“INSULT[ing] Our Friends”
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how “Cato partisans” are impugning the integrity of people who work for Koch-sponsored organizations.
Auburn University’s Robert Lawson, co-author of the Economic Freedom of the World annual report has charged that whenever Catoites talk about a threat to Cato’s independence, they “INSULT friends at GMU, Mercatus, IHS, and hundreds of scholars elsewhere (like me) who have benefited from Koch Foundation assistance.” When a friend of mine who works at the Koch Foundation posted David Koch’s March 22 statement on her Facebook page, a commenter charged that Catoites “are saying that Mercatus and Institute for Humane Studies are right wing Republican outfits ruled by the iron fist of the Kochs.” It’s “extremely hurtful,” per Corey “Smurf” Carpenter.
I don’t know where this narrative comes from, but I’m getting pretty sick of it. It seems clear that it hasn’t been driven by anything Cato staffers have actually said.
I’ve looked through the many blogposts and articles my colleagues and I have written in opposition to the Koch takeover. We rarely mention Mercatus and IHS, but when we have, we’ve emphasized the distinction between Koch-funded and Koch-controlled. We’ve never come within a country mile of impugning their work or suggesting that they’re puppets of Koch Industries.
Responding to Robert Lawson’s charge that Catoites who oppose a Koch takeover of Cato are questioning the independence and integrity of every scholar and organization that the Kochs support, Cato’s Ian Vasquez said:
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.
I’ve explained that I owe my career to a Koch Summer Fellowship 20 years ago, during which I interned at IHS. In fact, just this Friday, I got an email from IHS asking if I’d be willing to tape some remarks for “a short film with a number of IHS alums who may have benefitted from IHS programs and who promote liberty as part of their life’s work.” I said yes, because, whatever Cato’s current difficulties with the Kochs, they’ve done great work by supporting IHS, and I want others to benefit from that work, as I have.
But there’s a world of difference between institutions like Mercatus and IHS, that benefit from the Kochs’ generosity and an institution that is wholly owned by the Koch brothers, which is what Cato would be if Charles and David Koch succeed.
Cato chairman Bob Levy has pointed out that:
[Mercatus is] a university-based academic research center, led by a faculty director appointed by the provost of George Mason University, staffed primarily by GMU scholars, focused on domestic economic and regulatory issues, and, accordingly, much better insulated from outside control than Cato would be under the arrangement that the Kochs seek to implement…. [N]either IHS nor Mercatus has shareholders who elect the organization’s board of directors.
I’ve made the same point:
The Left often dismisses Koch-sponsored organizations like Mercatus, the Reason Foundation, and IHS as “front groups” for Koch interests. But those groups have ordinary nonprofit corporate structures with independent boards of directors. None of them are shareholder organizations–let alone shareholder organizations controlled by a single family. Though the Kochs are generous contributors to each, they lack the power to summarily wipe out each organization’s board of directors, replacing them with Koch loyalists.
This is a pretty simple distinction to grasp, and those of us at Cato have taken care to spell it out plainly for anyone who’s confused on the subject. So it’s beyond frustrating to hear that we’re saying things we’ve never said. It’s like a bad “relationship talk”: “But… I never said anything like that.” “Well, that’s how you made me feel!”
Almost all of us at Cato have friends at IHS and Mercatus and among the broader network of students and scholars who’ve benefited from the Kochs’ generous support. None of us have impugned their integrity.
If you’re being told something different, you’re being told a convenient lie.