Timothy P. Carney:

So, is Soros’ money really different from the Kochs’ money?

On one level, they’re equivalent: They are rich people using their wealth to advance their favored policies.

But the core CAP claim — that the Soroses and Peter Lewises of the world are trying to help the poor, while the Kochs are not — is ungrounded.

The Kochs argue, with plenty of evidence, that economic freedom and the prosperity it yields are the best things a government can offer to the poor.

And the accompanying liberal claim — that pro-free market donations boost the donors’ profits while pro-big government donations don’t — is also false.

First off — and this was the point of a talk I gave Sunday at the Koch conference — many of the industrialists in the audience could profit more through regulations and subsidies than they could through the free market. Some oil executives, for example, have supported California’s strict refinery regulations because they kept out competitors. Natural gas companies like Enron have backed cap and trade because it hurt oil and coal. As for bankers — the Wall Street bailouts made it clear that big government is their mother’s milk.

Second, until Soros discloses all the investments and short positions of all his funds and all his personal wealth, it’s not possible to conclude whether his advocacy is motivated by public interest or personal gain. Is he short coal? Has he invested in GE’s Greenhouse Gas Services, which, dealing in greenhouse gas credits, depends on a cap-and-trade law in order to be profitable?

We know that other liberal philanthropists use their wealth to advance big-government positions that enrich them. Take Warren Buffett, that relentless champion of the estate tax. His support for a high inheritance tax could be civic-mindedness, but it could also be related to his life insurance holdings and his tendency to buy up successful family businesses forced to sell out by the death tax — that’s how he got the Buffalo News.

Finally, while Soros money and Koch money are superficially equivalent, there’s a crucial distinction. If we take both sides at their word, Soros and other liberal donors spend in order to impose their preferences on others while the Kochs and other free-market donors spend in an effort to be left alone to buy and sell with willing parties.

The moral difference is this: Only one side is trying to compel others to conform to its preferences.

Consider how each side profits from its favored policies: The Kochs benefit if government takes less of their profit. To be sure, they could pocket the difference and not make charitable contributions to the poor. In moral terms, that would be selfish or just plain greedy.

Soros and his wealthy supporters profit from the government taxing or threatening to tax the children of a business owner. That’s the moral equivalent of mugging.