The Koch Brothers' twisted beauty pageant: The disturbing way they're choosing which GOP candidate to buy

The conservative billionaires are throwing a lavish party this weekend to decide which candidate they want to buy

By Heather Digby Parton


Published July 31, 2015 3:13PM (EDT)

  (AP/Jim Cole/Phelan M. Ebenhack/M. Spencer Green/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Jim Cole/Phelan M. Ebenhack/M. Spencer Green/Photo montage by Salon)

People who regularly read my byline will recall that back in April I wrote about poor Scott Walker making a huge gaffe just as it seemed like the Koch brothers, his presumed benefactors, were ready to go all-in on his campaign. This resulted in a postponement of any endorsement in the GOP primary in favor of an "audition" among other candidates later in the summer.

Well, the big day is upon us. Politico reported this week that a handful of candidates have made the final cut and have been invited to make one last tryout for the starring role in the Kochs' big 2015 Summer Super-Pageant:

Four leading GOP presidential candidates – Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker – are traveling to a Southern California luxury hotel in coming days to make their cases directly to the Koch brothers and hundreds of other wealthy conservatives planning to spend close to $1 billion in the run-up to the 2016 election. The gathering – which also will include former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, but notably not Sen. Rand Paul — is hosted by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the umbrella group in the Kochs’ increasingly influential network of political and public policy outfits. It represents a major opportunity for the candidates at a pivotal moment in the presidential primary.

The crowded field of GOP contenders is competing aggressively for the support of uncommitted mega-donors as the campaign hurtles towards its first debates in what’s expected to be a long and costly battle for the Republican nomination. Freedom Partners’ annual summer conference is set for August 1 through August 3, and is expected to draw 450 of the biggest financiers of the right for sessions about the fiscally conservative policies and politics that animate the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch and many of the donors in their network.

Most have the capability to write seven- or even eight-figure checks to the super PACs fueling the GOP presidential primary, and a significant proportion have yet to settle on a 2016 choice, or are considering supporting multiple candidates. That includes Charles and David Koch, as well as Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund billionaires Paul Singer, both of whom will be represented at the conference by advisers, and a number of other attendees of past conferences whose 2016 leanings are being closely watched.

The article stresses that the Kochs are not going to officially anoint their choice but their big checks, and those of their billionaire buds, are being closely watched for signs of who the "smart money" is betting on to come out on top. The current frontrunner Donald Trump was not invited, and according to this article is being actively blocked by the Koch network. Obviously, they think the eventual winner will be one of those four candidates (plus Carly Fiorina, for some reason.) Think about that for a moment. There are some extremely rich Republicans out there who think that Ted Cruz has what it takes to be president.

That in mind, let's take a look at Cruz's latest, shall we? In a blatant attempt to make Trump and Huckabee look like loser moderates, the Texas bomb thrower said the following earlier this week about the Iran nuclear non-proliferation agreement:

“If this deal is consummated, it will make the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism. Billions of dollars under control of this administration will flow into the hands of jihadists who will use that money to murder Americans, to murder Israelis, to murder Europeans.”

If that isn't an illustration of just how hard it is for this crop of GOP hopefuls to out-demagogue one another, I don't know what is. Chamberlain to Hitler to radical Islamic extremist. There's nothing left for Lindsey Graham to fulminate about except Satan.

One big money guy did call Cruz on the carpet for his hyperbole:

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President Obama raised objections as well, which Cruz volleyed with this overhead slam:

“Nowhere in President Obama’s remarks did he dispute the underlying facts. Nowhere in President Obama’s remarks did he point to any other organization on the face of the globe that would be a larger global financier of radical Islamic terrorism than the Obama administration is trying to become."

The president didn't reveal any larger global financiers of radical islamic terrorism besides himself, which proves that he is it! Point, set, match.

Marco Rubio, meanwhile, is incoherent on the most important issues of the day, Scott Walker believes that fighting kindergarten teachers in Wisconsin is equivalent to fighting ISIS, and Jeb Bush is proving that he's committed to carrying on the Bush family's toxic legacy in the middle east and telling seniors that Social Security and Medicare have to go. (Considering the competition, maybe Fiorina really is a contender.) Clearly, the GOP presidential frontrunners aren't exactly the best and the brightest.

But the show must go on, and what kind of Big Top circus would it be without a first class ringmaster? With all the major conservative stars from every medium to choose from -- from Megyn Kelly to Sean Hannity to Rich Lowry to Eric Erickson -- it appears that the Kochs have gone in a different direction for their weekend soiree:

Politico's chief White House correspondent Mike Allen has been booked to emcee part of an event set up by a group funded by the Koch brothers designed to connect Republican presidential candidates with wealthy donors, according to Politico.

Keep in mind that this is not a presidential debate for the public. It isn't an issues forum or a town hall for voters and constituents. This is a meeting for big Republican donors to decide which candidate to give gigantic, unlimited campaign contributions thus putting their thumbs on the scale of democracy. And a highly respected establishment journalist is helping them do it. This isn't even the first time this year that a mainstream journalist has performed this little function for the Kochs. Last January, ABCs Jonathan Karl moderated a similar q-and-a for the benefit of the GOP megabucks network. As Think Progress noted, this raises some serious ethical questions. Marc Cooper of the University of Southern California’s School for Communication and Journalism, told them:

Karl’s involvement amounts to “an in-kind contribution to a partisan group that is clearly aimed at positioning for the 2016 race,” noting, “The public has no input or access and no public service is being performed. Karl has no business being there.”

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states that journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived,” and “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.” The fact that Allen states he has "editorial control of the questions" actually makes it worse -- he's lending his own credibility and expertise to the task at hand: helping the billionaires pick their boy.

Needless to say, nobody in the establishment media cares about this. They see nothing wrong with journalists privately helping the Kochs try to buy the election. They like to think they're all of the same class and share their interests. And frankly they do:

Attendees at Mitt Romney’s third annual retreat this weekend will have the chance to go skeet shooting with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham or play flag football with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. They can even do “Sunrise Pilates” with Bloomberg reporter Mark Halperin and the former first lady aspirant Ann Romney.

Meanwhile, Roy Edroso surveys the the entire right wing as it has a simultaneous aneurysm over a liberal comedian who hosts a liberal comedy show being invited to the White House. Because it proves that he sold out:

[T]he New York Post's Kyle Smith calls Stewart a "partisan hack" who "allowed himself to be seduced by power. He sold out. He dined with those he should have been dining upon."

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Stewart's audience was never under any illusion that Stewart was politically neutral.  If these conservatives thought he was they missed the joke for 16 years. But that description very aptly describes someone else. And he'll be dining with a whole bunch of Republican billionaires and candidates this very week-end.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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