Before we look at how Steve Bannon met David Bossie and Andrew Breitbart, we need to go back to 1976, before the 1980 American elections. Billionaire brothers, David and Charles Koch were frustrated by legal limits prohibiting how much that they could spend on political campaigns. A candidate could spend as much as they liked running for office, and an individual could spend what they liked promoting candidates, but only if the spending wasn’t coordinated with them. Charles decided that David should run as the Libertarian party’s vice-presidential candidate too, so that they were free to donate as much as they liked.
Their father Fred Koch, was a chemical engineer and built the family fortune out of oil refineries. Interestingly enough, he started out building refineries in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and believed that communism was evil and didn’t like any type of government intrusion, these views became his son’s views. David Koch explained in a 2012 interview that their father: ‘was extraordinarily fearful of our government becoming much more socialistic and domineering. And that: ‘from the time we were teenagers to the present, we’ve been very concerned and worried about our government evolving into a very controlling, socialist type of government.’
When the Koch brothers inherited their father’s business in 1967, they renamed it Koch Industries in honour of their father, and have turned it into the second largest privately held company in America. Koch Industries not only owns and operates a massive network of oil and gas pipelines but it also makes a wide range of products including Dixie cups, chemicals, jet fuel, fertilisers, electronics, toilet paper and more. Out of the Koch family, these two brothers are the most politically active.
Back to 1980 and the Koch brothers and the Libertarian party. What is the Libertarian party? It was founded in 1971 by David Nolan and it promotes free market economics, protection of private property, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism and the abolition of the welfare state. Some of the Libertarian policy platform that David Koch ran on is below.
The Libertarian ticket only received one-percent of the vote. All was not lost as the campaign gave them valuable political experience. The older brother Charles, told a reporter at the time that: ‘It tends to be a nasty, corrupting business,’ and that he was ‘interested in advancing libertarian ideas.’ They came to realise that in order to change the direction of America they had to have influence in the areas where policy ideas arise from. They had already founded America’s first libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, three years earlier in 1977. Today, they underwrite a huge network of foundations, think tanks and political front groups and their powerful, ideological network is known as Kochtopus, in political circles. They have also given millions to political campaigns, advocacy groups, and lobbyists since then.
In 1988, a Political Action Committee (PAC), called Citizens United (CU) was founded by Republican, Floyd Brown, with major funding from the Koch brothers. It promotes corporate interests, socially conservative causes and candidates that advance their goals, which are: ‘limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.’ During the 1992 American elections, Mr Brown hired fellow Republican, David Bossie to find dirt on Bill Clinton. Mr Bossie made a name for himself as being a bit of an attack dog, in particular with all things relating to the Clinton family. Four-years later when the House Republicans launched a probe into the 1996 Clinton campaign’s fundraising practices, he ended up being the chief investigator for the member in charge, Republican, Dan Burton. Eighteen months later he was forced to resign after distributing doctored transcripts of an investigator’s’ jailhouse conversations with Clinton associate, Webb Hubbell.
In 2001, Mr Bossie took over from Mr Brown as president of CU, where he began to write negatively slanted books about Democratic politicians. He became interested in making films in July 2004 after seeing Michael Moore’s documentary, Farenheit 9/11. His documentary questioned the Bush administration’s motives for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and amongst other things, it argued that the media was used to exploit the 9/11 attacks. A couple of months later, Mr Bossie, mindful that it was an election year, retaliated with his own documentary, Celsius 41.11 (the temperature when the brain begins to die). CU produced the film and said in a press statement that they issued at the time: ‘Celsius 41.11 was made to refute the propaganda in Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11.’
At around the same time that Celsius 41.11 was released in October 2004, Steve Bannon was promoting “In the Face of Evil,” a Ronald Reagan documentary that he had worked on as a screenwriter. When Mr Bannon’s documentary was released, it was panned by mainstream critics, with Lou Lumenick from the New York Post, writing that it was ‘very much like Soviet propaganda.’ There was a small group of conservatives in Hollywood that did like it however, and Mr Bannon met Mr Bossie at one of these screenings. It wasn’t long before they started working together on a film called Border War, about the perceived threat of immigration, this led to a series of movies that they made for CU. Mr Bannon also met Andrew Breitbart at a screening in December at the Liberty Film Festival. Mr Breitbart was working for the Drudge Report at the time, with plans to start his own website. More on him, a little later.
In 2008, Mr Bossie and CU produced a documentary called Hillary: The Movie, critical of then-Sen Hillary Clinton, for the election campaign season. It was to be aired on cable TV before the Democratic primaries, but the Federal Election Commission (FEC) blocked it. They reviewed it and found that it was “electioneering communication” and that they were subject to rules governing the production of political ads. In 2009, CU sued the FEC, this led to a Supreme court case called Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission. On January 21st 2010, a five-four majority of the high court, ruled against the FEC, and ruled that corporations such as CU can spend as much as they like for and against political candidates. This also meant that they could receive unlimited donations without any government oversight or ever having to publically disclose them. The ruling opened the donation floodgates and gave a small group of wealthy donors, even more influence on elections.
Liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, believe that two of the judges involved, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, should have recused themselves from the Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission case. Both of the judges have attended invitation-only retreats organised by the Koch brothers. The retreats are for Republican donors and in an invitation for their January 30-31,2011 meeting, it describes the retreat as a ‘twice a year’ gathering ‘to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.’
Think Progress also managed to get a copy of a booklet [PDF] from the June 27-28, 2010, meeting and buried within it, is a list of former guests at previous meetings. Mr Scalia and Mr Thomas are on the list, and while the booklet can’t prove when they went, if it was before the CU case, or if their decision was influenced. The booklet does provide insight into the issues that worry the likes of the Koch brothers. On page five, one of the topics for the small group dinners on the eve of the meeting caught my eye.
Issue Micro-Targeting: What gaps do we face in thoroughly understanding the electorate? What has been learned from research so far? How can we take advantage of this advanced technology?
When Obama was elected a myriad of conservative nonprofit groups cropped up, and one of them was called Liberty Central. It was founded in 2009, by Virginia Thomas, the wife of Judge Thomas. A few weeks after the CU court ruling, Ms Thomas told the Los Angeles Times that Liberty Central would be soliciting donations from corporations and other entities freed by CU to step up their political activity. Common Cause, also see this as a conflict-of interest, more on Ms Thomas soon.
In the next series we will look at Breitbart’s role in all of this, and take a look at the rise of the Tea Party, Steve Bannon and the Mercer family.