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Resurrecting Ayn Rand: Hedge Fund Money Teams Up With Koch & BB&T

by PAM MARTENS and RUSS MARTENS

Gary Weiss, the Wall Street writer who was ahead of his time with his comprehensive chronicle of Wall Street corruption in 2006 (Wall Street Versus America) charts a bold new course this week with the release of Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul.

Thanks to Weiss, the nation might just escape the next wave of Ayn Rand’s radical capitalism and student brainwashing by corporate money vultures fanning out across U.S. campuses.

Thanks to the trail paved in Weiss’ book, we did some further digging into the money cartel financing this “spontaneous” outpouring of campus and Tea Party interest in Rand, whose work is regularly considered by top academics to be mediocre and simpleminded.

This cartel has a striking similarity to the network of university economists set up by Big Tobacco in a money for hire scheme from 1983 to the mid 90s to blanket Congress and the media with bogus OpEds and research papers.

While it has been well known that the oil billionaire, Charles Koch, has been funneling tens of millions of dollars through his foundation into economic programs at public universities and mandating approval of faculty and curriculum in some instances, it has not heretofore been reported that a sweeping partnership in these programs has sprung up between Koch and the southern banking giant, BB&T, the latter corporation mandating that Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged is taught  and distributed to students.

Koch is based in Wichita, Kansas; BB&T in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. An email request to the Charles G. Koch Foundation for information on how this partnership evolved went unanswered, despite Koch’s copious web site claiming to want to set the record straight on his past funding schemes.

Raising more eyebrows is the discovery that the so-called populous craze for Ayn Rand’s seminal work, Atlas Shrugged, is also being financed by a  decidedly non-populist pact of deep-pocketed hedge fund operators.

As we reported yesterday in this space, the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) has already conceded the following on its web site:

“ARI seeks to spearhead a cultural renaissance that will reverse the anti-reason, anti-individualism, anti-freedom, anti-capitalist trends in today’s culture. The major battleground in this fight for reason and capitalism is the educational institutions—high schools and, above all, the universities, where students learn the ideas that shape their lives…To date, more than 1.4 million copies of these Ayn Rand novels have been donated to 30,000 teachers in 40,000 classrooms across the United States and Canada.

“Based on a projected shelf life of five years per book, we estimate that more than 3 million young people have been introduced to Ayn Rand’s books and ideas as a result of our programs to date…partnerships have been established between ARI and the corporate community to advance Ayn Rand’s ideas in the universities. (Italics added.)

“Through ARI’s assistance, Ayn Rand’s ideas are taught and studied at more than 50 of America’s most influential institutions of higher education, including: Clemson University, Duke University, University of Virginia, University of Texas at Austin, University of Pittsburgh, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brown University, University of Kentucky, University of South Carolina, University of Florida, University of West Virginia and Wake Forest University.”

Weiss piqued our curiosity when he mentions in his book that the Ayn Rand Institute based in Irvine, California is holding its annual gala fundraiser, not on the west coast, but at the swanky St. Regis hotel in Manhattan and charging $1500 a plate.  We learn further from Weiss that Arline Mann, Managing Director and Associate General Counsel of the Board of Goldman, Sachs & Company is the Co-Chair of the Ayn Rand Institute.  To move the money trail along, Weiss interviews Barry Colvin, Vice Chairman of a hedge fund, Balyasny Asset Management, who just up and decides to open a New York chapter of the Ayn Rand Institute and spearhead a fund drive.

Weiss attends the 2010 St. Regis event and was stuck at an ultraconservative press table, getting a sugar high on moelleux aux chocolat, coconut sorbet and berry chutney, as the mindless clap-trap of Objectivist theory drones into the microphone.

What happened at the September 15, 2011 redux of this fundraiser, “The Atlas Shrugged Revolution,” when Weiss’ book is no doubt already in galleys, might surprise even Weiss.   The hedgies are fully in control of the event, dominating the podium and raising a little more than a cool $1 million, besting the prior year’s take by $600,000.

The key speakers included Dmitry Balyasny of the hedge fund, Balyasny Asset Management, as well as Colvin, also from this hedge fund and creator of the New York chapter of the Ayn Rand Institute.  Another key speaker was Scott Schweighauser, partner and chief investment officer of  Aurora Investment Management, L.L.C., a fund of hedge funds managing approximately $10 billion.

The biggest donors at the event who would allow their names to be published, included the following:

$50,000: Balyasny Asset Management

$25,000: Christopher (Chris) Asness, managing principal and co-founder of hedge fund AQR Capital Management.  Asness is a former managing director at Goldman, Sachs & Co.

