VAIL, Colorado - When Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's office announced his upcoming travel plans Wednesday, word got out that the annual Koch brothers' summer seminar was being held in Vail this weekend.
The Koch brothers, Charles and David, are multi-billionaires who contribute big bucks each year to promote fiscal conservatism. Koch is pronounced "coke," like the drink.
A recent study by The Center for Public Integrity, a Washinton-based watchdog, found that Koch Industries, the brothers' Kansas-based energy company that is the second largest private company in the United States, has increased its spending on lobbying from $856,000 in 2004 to $20 million in the last two years. The report also shows the company had $100 billion in revenues in 2009.
The Vail seminar is one of two yearly seminars the Koch brothers host, the last two of which have been in Palm Springs, Calif., and Aspen. The location of the Vail seminar has not been disclosed, and it's unknown whether the event will actually be in Vail, Beaver Creek or Bachelor Gulch.
The Aspen seminar last summer, which was held at the posh St. Regis hotel, focused on topics such as what the Koch brothers view as persistent threats, which the seminar's agenda identified as the nationalization of healthcare, the rising power of unions, the push for major new climate and energy regulations, financial regulation and government spending.
The Colorado chapter of Common Cause, a Washington-based nonpartisan, political advocacy organization that has recently questioned the Koch brothers' ties to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is trying to mobilize after learning of the upcoming seminar.
Jenny Flanagan, of Colorado Common Cause, said the group is planning a small media event on Sunday. She said the group will be staging at Nottingham Park in Avon Sunday morning, and will move to the location of the seminar if they can get the information on where it's being held. The group thinks the event might be happening in Beaver Creek or Bachelor Gulch.
"Our goal is really just to expose the work that they do," Flanagan said.
Nancy Pfotenhauer, spokeswoman for Koch Industries, Inc., issued the following statement to the Vail Daily Thursday:
"This conference brings together some of America's greatest philanthropists and most successful business leaders whose companies have created millions of real jobs. Attendees will discuss solutions to our most pressing issues and strategies to promote policies that will help grow our economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs."
Money and influence
In a September 2010 letter to supporters, Charles Koch describes the annual meetings as a way to review strategies "for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it."
"Our goal for these meetings must be to advance ideas that strengthen that freedom, beat back the unrelenting attacks and hold elected leaders accountable," Charles Koch wrote.
The meetings, "Understanding and Addressing Threats to American Free Enterprise and Prosperity," are invitation-only. While members of the media are not among those invited, millionaire, right-wing donors are.
Flanagan said the seminars are so important because it's when the brothers and their donors decide how to spend their money.
"We're talking about millions of dollars that are used to influence public policy," Flanagan said. "This is the meeting where they come together and figure out where they're going to spend this money."
Flanagan said money has been spent on everything from rolling back environmental protections to attacking social security.
"The biggest concern we have is that the money will be spent in secret," Flanagan said.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reportedly attended the Koch brothers' 2008 summer seminar, which Common Cause has questioned recently because of a campaign finance Supreme Court ruling in 2010 in which Thomas supported.
The Citizens United decision, according to a February New York Times article, freed corporations to engage in direct political spending with little public disclosure. The article reports that political analysts say the Koch brothers have been among the main beneficiaries of the ruling.
Flanagan said that Colorado Common Cause, which has a Facebook page event entitled "Uncloak the Kochs," is doing everything it can to generate interest and attention around the upcoming event.
"We obviously think it's important to highlight this group and what they're known to do - spend millions to influence public policy, often with secret money," Flanagan said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.