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Move from Libertarian Party to GOP: Koch brothers change tactics, not beliefs

A New York Times article documents how the Koch brothers exploited a campaign-finance law loophole and shifted their support to Republicans.

Despite the benefit of David Koch's money, the Libertarian ticket received just 1 percent of the vote in the 1980 presidential election.

In a recent post revisiting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “four freedoms” speech and contemplating the ever-changing ways that freedom talk is used in U.S. politics, I mentioned that David Koch of the oil-rich Koch brothers had run for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980, at a time when the party’s platform called for the abolition Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all income taxes.

Nowadays, the hundreds of millions of political dollars the Kochs donate and raise and spend directly on advertising via their Americans for Prosperity network are used to help Republican — not Libertarian — candidates.

Over the weekend, The New York Times, delving more deeply into the Koch brothers relationship with Libertarianism and relying on extensive documentation in an archive of Libertarian Party documents at the University of Virginia, shows that David Koch’s presence on the 1980 ticket was largely designed to take advantage of the loophole in campaign finance laws that allowed a candidate to spend unlimited amounts of his own money to promote his campaign.

“David Koch ultimately contributed about $2.1 million, more than half the [Libertarian] campaign budget,” the Times notes. But Charles and David Koch are not the only Koch brothers, and other family members became concerned that the involvement with Libertarianism was costly and could be bad for the family business long term.

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Despite the benefit of David Koch’s money, the Libertarian ticket received just 1 percent of the vote in the 1980 presidential election (which nonetheless remains the best showing the party has ever made). Reading the Times piece, it seems fairly clear that the Koch brothers haven’t abandoned Libertarianism in favor of Republicanism because of a change of heart, but one of tactics.

That $2.1 million David Koch spent on the Libertarian campaign of 1980 pales in comparison to the $125 million that Americans for Prosperity will spend this year — which includes not only their funds but money they raise from like-minded others — but nowadays Koch money generally flows to the benefits of Republicans. Writes the Times’ Nicholas Confessore:

Since 1980, the Republican Party has moved closer to the Koch family’s views on government regulation. Its rising members now court the Kochs and like-minded donors at twice-yearly “seminars” that the brothers organize. In 2012, David Koch was a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

“I think the Republican Party has a great chance of being successful and that’s why I support it,” Mr. Koch told reporters at an American Prosperity reception in Tampa, Fla., that year. “The Libertarian Party is a great concept. I love the ideals, but it got too far off the deep end, and so I dropped out.”