$25,000: Eric Brooks and Jeff Yass of hedge fund and private equity firm Susquehanna International Group.

$25,000: Jim Brown of hedge fund, Brandes Investment Partners.

$25,000: Scott Schweighauser of fund of hedge funds, Aurora Investment Management, L.L.C.

There are two simple words that sum up why hedge funds would be bankrolling the resurrection of a woman who’s been dead for thirty years: Dodd-Frank, the financial reform legislation that Wall Street is desperately trying to kill.

While the hedgies are financing the flood of books to high schools and campus, Koch and BB&T are taking care of business with the professors.

Among the multitude of co-opted campuses – three stand out as taking on the aura of right-wing flacks gone bonkers rather than a serious economic course.

Check out the web site for Florida Gulf Coast University’s Distinguished Professorship of Free Enterprise:

Here’s a few choice phrases from the BB&T/Koch jointly funded program: “students continued to develop a local chapter of Students for Liberty…Edson attended the CATO University sponsored in Washington, D.C. by the Cato Institute [founded by Charles Koch]…He was accepted into the Koch internship program…he is currently attending the graduate school of economics at George Mason University [effectively owned lock stock and barrel by Koch according to media reports]…Brandon [Wasicsko] will serve an internship this summer at the Ayn Rand Institute…Traivis Leicht…will be the first FGCU student to attend the Koch Associates Program…Brian Mitterko will serve a summer Koch internship with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation…Cifuentes attended a special seminar program co-sponsored by The Liberty Fund and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation in Washington, D.C…All Economics and Finance majors receive a copy of Atlas Shrugged in Intermediate Price Theory (a required course for both majors ). Professor Hobbs teaches a course employing this text – ECP 3009: The Moral Foundations of Capitalism – as part of the BB&T gift. The book has also been given to a number of other students who show an interest and to students who wish to give a copy to a friend or family member.”

That every exit door from this program leads to a Koch funded group or an Ayn Rand text is spine chilling.  Where are the advocates for these impressionable young minds at this institution of higher learning?  Forget about the nonsensical “Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” this whole program is a moral outrage.

Similarly conflicted is the Initiative for Public Choice and Market Process at the College of Charleston (SC), which was founded in the fall of 2008 with gifts from BB&T Charitable Foundation and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.  With only minor exceptions, the  internships are either directly run by Koch, nonprofits created by Koch or funded by Koch.

And then there is Troy University, a state-funded school in Alabama.  Troy University was odd enough before BB&T and Koch emerged on campus.  The Troy web site explains: “Troy University (TROY) in partnership with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides opportunities for its employees to achieve personal and professional growth through TROY’s undergraduate and graduate degree programs…In 1973, the University opened sites at military bases in Florida. Today, TROY Global Campus operates more than 60 sites in 17 U.S. states and 11 nations.”

On September 10, 2010, Troy University announced that $3.6 million had been donated by BB&T, the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and a former graduate, Manuel H. Johnson.  The funds would create the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy.  (“Political economy,” “morality of capitalism,” “free enterprise,” these are buzz words strongly suggesting that if you pull back the curtain, you’ll find right wing corporate operatives skulking in the wings.)

The entire faculty of the program has a previous money link to Koch or BB&T:

The Executive Director, Dr. Scott A. Beaulier, was previously the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism at Mercer University.  Dr. George R. Crowley, the Assistant Professor of Economics, previously received two research grants from the Mercatus Center (a Koch funded front group) and was awarded a Charles G. Koch Doctoral Fellowship while at West Virginia University. Dr. Daniel J. Smith, Assistant Professor of Economics, received awards and/or fellowships from the Institute for Humane Studies and the Mercatus Center, both long-term Koch funded programs at George Mason University, which has received over $30 million from Koch foundations.  Dr. Daniel S. Sutter, the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics, is also a senior affiliated scholar at Mercatus.  Both Smith and Sutter received their Ph.D.s in Economics from George Mason University.

The concentration of Koch money and influence at Troy is a disgrace at a publicly funded institute of higher education.  That it is occurring under the nose of an institution with an FBI partnership tells one a great deal about corporate money and Washington today.

Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years. She spent the last decade of her career advocating against Wall Street’s private justice system, which keeps its crimes shielded from public courtrooms.  She maintains, along with Russ Martens, an ongoing archive dedicated to this financial era at www.WallStreetOnParade.com. She has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article.  She is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. She can be reached at pamk741@aol.com

Related Article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/27/ayn-rand-the-tea-partys-miscast-matriarch/

Pam Martens has been a contributing writer at CounterPunch since 2006. Martens writes regularly on finance at www.WallStreetOnParade.com.

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