Oil billionaires Charles and David Koch are well-known for their political activity and for the funding they put behind Republican elections; the 2014 midterm battle raging around the U.S. is no exception, nor is President Barack Obama’s coal initiative.
The Koch’s hometown acts as a good micro example of people’s reaction to their money and influence. They’ve poured a great deal of money and business into the Wichita area, providing employment for many, as well as funding and donations for public service projects like the Aquatic Center or exhibits as the Sedgwick County Zoo. Reactions range from positive feedback for the positive changes in the area, to frustration at the power this dependence gives the family. “The Kochs are using their money and influence to hold our community hostage,” said Louis Goseland, campaign director for Kansas People’s Action, to The New York Times.
Members of the Koch industry say this is far from the truth. “We wouldn’t do it just as protection money or whatever you call it. It is not just about the business doing well. We are trying to get involved in issues and in places, particularly in this, our hometown, where we can make a difference,” said Koch Industries Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mark V. Holden, to The NYT. The Kochs themselves have stepped up to defend their political involvement, with Charles Koch writing an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal back in April. “Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors … If more businesses (and elected officials) were to embrace vision of creating real value for people in a principled way, our nation would be far better off,” argued C. Koch.
Expanding out to the whole of the U.S., the Koch family maintains a similar dynamic to the local one. Some believe the influence they exert results in a better, stronger political playing field, and others consider them financial bullies — a difference that for obvious reasons tends to split along party lines. So far this election season, the Kochs have been visible in a number of tight races. Senator Kay Hagan’s (D) fight for North Carolina was one race that saw a particularly large chunk of ad funds from the brothers, hitting on her connection to Obama and the healthcare reform. The Koch brothers’ group, Americans for Prosperity, has been putting out many of the negative ads against both Hagan and others. Interestingly, Alaskan politicians, whom for a time had managed to remain out of the funding fight, got nasty over the Koch brothers as well.