Sean Noble (dclondon.com)
For a brief, giddy moment, Sean Noble—a little-known former aide to an Arizona congressman—became one of the most important people in American politics.
Plucked from obscurity by libertarian billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, Noble was tasked with distributing a torrent of political money raised by the Koch network, a complex web of nonprofits nicknamed the Kochtopus, into conservative causes in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Noble handed out almost $137 million in 2012 alone — all of it so-called dark money from unnamed donors — from his perch atop the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a group run out of an Arizona post office box.
Much of it was channeled to obvious destinations: Groups supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example.
But with Noble as ringmaster, Koch money also poured into efforts that didn’t surface until long after Election Day: To a political committee backing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker against a recall attempt; to a group blaming President Obama for high gas prices; even to a legal challenge to Arizona’s redistricting plan.
“I must tell you that Sean Noble from your group has been immensely helpful in our efforts,” a California multimillionaire wrote to Charles Koch in October 2012, asking Koch to give several million to support an anti-union initiative in the state. “Thanks for any consideration.”
Noble appears to have lost his central position in the Koch empire, undone by poor election results and a California investigation that shined an unwelcome light on some of the Center’s inner workings, insiders say.
But his story shows how the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling has given rise to a new breed of power brokers who control a growing pool of money raised in secret and spent to influence politics in ways that voters can’t always trace.
Much of Noble’s work in 2012 remained invisible to the public until the Center and dozens of other Koch-backed nonprofits released their tax returns late last year.