The Kochs and Cato
Would Koch control doom the Cato Institute?


However, some Cato supporters do indeed feel that Koch control would mean substantial and harmful changes, citing the Kochs’ efforts to “pack the board.” Of the four newly Koch-appointed board members, Catoites have argued that two of them in particular, Nancy Pfotenhauer and Kevin Gentry, have partisan political connections in Washington, are closely affiliated with the Kochs, and are, worst of all, not doctrinaire libertarians. (That said, a range of Cato directors and scholars have committed some of the same heresies of which they accuse Pfotenhauer and Gentry, such as supporting the Iraq War). They suggest that the Kochs’ board moves so far evince a strong desire to make Cato more partisan and more political. However, there have always been concerns that Cato is too much of an ivory-tower libertarian group, which one might contend could be substantially more relevant and politically effective if it were endowed with more board members such as Gentry and Pfotenhauer.

The concerns about Pfotenhauer and Gentry’s partisan connections and questionable libertarian commitments might sound like paranoia, until one considers Cato’s current structure, and what its leaders would like it to be. Levy and others suggest that Cato’s independent reputation derives from the ideological commitment of its directors and the year-to-year support of strongly libertarian donors, and the fact that Cato is, in practice, structured around that connection. It is an open question as to whether this is the most efficient way to organize a think tank, or even the best way to advance libertarian ideas. But it has granted Cato real intellectual legitimacy, which they believe they must preserve by stonewalling the Kochs’ efforts and strengthen by restructuring the institute itself.

It is indisputable that, if Cato were to come under the control of the Left’s favorite bogeymen — regardless of their intentions — it would threaten the institution’s public image. But the fundamental question of control is legal, not political, and it remains to be seen if the original shareholders’ agreement allows the Kochs to gain control of the institute. Cato’s libertarians, meanwhile, are desperate to prevent it by any means necessary.

— Patrick Brennan is a 2011 William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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