Cato’s Ian Vasquez on What the Kochs Have Wrought
My colleague Ian Vasquez, prompted by comments from Prof. Robert Lawson, explains how the Kochs’ attempt to turn Cato into a Koch-owned operation threatens to unfairly undermine the reputations of institutions and scholars who merely receive some sponsorship from the Kochs:
I’m surprised and disappointed by a note that my friend and colleague, Bob Lawson, wrote about the Cato-Koch dispute. Bob proclaimed to be indifferent as to the outcome of the dispute and views Cato’s defense as insulting to our colleagues at GMU, Mercatus and IHS on the grounds that we call into question their intellectual independence.
First, let me say that I have known and worked with Bob since the mid-1990s, I consider him a friend, and I do not doubt—nor have I ever—his integrity and independence as a scholar. I feel the same way about my numerous friends and colleagues at the organizations Bob mentions as I know my Cato colleagues do too.
Our concerns relate to Cato’s autonomy and are well laid out here by Bob Levy. Among other problems, the Koch’s interpretation of the shareholder agreement would, if imposed, turn Cato into a think tank accurately perceived as being owned by the Kochs. Even if you ignore every indication by the Kochs about their intent to fold Cato into their politically partisan operations, I don’t see how you can ignore the damage that their ownership and control would do to Cato’s credibility. As my colleague Gene Healy has explained, the kind of governance structure that has given rise to this dispute does not exist at the Koch-funded policy-oriented organizations Bob cites; their structure and rules pose no threat to their integrity. It is unfortunate that the press now questions the independence of Koch-supported institutions. But that is the fault of the Koch’s own suit and heavy-handed take-over attempt, rather than Cato’s efforts to rely a on governance practice common among non-profits.
So let’s be clear. We are not fighting to defend our boss or our jobs as Bob Lawson implies. As Bob Levy pointed out, Ed Crane has offered to retire in an expedited fashion in exchange for abandoning the shareholder agreement that threatens Cato’s integrity, but the Kochs appear to be more interested in taking control. And Cato staffers who have been outspoken on this issue are the least likely to keep their jobs in the event of a Koch-controlled institute. The fact that many of my colleagues, both senior and junior, have announced their resignation if the Kochs prevail, should dispell any doubts about what they feel is really at stake. For the record, I include myself among those who would resign if the Kochs take over.