Why Would Koch Brothers Want to Refine Cato Institute?
It seems that the effort by billionaires Charles and David Koch to take control of the libertarian Cato Institute is going poorly. “We are not acting in a partisan manner, we seek no ‘takeover’ and this is not a hostile action,” Charles Koch told Bloomberg News. When you are denying partisanship, takeover ambitions and hostile intentions in one sentence, you probably need to rethink your PR strategy.
The Koch brothers have long supported Cato, which they helped found in Washington in 1977. Recently, however, they have come to consider their creation politically unreliable. In a meeting with Robert Levy, the chairman of Cato’s board of directors, they expressed their intention to remake the institute into a party organ that would aid their effort to unseat President Obama. To do so, however, they need control of the board. They intend to get it by suing the widow of William Niskanen, a recently deceased board member, for control of Niskanen’s shares.
Whether they can pull off this coup is for the courts to decide. But the bigger question is: Why in the world would they want to?
In 2006, the first page of Cato’s annual report included an admiring quote from, well, me. “The libertarian Cato Institute is the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life,” I wrote.
I am not exactly a libertarian. I’m a technocrat. I believe in the government’s ability, and occasionally its responsibility, to help solve problems that the market can’t or won’t resolve on its own. I find much of Cato’s hard-line libertarianism — to the point of purging Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey, libertarians who explored making common cause with liberals on select issues — naive, callous and occasionally absurd. And yet, it’s among a handful of think tanks whose work I regularly read and trust.
That’s because Cato is, well, “the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life.” It advocates those principles when Democrats are in power, and when Republicans are in power. When I read Cato’s take on a policy question, I can trust that it is informed by more than partisan convenience. The same can’t be said for other think tanks in town.