The Washingtonian has an interesting look behind the curtain at the vicious cloakroom backstabbery going down as the Brothers Koch try to take control of the Cato Institute (a libertarian think tank). It’s got a lot of great background (I particularly liked the bit about Charles Koch’s nutty “market-based management” scheme), but the meat of the piece is how the Kochs, the co-founders and longtime financial backers of Cato, became estranged from, and eventually tangled in an all-out fight with, Ed Crane, their former friend and longtime director of the place:

In December 2010, Charles Koch called the first meeting of Cato’s shareholders since 1981. Cato now had four shareholders: Charles and David Koch, Ed Crane, and William Niskanen, Cato’s aging chairman emeritus. The Kochs used their shares to appoint two new directors to Cato’s board: Nancy Pfotenhauer and Kevin Gentry.

Crane and Niskanen were stunned. Pfotenhauer was a former spokesperson for Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign. She had supported the Iraq War and the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—positions that run counter to libertarian ideals. Kevin Gentry was vice chairman of the Virginia Republican Party and a top executive at the Charles Koch Foundation.

Crane responded with board-packing of his own; there are suits and counter-suits, angry recriminations, and the like. It’s a good piece, and worth a read, but the larger story behind this will play out when a victor emerges. It seems the Kochs want to turn it into a right-wing political machine, churning out papers in support of whatever is on the conservative agenda:

David Koch also said Cato should do more to turn “esoteric concepts” into “concrete deliverables.” He suggested that Cato “serve as a source of intellectual ammunition” for the conservative activist group Americans for Prosperity, Levy says.

As John Quiggin says, Cato is easily the most credible of the right-leaning think tanks. Given the board-packing with Republican hacks, the widely-respected staffers who have promised to resign if the Kochs end up winning, a Koch victory would probably be the end of Cato’s reputation. They’ll go into the “amoral hack” box with the American Enterprise Institute and its brethren.

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Ryan Cooper

Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanlcooper. Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at The Week. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The Nation.