WASHINGTON -- Multibillionaire Charles Koch appeared on CBS Sunday to push back against accusations that he and his brother, David Koch, are financing and organizing a massive political operation to support conservative and libertarian politicians and policies.
During the interview with CBS correspondent Anthony Mason, Koch said allegations that he's failed to disclose political activity to the public are “vicious” and “dishonest.”
“First of all, what I give isn't 'dark.' What I give politically, that’s all reported,” he said. “It’s either to PACs or to candidates. And what I give to my foundations is all public information.”
This statement, however, is an almost impossible pill to swallow. Koch has indeed made publicly disclosed contributions of more than $580,000 to federal political parties, candidates and political action committees since 1997, according to Federal Election Commission records. In 2014, he also contributed $5 million to his Freedom Partners Action Fund super PAC, which must disclose its donors.
But Koch and his brother are best known for the network of nonprofits they operate and raise money for that do not disclose their donors.
These include grant distribution hubs like Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Center to Protect Patient Rights and TC4 Trust. The three groups have distributed more than $450 million in grants to other nonprofits, many of them active in elections, since 2009, according to nonprofit tax forms compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c)(6) trade association that hosts the Koch brothers' annual donor summit, is currently the only hub that remains operational and is still affiliated with the Koch brothers.
Nonprofit tax forms also reveal that the large majority of these grants went to Koch-connected groups that have spent money on elections, like Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance, Concerned Veterans for America, Generation Opportunity and The LIBRE Initiative. Other major recipients included big election spenders like 60 Plus Association, American Future Fund, Americans for Job Security, Republican Jewish Coalition and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Is it likely, or even possible, that Charles Koch does not donate any money to these groups himself? Koch Industries did not respond to a request for comment, but a website they operate does provide an answer.
“Among the hundreds of organizations that have received monetary support from Koch companies, Charles Koch, David Koch, and/or the Koch foundations are Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation,” a page on KochFacts.org states.
Americans for Prosperity has been the most politically active of all the nonprofit groups in the Koch orbit. Since 2011, the Virginia-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit has spent $37 million on express electoral expenses and tens of millions more on issue advertising targeting political candidates.
Documents reported on by the Center for Media and Democracy showed that David Koch contributed $1 million to Americans for Prosperity in 2001 and $850,000 in 2003. Koch Industries donated $902,500 in 2000 and $952,000 in 2001 to Americans for Prosperity.
It's not clear how much of the money raised by the Koch political network comes from Charles and David Koch, and how much comes from the few hundred wealthy donors who contribute to their suite of nonprofit groups.
In his opening remarks to a room of potential donors in August, Charles Koch compared his libertarian vision to the past efforts of abolitionists and suffragists. "We too are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back," Koch told attendees.
"Now this is a cause I believe we can all fully commit to," he continued. "And I've made that commitment. I hope you will join me. The future of our country depends on it."
In the CBS interview, Koch defended donors' desire to keep their contributions secret.
“[A] lot of our donors don't want to take the kind of abuse that I do,” Koch said. “They don't want these attacks, they don't want the death threats. So they aren't going to participate if they have to have their names associated with it.”
When Mason asked Koch on CBS if it was fair or healthy in a democracy for a small number of wealthy individuals to dominate political funding, he replied, “Listen, if I didn't think it was healthy or fair I wouldn't do it, because what we're after is to fight against special interests."
Apparently, Koch doesn't believe the phrase “special interests" applies to him.
“[M]y interest is -- just as it’s been in business -- is, what will help people improve their lives?" he continued. "And to get rid of these special interests, that's the whole thing that drives me.”