Politics & Government

Koch representatives respond to U.S. Senate majority leader’s recent attacks

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Associated Press

After Harry Reid took to the U.S. Senate floor last week and called the Koch brothers “un-American,” people at Wichita-based Koch Industries Inc. said they know what the Democratic Party plan looks like for the 2014 elections.

“We are the plan,” said Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia.

She was referencing a speech that Reid, the Senate majority leader, made last week in which he said Charles and David Koch have political plans of their own.

Cohlmia said she doesn’t know what political plans the Kochs have, though she said they would probably do something. In the past, Charles and David Koch have acknowledged spending millions not only to support candidates they like but also to influence future policy makers’ views about free markets and capitalism.

What Cohlmia and Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden were objecting to on Friday were five speeches Reid has made on the Senate floor about the Kochs since Jan. 31, including one Tuesday in which Reid said Republicans were “addicted to Koch.”

Holden said that was “offensive.” And then on Friday, Democrats followed up with a website, www.kochaddictioncom.

There was more.

“The oil-baron Koch brothers are very good at protecting and growing their prodigious fortune,” Reid said last week. “There’s nothing un-American about that. But what is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest 1 percent.”

The Kochs, Reid went on to say, “seem to believe in an America where the system is rigged to benefit the very wealthy. … It seems my Republican colleagues also believe in a system that benefits billionaires at the expense of the middle class. The Koch brothers are willing to invest billions to buy that America.”

Reid’s remarks are more than a mere attack, Holden said. It is a strategy.

“They’ve been studying Koch for years, testing their message in their polling, and it appears they’ve chosen a strategy that they believe will work for them: us,” Holden said.

The Democratic strategy for helping the country seems to center on increasing the minimum wage, Holden said.

“It’s such a small agenda,” he said. “We’ve got the minimum wage and we’re going to attack the Kochs.”

Koch Industries, meanwhile, creates jobs, he said. Koch has grown from the small oil company the brothers inherited in the 1960s to a $115 billion company now, employing 60,000 people in the United States and 100,000 worldwide.

“The reality is Charles has a positive view of the country and of America,” Holden said. “His whole focus, in his business, his philanthropy and his public policy, is in helping people improve their lives ... not this kind of divisive, shrill and dishonest dialogue.”

Cohlmia and Holden say they are accustomed to this. They say it’s been going on since the Obama administration began making the Kochs out to be oil-baron villains starting in 2010, and that they expect a lot more of the same to be said about the brothers as the elections approach.

What’s ironic about this is that no matter how much the Kochs have spent, it’s “drops in a bucket” compared with what unions have spent to support many positions opposed by the Kochs, Cohlmia said.

Nothing against unions, she said. Koch Industries is a prime example of how a successful corporation can work effectively with unions, she said. One third of Koch Industries’ U.S.-based workers are union employees, she said. Koch employs 3,051 people in Wichita and is actively hiring, with 295 open jobs in Wichita and 3,577 in the corporation.

Her point, she said, is that if big spending really does sway peoples’ opinions, “and if the American public really can be bought,” as Democrats like Reid allege, then why hasn’t all the union spending on political campaigns won more more people over?

She acknowledged that part of what has prompted this has been the Kochs’ past political activities. Both brothers are personally worth $40 billion apiece. Both espouse a libertarian economic vision for the country based on low taxes, light regulation and free markets.

Both acknowledged, in interviews with the Wichita Eagle in 2012, that that were spending money to oppose President Obama in his re-election bid that year. They declined to say how much. Political opponents said repeatedly that it was as much as $400 million, much of it supposedly funneled through Americans For Prosperity, a political group they founded. But Charles himself denied the brothers spent that much. And Holden, on Friday, said that while Americans for Prosperity did spend millions in opposing Obama and other politicians, “there are 2.3 million members in AFP. So it’s not just the Kochs.”

The Kochs both said in 2012 that in their view, the country was headed toward bankruptcy. They said Obama represents a bloated, regulation-heavy, free-spending government that could plunge the country into another deep recession.

Holden said Democrats have their own “dark money” groups like the Patriot Majority.

“It’s the same playbook,” Holden said about the Reid and Democratic strategy. “He’s worried about losing his job.”

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson, in Washington on Friday, had yet another reaction:

“Since the secretive, billionaire Koch brothers have chosen to spend untold millions to try and rig the system to benefit themselves and the top one percent, Senator Reid believes the American public deserves to know that they want to abolish the minimum wage, privatize Social Security, have an unfettered right to dump cancer-causing toxins into our environment, and reduce their own tax rates,” Jentleson wrote in an email.

“Senator Reid is committed to doing everything he can to make sure the American people are aware of the Koch brothers’ self-described ‘radical philosophy,’ and their shadowy campaign to impose it on the public.”