Having Spent Millions Influencing Three Branches of Government, Kochs Look to Buy Fourth Estate

The billionaire industrialist Koch brothers have spent tens of millions for decades on a long-term plan to reshape the legislative, executive, and judicial branches according to a corporate-friendly form, and may now make inroads into what is often referred to as the fourth branch of government: the press.

Koch Brothers ExposedThe New York Times reports that the Kochs are considering a purchase of the Tribune Company's eight regional newspapers, which would give them control of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune as well as papers in electoral battleground states.

Newspapers have been losing advertising dollars for years and have never been particularly profitable, so the potential purchase is not about generating revenue. It is instead about controlling the discourse.

A source who attended a major Koch political strategy summit three years ago said the goal "was never 'How do we destroy the other side,'" but instead, "it was 'How do we make sure our voice is being heard?'"

News outlets with an ideological slant are nothing new. But news outlets that act as an arm of a wider operation to reshape the American political landscape means a press that is less "free," and less able to check special interest influence over government.

"Kochtopus" Influence is Widespread

For years, David and Charles Koch have spent tens of millions "making their voice heard" in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. For example:

  • Koch Industries has given millions to candidates for state and federal office, and the Kochs have poured an undisclosed amount into secretly-funded "dark money" groups that in turn have spent millions on legislative elections. The Kochs announced plans to help raise $400 million to elect Republicans in the 2012 elections, for example, but the total amount raised and spent is not known. They've been a major funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which generates corporate-friendly "model" legislation for the states, as well as funding a variety of advocacy organizations, like Americans for Prosperity (AFP).
  • With respect to the Executive Branch, the Kochs pledged $60 million to defeat Barack Obama in 2012, but had greater success with the 42nd president, George W. Bush: in the months leading up to the 2000 presidential elections, Koch Industries faced $350 million in fines for concealing illegal benzene releases from a Texas refinery, but after Bush became president, all criminal charges were dropped and the case was settled. On the state level, the Kochs bankrolled the gubernatorial campaigns for right-wing candidates like Scott Walker, then propped-up the reactionary reforms with millions in spending by AFP and related groups. In Wisconsin alone AFP spent $10 million defending Walker's union-busting bill and aiding him in the 2011 recall.
  • The Kochs have also spent millions funding "judicial junkets" that provide all-expenses-paid trips to fancy resorts for sitting judges to receive "education" on corporate-friendly legal issues. In recent years, David Koch's Americans for Prosperity has also increasingly grown active in state and local judicial races, spending millions to influence traditionally non-partisan elections for judge. The Kochs have also funded groups like the Federalist Society, which aims to foster right-wing legal thought and create a network of right-leaning lawyers and judges, as well as bankrolling a variety of conservative legal organizations.

Owning Media Can Amplify Koch's Influence

The media has often been referred to as the "fourth branch of government" or the "fourth estate:" a reference to the vital role that a free press plays in checking the other three branches of government, regulating and tracking the influence of special interests like the Kochs, and ensuring a well-informed citizenry.

Staffers at the newspapers eyed by the Kochs are worried about the brothers eliminating this watchdog role in favor of "using a major news media as a vehicle for their political voice." And that would be bad news for those communities the papers serve.

By the Kochs extending their tentacles into the fourth estate, they can significantly expand their relative power and influence, particularly by controlling an institution that might expose their efforts to manipulate the other three branches. And by expanding their control over the press the Kochs could have even more power to reshape the American political landscape.


I find this incessant hysteria about the Kochs insane. They are businessmen. They have made themselves wealthy by producing goods and services that others voluntarily choose to buy. Unlike government, there is no coercion. If you don't want to buy their refined oil products, then don't drive a car, ride a bus, fly a plane, or heat your home. If you don't want to use their Georgia Pacific paper products, then buy another brand. Or buy no brand at all. If you are one of the 50,000 or so employees who they employ to produce the stuff their customers voluntarily choose to buy, and you are not pleased by your salary and benefits like health insurance and pension plans, then find another employer. Start your own business. Or stay home. If they buy the Trib out of bankruptcy, it will be a business deal. The balance sheet will be cleaner and the debt burden lighter. Presumably it will be cash flow positive. To succeed, as with all business ventures, the managers and editors they employ MUST provide a product that people voluntarily choose to buy - whether it is a subscription to the paper or a spot to display advertising. Those editors will publish local, regional, and national news that they believe their customers value. Will they personally write op-eds that convey their point of view? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It's not clear to me that the goal is anything other than a business venture. But if they do publish op-eds that convey their libertarian and/or conservative leanings, so what? The readers who are so close minded to opinions they don't agree with can choose not to read. Or choose to cancel the subscription. It's how freedom works.

