawsuit centers on the fate of the shares owned by Niskanen, who died in October. The Koch brothers contend that they have the option to buy Niskanen’s shares, but no offer has been made to them, according to the lawsuit. The shares now belong to Niskanen’s widow, Kathryn Washburn.
Cato’s board chairman, Bob Levy, said in an interview that the Koch brothers, who have the power to appoint half of the board, have been choosing “Koch operatives” for members, with an eye to push Cato toward support of the Republican Party. “None of the new directors, with the exception of one, has a reputation as a libertarian,” Levy said. “There are a lot of murky areas between actively supporting candidates and what Cato does now, which is working on issues.” Cato scholars often differ with Republicans, holding an noninterventionist foreign policy, for example, and more liberal positions on immigration, same-sex marriage and several other social issues.As the New York Times explains:
Since Cato was formed, the Kochs have donated about $30 million, officials said, but the bulk came in its first decade; by last year, the Kochs gave no money at all. But the brothers still wield significant influence over Cato’s governance because of its unusual structure, which created four “shareholder” seats, each with shares of capital stock bought for a dollar each. The Kochs have used their shareholder positions to name seven employees and associates to the 16-member board.
Slate also has an interesting article on the subject titled, "Cato Goes to War." It mentions the new Facebook page Save Cato, which is worth a peak.
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post also has an interesting article on why he likes Cato over Heritage.