By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: March 8, 2021~
We’re starting to see a pattern. When the House Financial Services Committee held its February 18 hearing on the wild, manipulative trading patterns in shares of GameStop, a right-wing front group funded with Koch money sent a surprise witness to testify. The front group was the Cato Institute, which was secretly owned by Charles and David Koch and a handful of men through much of its history. Tomorrow, the Senate Banking Committee will hold its own hearing on the GameStop matter and one of the five witnesses called to testify hails from another bastion of Koch money, influence and dubious history.
The witness we’re referring to is Andrew (Andy) Vollmer, a Senior Affiliated Scholar with the Mercatus Center. It’s a safe bet this witness wasn’t invited by the Chair of the Committee, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, but was invited by one of the numerous radical right Republicans that have landed on this Committee.
Charles and David Koch were the billionaire majority owners of the sprawling fossils fuels and trading conglomerate known as Koch Industries, one of the largest private corporations in the world. David died in 2019, leaving his heirs and Charles as the new majority owners. Charles has been the Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries for more than five decades while simultaneously creating and funding “think tanks” to spew out propaganda on why regulation is bad and privatizing anything run by the government is good. Charles Koch has also increasingly inserted his operations into determining the outcome of elections, by funding of PACs running attack ads against Democrats as well as through an Orwellian political campaign services company known as i360, which we exposed in 2018 as being owned by Koch Industries.
While the details surrounding Koch funding of climate denial “think tanks” has received much attention, Koch’s massive trading operation known as Koch Supply and Trading has remained under the radar. But the presence of Cato and now Mercatus at hearings on GameStop suggests that protecting algorithmic and high frequency trading must be near and dear to the heart of Charles Koch as well as Koch Supply and Trading.
The Mercatus Center is part of George Mason University (GMU). The Associated Press reported that “From 2011 to 2014, the Charles Koch Foundation gave nearly $48 million to George Mason in one form or another, tax records show” and the bulk of that sum was steered to the Mercatus Center.
Sitting on the Board of Directors at the Mercatus Center is Richard Fink, a former Executive Vice President of Koch Companies Public Sector and current Vice Chair of the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute. Also on the Mercatus Center Board is Brian Hooks, President of the Charles Koch Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute. Charles Koch himself is also listed as “Board Member Emeritus” at the Mercatus Center.
In 2018, Matthew Barakat revealed the following in a report published by the Associated Press:
“Virginia’s largest public university granted the conservative Charles Koch Foundation a say in the hiring and firing of professors in exchange for millions of dollars in donations, according to newly released documents.
“The release of donor agreements between George Mason University and the foundation follows years of denials by university administrators that Koch foundation donations inhibit academic freedom.”
Wall Street On Parade broke the story in 2011 that the Mercatus Center had paid Lawrence (Larry) Kudlow at least $332,500 while he was an economic commentator on CNBC. We wrote as follows:
“One of those freedoms most treasured by the Koch brothers is their ability to see a research study done by one of their funded economics departments, then have its dubious data quoted from the mouth of a funded ‘news’ celebrity. From 2002 through 2006, the Koch funded Mercatus Center paid Lawrence Kudlow, a CNBC co-host and later host of his own show, ‘The Kudlow Report,’ a total of $332,500 through his consulting arm, Kudlow & Co. LLC. I obtained the information from public filings Mercatus made with the IRS. It is not known if the Mercatus Center continued to pay Kudlow after 2006. The Mercatus tax filings show $3.1 million paid in a line item called ‘honoraria’ from 2001 through 2007. Emails and phone calls to Kudlow, the CNBC legal department, and three communications executives of both CNBC and NBC/Universal were met with silence, despite a week’s lead time to respond.”
Kudlow became White House Economic Advisor in the Trump administration, which received its marching orders from another Koch front group known as Freedom Partners. Freedom Partners quickly provided the Trump administration with a list of regulations it wanted gutted – like the Paris Climate accord (which Trump revoked on June 1, 2017, a little more than four months after he took office). The Freedom Partners “Roadmap to Repeal” memorandum also threatened those lawmakers who didn’t get on board, writing that “Freedom Partners will hold lawmakers who oppose regulatory relief accountable for their positions.”
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