On Friday afternoon, as the Washington offices of the Cato Institute were emptying out for the weekend, the libertarian think tank’s president sent an e-mail to all staff. The subject was the Koch brothers crisis.
“Catoites,” wrote Ed Crane, “You are all probably aware by now of the unfortunate development with Charles and David Koch. They are in the process of trying to take over the Cato Institute and, in my opinion, reduce it to a partisan adjunct to Americans for Prosperity, the activist GOP group they control.”
His fellow Catoites were waiting for this. On Thursday morning, the Washington Post published news of a lawsuit the Kochs had filed against the 35-year-old libertarian think tank, claiming that they could buy the controlling shares held by the late co-founder and chairman William Niskanen. A “Save Cato” page materialized on Facebook; Cato staffers, on their public pages, were telling friends to join. On Friday, before he sent out the e-mail, Crane summoned some of his top scholars for a special briefing on the Koch crisis. Attendees described it as a “war meeting,” with Crane pledging to stay on and fight the lawsuit as long as it could be fought. This was basically what Crane would say in his all-Cato e-mail.
“Cato is the gold standard of libertarian organizations around the world,” wrote Crane. “We are respected and admired for our commitment to libertarian principles, integrity, independence and non-partisanship. That respect encompasses traditional liberals and conservatives. That would all end with a Koch takeover, despite Charles Koch's protestations to the contrary.”
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