New Koch

If your cynicism bone needs tickling, check out Nick Confessore’s new piece describing the massive personal and corporate rebranding project by the Brothers Koch.

Once known for grim letters to fellow wealthy Americans warning of socialist apocalypse, Charles G. Koch now promotes research on the link between freedom and everyday happiness. Turn on “The Big Bang Theory” or “Morning Joe,” and you are likely to see soft-focus television spots introducing some of the many employees of Koch Industries.

Instead of trading insults with Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, Mr. Koch and his brother, David H. Koch, are trading compliments with President Obama, who this month praised the Kochs’ support for criminal justice reform at a meeting of the N.A.A.C.P.

After two elections in which Democrats and liberals sought to cast them as the secretive, benighted face of the Republican Party, the Kochs are seeking to remake public perceptions of their family, their business and their politics, unsettling a corporate culture deeply allergic to the spotlight. Even as their donor network prepares to spend extravagantly to defeat Democrats during the 2016 campaign, the Kochs have made cause with prominent liberals to change federal sentencing rules, which disproportionately affect African-Americans, while a Koch-backed nonprofit, the Libre Initiative, offers driving lessons and tax preparation services to Latinos.

All this activity by the Bros is separate from but clearly related to the $20 million “We Are Koch” ad campaign featuring company employees who, like company employees everywhere, do not appear to wear horns and do not shout with glee about their corporate masters’ designs on Planet Earth.

It’s not clear whether this rebranding effort is simply a response to Democratic use of the Koch’s to personify the newly enhanced rich-guy mortgage on the GOP, or a cover for the Bros current plans for massive intervention in the 2016 presidential cycle. The silver lining is that it involves more money for the criminal justice reform efforts the Kochs, as good quasi-libertarians, have sponsored; that “story” is a key part of the makeover.

I bet the mask falls the day after the 2016 elections.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.