Billionaire industrialist David H. Koch emerged years ago as a player on the political right, a role that gained notice as he and his brother Charles poured tens of millions of dollars into such causes as taking on public labor unions and fighting restrictions on financial derivatives.
Koch Industries Inc., a multinational corporation, operates ranching, petrochemical, commodity-trading and other ventures. It is best known in the Midwest, but David Koch, son of its founder, also has a presence in New York's elite circles. Beyond entertaining at his Southampton estate, his name adorns a theater adjacent to the Metropolitan Opera House and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.
He and his wife, Julia, donated $87,000 to the campaign fund of New York Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. "While we don't agree with him on everything, we do agree on the need to rein in government growth and spending that will hurt the economy and prosperity," they told Newsday through a spokesman in March of last year.
Koch (pronounced "coke") hosted one of three East End fundraisers for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Sunday. Nothing unusual there -- the Clintons, the Bushes, President Barack Obama and all manner of major-party candidates all have had tony parties there. But this fete had its own context.
The Suffolk sheriff's office had two big buses parked close to the beach -- where Clifford Sobel, a former Bush administration ambassador to Brazil, also held a Romney fundraiser. No arrests were reported.
Cars carrying guests past a checkpoint run by state troopers at the end of Halsey Neck Lane drew taunts from a handful of sign-bearing demonstrators. The messages waved and shouted ranged from rude puns ("Koch whores go home") to the semisatirical ("You're going to hell!") to the utopian or detached ("Nobody 2012").
Nobody uninvited would get near the candidate. Up the road, across from the crowded public parking lot for Coopers Beach, the rest of the protest contingent stood in the sun as local police directed traffic away from Meadow Lane. Daniel Buckley, 64, a retired teacher and union activist from Lodi, N.J., said: "These people are sending jobs overseas and eroding away any vestige of the middle class over an extended period of time.
"My problem is not with someone having God's blessings and a nice home and all that," he said. "We should have a principled nation, not one that pays low wages and sells for the lowest price. . . . Campaign spending through lobbyists and corporations is out of control."
The following morning, at City Hall in Manhattan, came a different variety of anti-Romney static. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Rep. Carolyn Maloney and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson joined the national Democratic Party's message chorus of the day, playing on Romney's having had a Swiss bank account and Cayman Island investments.
Romney's fundraising is ahead during the "ka-ching" season of the race. It's an old setting with a new clash in blue-state New York.