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.
For Republicans there, getting funding from outside billionaire sources is a PR nightmare that almost counteracts the positives. Senator Mark Begich (R) was pointed at by his rival Dan Sullivan (R) with a Koch brother-based attack recently. “They’re saying I’m getting money from the Koch brothers. The only guy in this election who’s getting money from the Koch brothers is Mark Begich,” said Sullivan according to The NYT, which reports Begich’s response as: “Just because people give me money, Dan, doesn’t mean they control me.”
Later, Sullivan was asked whether or not he would want the support of the Koch brothers if it was offered, a question Sullivan reportedly found difficult to answer, lapsing into silence and dodging with “I want to unite Alaskans,” according to The NYT. Clearly, the name is a politically charged one, but a wealthy one just the same.
Finally, a new PAC backed by the Kochs is coming onto the political stage with the Freedom Partners Action Fund; where Americans for Prosperity tended to hit hard on healthcare issues and the failings of Democrats, the FPAF will bring $15 million more to the midterms with a slightly different strategy. According to Politico, where in the past, Koch PACs have avoided specifying which candidates the ads are in favor of — possibly for reasons we see cropping up in Alaska — the new ads would go beyond criticizing Democratic candidates to actually naming the preferred Republican counterpart.
“The Freedom Partners Action Fund will support candidates who share our vision of free markets and a free society and oppose candidates who support intrusive government policies that push the American Dream out of reach for the American people,” said Marc Short to Politico, the president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which will work alongside the FPAF. The motivation for the change in tactic could be a way to ramp up pre-election rhetoric and get names out there for recognition with greater emphasis, especially in states that are not as anti-Koch of Alaska.
More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet:
- Charles Koch: I’m Not Buying Democracy
- Who Are the Koch Brothers and Why Does Harry Reid Hate Them?
- Koch Brothers vs Kay Hagan: The Fight for North Carolina
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS