Protesters unfurled a “Koch Kills” banner and shouted “shame on you” as wealthy donors to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney rounded a corner in Range Rovers, Denalis and other luxury vehicles on their way to a fundraiser at the Southampton, New York beach house of David Koch, an energy billionaire.
Details about yesterday’s $50,000 per-person dinner were spare. Brothers David and Charles Koch closely guard their privacy and prefer to spend their political dollars through non-profit groups that don’t disclose their donors -- even as they’ve publicly stated a desire to oust President Barack Obama.
Obama and surrogates in battleground states will contrast the president’s and Romney’s approaches toward the middle class with a series of events this week. Obama today called on Congress to approve a yearlong extension of the Bush-era tax cuts on annual earnings of less than $250,000 while allowing rates to rise for higher earners.
The president will travel to Iowa tomorrow and also is scheduled to hold local television interviews as his campaign kicks off events in other states, including New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
After an invitation to the Koch evening event for Romney surfaced publicly, MoveOn.org, Occupy Wall Street and other groups that support Democratic causes took note, busing in about 100 protesters from Manhattan and flying a plane trailing a banner that said: “Romney has a Koch problem.”
Midway through the event, the protesters took to the beach, making a three-quarters-mile trek to the ocean-front backyard of David and Julia Koch’s home. They were kept at bay there by an entourage of Secret Service agents posted on a bluff between the beach and tents in the backyard. Some party-goers briefly peeked at the unfolding scene, smiling as the opposition shouted, “Voters in, money out.”
“After three-and-a-half disappointing years in office, President Obama and his liberal allies are desperate to divert attention from his broken promises and failed record,” said Richard Gorka, a Romney spokesman, in an e-mail.
The Koch event was one of a trio of fundraisers in the Hamptons for Romney yesterday. Earlier, the candidate attended a lunch at “The Creeks,” Ron Perelman’s 57-acre East Hampton’s estate. Perelman is chairman and chief executive of McAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., which owns cosmetics maker Revlon Inc.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, was a featured guest at the $5,000-per-person lunch.
Romney then made an afternoon visit to the beach home of Clifford Sobel, ambassador to Brazil under former President George W. Bush. Sobel’s place is a short drive away from David Koch’s residence. Romney’s campaign didn’t allow reporters to attend any of the three events and declined to provide details about them.
Andrew Sabin, president of a precious-metals company and co-host of the Perelman lunch, told the New York Times the three fundraisers were expected to raise $3 million to support Romney’s candidacy.
It was the gathering at the Koch home, which has an assessed value of $18 million, that attracted the organized protest.
‘A Koch Party’
“You’re invited... to a Koch party!” a website called “the Occupied Wall Street Journal” announced, supplying readers with a map to the Southampton home.
David and Charles Koch each own 42 percent of closely held Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries, have a combined net worth of $70.8 billion, and are the seventh and eighth richest people in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index.
The Democratic National Committee released an ad yesterday that highlighted Romney’s Koch fundraiser and making the party’s case on how the wealthy could benefit from the election of the former Massachusetts governor.
“Oil billionaire David Koch is hosting a fundraiser for millionaire Mitt Romney at his Hampton’s estate this weekend,” the ad begins. “And what would Mitt Romney do for the Koch brothers?” the ad asks. “Give a new $250,000 tax cut to every millionaire & billionaire. Protect tax loopholes for companies outsourcing jobs. Protect tax subsidies for big oil.”
Those standing outside the Koch home with the protesters included Southampton architect Pete DeWitt, 59, who said “the Kochs represent everything that’s wrong with the system. It’s their anti-labor, anti-environment agenda I’m protesting, their secret giving to politics. I wouldn’t protest someone like Perelman -- he seems fine. I have no problem with wealth and money in general.”
The Koch brothers have become synonymous with outside spending in politics in part because David Koch is head of Americans for Prosperity, which has helped fuel the Tea Party movement that seeks smaller government. Americans for Prosperity is a nonprofit group that isn’t required to disclose its donors and legally can’t spend more than 50 percent of its budget on elections. It has spent more than $6 million on television ads attacking Obama, and recently announced a $9 million ad campaign against the president’s health-care law.
Democrats have highlighted the group’s secrecy. In February, Obama’s Twitter account posted a message asking its 12 million followers to sign a petition “to demand that the Koch brothers make their donors public.”
The Kochs also help finance the 60 Plus Association, an advocate for the elderly that favors privatizing Social Security. A nonprofit group called the Center to Protect Patients Rights has funneled $9 million to 60 Plus. The center, which doesn’t have to disclose its donors, is headed by Sean Noble, who has spoken at Koch-sponsored gatherings of wealthy donors, including sharing a podium with Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips.
As of the end of May, neither David nor Charles Koch had contributed to Romney’s campaign. Nor have they given to super-political action committees, which require disclosure of donors who finance campaign-related ads by the groups.
In the 2008 presidential race, David Koch gave $2,300 to Romney’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination, which he lost to Senator John McCain of Arizona. David Koch later contributed $2,300 to McCain’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
William Koch, the younger brother of David and Charles Koch, has given $1 million to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Romney, through a personal check and through one of his companies company, Oxbow Carbon LLC. Another $1 million to Restore Our Future arrived in March from Huron Carbon LLC, which has the same West Palm Beach, Florida, address as Oxbow.
In January, William Koch contributed $2,500 to Romney’s campaign. He sold his share in Koch Industries, founded by his father, Fred Koch, as an oil company. William Koch’s Oxbow Carbon & Minerals is the world’s biggest marketer of petroleum coke, a carbon used to make aluminum.
None of those protesting the Koch event was arrested. The group obtained permits from the town to gather at the side of the road and secured permission yesterday to walk up the beach to Koch’s house.
Members of Move On drove a vehicle they’ve dubbed “the Romneymobile Cadillac” that was plastered with stickers from companies that Romney co-founded, including Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private equity group. A fake dog was strapped to the top, a reminder of Romney’s decision to transport Seamus, the family dog, in a crate on the roof of his car on a family vacation in the 1980s.
Michael Korn, a 57-year-old from Brooklyn, stood shirtless as party-goers whizzed by in their vehicles, displaying a homemade placard with pictures of David and Charles Koch, identified as “the Kochtopus.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Romney or Obama,” he said. “Votes shouldn’t be weighed by oodles of cash.”