The right-wing Koch brothers network is distancing itself from protests against coronavirus lockdowns.
Americans for Prosperity, the family's main political arm, decided against helping to promote the demonstrations in state capitals as some of its former Tea Party collaborators have done, reported Politico.
The movement founded by brothers Charles and David Koch helped fuel protests a decade ago against the economic stimulus bill and President Barack Obama's health care legislation, but they're sitting out the angry demonstrations against social distancing measures aimed at halting the spread of the deadly virus.
“The question is — what is the best way to get people back to work? We don’t see protests as the best way to do that,” said Emily Seidel, CEO of Americans for Prosperity. “Instead, we are working directly with policymakers to bring business leaders and public health officials together to help develop standards to safely reopen the economy without jeopardizing public health. The choice between full shutdown and immediately opening everything is a false choice."
The demonstrators themselves are often genuinely frustrated by the lockdowns and economic loss, but the protests are amplified by a well-funded network of conservative individuals and groups -- such as Convention of States project — which launched in 2015 with a large donation from right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer’s foundation.
“We’re providing a digital platform for people to plan and communicate about what they’re doing,” said Eric O’Keefe, a longtime associate of the right-wing Koch family and current board president of Citizens for Self-Governance, which is the parent organization of the project. “To shut down our rural counties because of what’s going on in New York City, or in some sense Milwaukee, is draconian.”
Multiple sources affiliated with the Koch network says the protests -- which have been relatively small but scattered across various states -- put the libertarian-leaning network in an awkward position with donors and other conservative activists.
Some involved with the network believe top Koch officials were dissatisfied with the results of the Tea Party movement they had backed, after watching their small-government message morph into a conservative movement dominated by President Donald Trump.
“I think there's been a lesson,” said Frayda Levin, a board member at Americans for Prosperity. “We saw what we wanted in the Tea Party. It didn’t work out like we’d like, and now we’re much more practical.”