And when wealthy corporate oligarchs buy up all the media outlets, where will we turn for news? This is not a product like paper towels, this is a propaganda platform that will spin the news to push their own political agenda which benefits THEIR investments. Should the wealthy in this country have that much power???? I do not believe people are savy enough to discern when news and issues are spun through the media. Ex. FOX calls itself fair and balanced and is anything but.... Look at the seniors in this nation who watch only FOX. The Koch brothers have sworn to diminish the government of this great nation. They would see government in the hands of the corporations, not the voting public. To benefit whom?

Replies abound! If you are referring to FOX and you really mean Glenn Beck's TV program migrating from the FOX channel to "The Blaze" Network then you miss the spin entirely. You refer to "FOX" media so that if you add the current FOX network to the lineup then you should know that as a Senior Citizen, #1)I channel surf continually to garner a cross section of what's happening and when I find the most "likely" scenario and possibility of validity, I stick with that channel. #2) I subscribe to both Charter Cable for their TV,phone and Computer network and since they do not provide "THE BLAZE" TV channel....I also subscribe to the DISH Network so that I have access to "THE BLAZE" 24/7! I live in what is described as a "college town" and my local Charter network has a listing of the names of the customers who have called in asking to have "THE BLAZE" added to their programing guide. I was informed, after calling on three occasions in a two month period to check on the status of my request, that I was the first and only name on the list! THE SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH lives on and if the Koch Brothers can deliver it in print, then I'll sign up with them as well. If they make money as a bonus, then good for them! Capitalism at work; makes work and jobs, leading to a healthier economy for all>>> Nothing wrong with that income stream. If they want to put their views in the hands of the public through their corporation(s), the results will reveal success or failure. Isn't that what America is all about? Let's all expand our own sphere of influence and grow this nation back to where it belongs....WE THE PEOPLE!

I find your defense of the Koch bros. as merely benign businessmen to be insane. They are ideologues with an agenda and the money to try and implement it. In their vision of a world there would be no unions, no public education, no social security or other "safety nets", no marriage equality, no environmental protections. It would be every man for himself and the gov't would do nothing but protect the interests of the wealthy.

When I was in journalism school, it was considered "selling out" to take a job in PR. But now, selling out takes on a whole new meaning. There was a time when the FCC would not have allowed this sort of purchase of the Fourth Estate, but after years of regulatory gutting spawned by special interests, this is what "selling out" has become. Fairness, and accuracy, and the public good be damned. According to some special interests seeking protection, that was the "liberal" press. I've got news for you. They've been falling down on the job of being "liberal" for years. So now buy them out, just like some bought our government. Next, buy the public record. The gun lobby already owns the right to be in charge. Gun regulation in the US is not new. In March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan and White House Press Secretary James Brady were shot on a Washington, D.C. street. The “Brady Bill” became law in 1993. It imposed a waiting period to buy a handgun and required buyers to undergo background checks. In 1994, the Assault Weapons Ban outlawed certain classes of semi-automatic guns and large-capacity magazines. It expired 10 years later. And just in case my one source, (If I were on the job, and not editorializing, it would have been two.) is inaccurate, here's its link: http://www.wcti12.com/Guns-In-America/History-of-gun-control-in-the-U-S/-/18553878/18563348/-/iostkt/-/index.html These were regulations imposed by a harder-to-influence Congress, and we, as citizens, have since allowed their work to be undone by money. Is that what one calls "success" for the perpetrators who profited? Too few understand how the media is, by necessity, the only watchdog that keeps our democracy sound. Does that make it "liberal?" Good journalists know that truth and opinion are not the same thing. There are many opinions, yet so few good journalists left on anyone's payroll to tell the truth. You want freedom? Well, now that cameras track your every move, what will happen when your "opinions," true or not, go against the grain of those in power who wish to silence you? You might feel free if you agree with the opinions of the Koch Brothers, but what will happen when one day you don't? Or worse, what happens when no one gives you the sources and information that may not reinforce your existing opinions, but which are critical to ensuring you retain the freedom to decide? Now I'll cross my fingers that someone doesn't buy my "opinions" right out of cyberspace.

The John Birch Society/libertarians have been trying to ingratiate themselves into mainstream politics since the 60's - 70's. Typically they were regarded as third party candidates at the local, state and national levels. However, they are no longer on the fringe as a third party but are represented in local, state and national levels as Republicans with an agenda with the mantra "my way or the highway" kind of thinking. If you look at the more than thirty states with a republican governor and legislature you will find the same bills regarding abortion, election laws, state funding for all businesses, emphasis on charter schools, dismantling what little unemployment benefits are available and a deemphasis on those who need support due to the present job market etc. For God's sake, make these people accountable and transparent who are trying to dismantle our way of life based on their ideology, wealth and social mores to be the norm for our country. The Koch Brothers may have many billions to buy local, state and national elections, but I truly believe they cannot and will not buy the American people at any price. DO NOT SELL YOUR PAPERS TO THE KOCH INDUSTRY. Thank you. Emma Rashinsky Florida