Koch brothers pump funds into Republican Party for US midterms

Kansas billionaires have been accused of ‘trying to buy the country’

 

In Wichita, Kansas, locals are reluctant to speak about Charles and David Koch, the conservative billionaire industrialists whom Republicans count among their biggest donors. This is their home town, but only Charles resides here; David lives in New York City.

Koch Industries, a conglomerate with interests ranging from chemicals to energy to finance, is one of the biggest private companies in the US with more than $100 billion in annual revenues.

As one of Wichita’s biggest employers, the Koch name appears on signs in many places around this city in the middle of the US, from the basketball arena to an aquatic centre to the orangutan and chimpanzee house in Sedgwick County Zoo.

The brothers are staunch opponents of the policies of US president Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Charles Koch has disapprovingly described Obama as a “dedicated egalitarian”, while David has gone further, calling him a “hardcore economic socialist” and the “most radical president we’ve ever had”.

Donating millions of dollars to the election campaign coffers of Republican candidates, through Americans for Prosperity and other political groups they fund, the brothers attempt to influence policy in the direction of their agenda to lower taxes and limit the role of government.

Americans for Prosperity, which played a crucial role in funding the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2010, has become one of the most powerful political networks in the US. The group had a budget of $130 million in the 2012 elections and, according to Associated Press, has spent $25 million on TV adverts this year alone, trying to help Republicans retake the US Senate in next month’s midterm elections.

The Kochs are regular targets of the Democratic senate majority leader Harry Reid, who accused the brothers of shutting down the government last year and of “actually trying to buy the country”.

Wichita locals see the brothers’ involvement in politics in a more practical, albeit self-serving, light.

“They’re business people,” says Joe Hitt, a Republican supporter in Wichita who has worked with businesses owned by the brothers. “If something is going to affect their businesses in an ill manner, then they are going to let it be known they don’t agree with that.”

“The Koch brothers are my natural protectors,” said Herbie Hopper, another GOP supporter. “In so far as big government has a downside, the Koch brothers are a wonderful bulwark against it.”

The crucial senate battle for the seat held by the Republican Pat Roberts in Kansas in the November 4th midterm elections has seen some Koch money being invested in their home state race through Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, another of the political groups they support.

Roberts’s sketchy re-election prospects are likely to see more Koch money being injected over the remaining three weeks of the campaign.

Until now, the Koch funds have been matched by rival donations, including those from a Democratic group, the Kansas Values Institute.

“There is so much money on both sides this time around that I don’t think the Koch brothers will have as much influence as they did two years ago,” says Bob Beatty, a politics professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.