Billionaire oil and gas magnates Charles and David Koch may not have supported President Donald Trump on the campaign trail, but the reality-star-turned-commander-in-chief is filling his senior White House official positions with people linked in some way to the brothers’ network: 70 percent of his filled senior White House official positions, to be exact.
That’s according to a new report from the Checks & Balances Project, which scrutinized the backgrounds of the 23 senior White House officials with “direct policy influence,” according to C&BP Executive Director Scott Peterson, and found that 16 of them have some link to the Koch brothers.
Some of the connections are tenuous, such as that of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who, in his previous capacity as Republican National Committee chairman, has worked closely with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and House Speaker Paul Ryan, both of whom have long histories of Koch support. Others with stronger ties, such as Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway, who sat on the board of the Koch-funded conservative group Independent Women’s Forum, are more familiar. And other longtime Koch associates in the White House have received somewhat less attention.
For example, Marc Short, Trump’s legislative liaison, was the first president of the nonprofit Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c)(6) organization described by Politico as “the Koch brothers’ secret bank.” Michael Roman, whose appointment as White House director of special projects and research was reported by ProPublica and not announced by the administration, made nearly $269,000 as Freedom Partners’ vice president of research in 2014, a tax filing from the group shows.
Stephen Ford, whose appointment as Vice President Mike Pence’s speechwriter was announced Jan. 25, formerly served as director of writing for Freedom Partners, Office of Government Ethics disclosure forms show. An Associated Press story also dubbed Ford “a Koch communications staffer.”
Asked why the Koch brothers might have so many alumni in the White House, despite their early aversion to a Trump presidency, Peterson, C&PB’s executive director, pointed to the man who's first in the line of succession.
“I think the results of the 2016 election were surprising to everyone, including the Koch brothers,” he told International Business Times. “Luckily, they had someone in place, with Mike Pence.”
Pence himself has a strong connection to the Kochs, as many in his former staff either came from or left for Koch entities, and he’s received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funding from David Koch in his successful — and, in 2016, due to other obligations, withdrawn — bids for Indiana governor.
As for how much this concentration of political donor affiliates in the White House runs against the norm, Alex Keyssar, the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, noted that it was “hard to say.”
“There are usually networks linked to administrations, and a lot might depend on how you defined ‘network,’” he wrote in an email. “It seems to me that the most notable fact is simply that the Kochs have succeeded in placing a lot of their people, and people sympathetic to their views, in policy positions, and that they are influencing policy and its development.”
Comparing the current White House lineup to those of the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said he thought the number of individuals with ties to the massive conservative network “certainly is unprecedented.” The same goes for the sheer size and reach of that network itself, he added.
“This administration has ties to influential and moneyed interests that I don’t think we’ve seen before,” Bookbinder said, adding that this phenomenon contrasted starkly with the president’s anti-establishment, drain-the-swamp campaign rhetoric. “It means that a small group of very wealthy industrialists have tremendous influence over the administration. I think we’re already seeing policy decisions that are helpful to the Koch brothers and other corporate forces, such as with the rollbacks of environmental regulations, with health care policy… not to mention the president’s own interests.”National0