On Oct. 26, 2011 Bill Niskanen, a truly fine gentlemen with whom I’ve met and dined on several occasions, passed away. Bill was from Oregon and, on more than one occasion, he graciously gave up some of his very limited family time, during his annual Christmas visit, to meet with we members of the Oregon Economic Roundtable. Bill was a brilliant economist who served Ronald Reagan on the council of economic advisers. I’m not a Reagan fan and the reason I liked Bill was not that he was a Reagan adviser. I liked Bill because he was kind, intelligent, gracious, and very dedicated to keeping his baby, The Cato Institute, out of partisan politics. Bill was a Libertarian in the best sense of the word. He was not a partisan Republican Theocrat dressed up like a free market capitalist like some of today’s Republican Presidential candidates. He was a true advocate of personal liberty.
Bill was among the small group of shareholders in the privately held Cato Institute. Others include Ed Crane, and both David and Charles Koch. When Bill died, his shares became the property of his widowed wife. Sadly, within just a few short days of Bill’s passing, when everyone should have been mourning his death, Cato learned that the Koch Brothers had some (very partisan) designs on the Institute. They planned, and are now enacting, a lawsuit intended to give them control of the Cato shares that were to be held by Bill’s widow.
The Koch lawsuit is appalling for 2 reasons. First, it is turning the death of a wonderful man into a ridiculous legal spectacle. Second, if the Koch brothers win, they will destroy any possibility of Cato being able to act as an independent think tank. The Koch brothers have admirably funded a number of Libertarian causes but they are not Libertarians. They are very biased partisan Republicans. Some of the most brilliant of Cato’s publications, like their scathing critique of the anti-constitutional acts of the George W. Bush administration, would never have seen the light of day under a Koch controlled organization. Koch majority ownership will make Cato into a Republican puppet, will destroy its ability to perform non-partisan research, and will decimate it’s credibility as a “think tank”.
Charles and David Koch are two brothers who took the small oil company that they inherited from their father in 1967, and parlayed it into a chemical, textile, oil, and commercial products conglomerate with businesses in over 50 countries. Some of their consumer brands include Lycra, Stainmaster, and the brands of Georgia-Pacific like Dixie cups and Brawny. Politics aside, they have much to be proud of. Politically, however, they are major contributors to the Republican party and to the Tea Party movement. That bothers me because I don’t like their politics. But, we have laws that allow them to do what they do, so, I can hate it all I want but I can’t change it. They have every right to support the causes they want to support, even if those causes aren’t to my liking.
The problem here is not their Republican political philanthropy. The problem comes when they start trying to mold a NON-Republican entity into a partisan Republican one. The Cato Institute is, to quote Ed Crane, the “gold standard” in Libertarian think tanks. Cato is as quick to denounce Republican Theocracy, Bush-era constitutional breaches, and Republican anti-gay-rights positions as they are to denounce Democrat-supported socialized medicine, Democrat-supported regulation, and Democrat-supported government social programs. Democrats think that Cato is too “right-wing” and Republicans think they are too “left-wing”. For a Libertarian think tank, THAT is exactly the right place to be. But if total control of the Institute is placed in the hands of Far-right leaning Republican billionaires, then it instantly becomes a Republican political tool not a highly- respected conduit for rational discourse on personal freedom and liberty. So, let the Koch brothers have all the Republican entities then can accumulate but don’t let them have Cato! If they do, then the only organization that challenges everyone in every party to respect liberty, will be discredited and defunct in a matter of months.
This is the reason that I want to urge all of my followers to speak out against the Koch takeover of Cato. It is a partisan power play that will destroy the ability for Cato to be the provider of some much-needed checks and balances. You can like or dislike Cato; you can lean to the left or to the right; but surely you can understand why think tanks can only really do the job of THINKING if they are devoid of partisan political control. Let’s keep Cato, Cato!