The Koch Brothers' profile has never been higher. The brothers behind Americans for Prosperity and myriad other conservative groups have been called "un-American" by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and demonized by Democrats more broadly hoping to turn the 2014 election into a referendum on the Kansas-born duo's spending on political campaigns.
Amid all of these attacks, Charles and David Koch have largely stayed silent -- content to dispute the characterizations of them via their various official spokespeople. Until now.
Charles Koch spent 40 minutes talking on the record with the Wichita Business Journal about a number of things including politics. (Worth noting: The Wichita Business Journal "agreed to some terms, including some topics, photography and taking no more than 45 minutes of his time" as a condition of securing the Koch interview.) It's a rare glimpse into how a man who has emerged as one-half of the biggest spending conservative duo in the country sees his role in the national conversation. We plucked out of a few responses from the very long interview that struck us as interesting.
Q: Your political views and involvement seem to garner the most headlines nationally these days. Why continue those investments, given the type of coverage it seems to have sparked?
Koch: It’s like Lee Trevino used to say, somebody asked him how are you winning all these golf tournaments, and he said, “Well somebody has got to win them and it might as well be me.” That’s the way I am on this. There doesn’t seem to be any other large company trying to do this so it might as well be us. Somebody has got to work to save the country and preserve a system of opportunity. I think one of the biggest problems we have in the country is this rampant cronyism where all these large companies are into smash and grab, short-term profits, (saying) how do I get a regulation, we don’t want to export natural gas because of my raw materials ... well, you say you believe in free markets, but by your actions you obviously don’t. You believe in cronyism. And that’s true even at the local level. I mean, how does somebody get started if you have to pay $100,000 or $300,000 to get a medallion to drive a taxi cab? You have to go to school for two years to be a hairdresser. You name it, in every industry we have this. The successful companies try to keep the new entrants down. Now that’s great for a company like ours. We make more money that way because we have less competition and less innovation. But for the country as a whole, it’s horrible. And for disadvantaged people trying to get started, it’s unconscionable in my view. I think it’s in our long-term interest, in every American’s long-term interest, to fight against this cronyism. As you all have heard me say, the role of business is to create products that make peoples’ lives better while using less resources to do it and making more resources available to satisfy other needs. When a company is not being guided by the products they make and what the customers need, but by how they can manipulate the system — get regulations on their competitors, or mandates on using their products, or eliminating foreign competition — it just lowers the overall standard of living and hurts the disadvantaged the most. We end up with a two-tier system. Those that have, have welfare for the rich. The poor, OK, you have welfare, but you’ve condemned them to a lifetime of dependency and hopelessness. Yeah, we want hope and change, but we want people to have the hope that they can advance on their own merits, rather than the hope that somebody gives them something. That’s better than starving to death, but that, I think, is going to wreck the country. Is it in our business interest? I think it’s in all our long-term interests. It’s not in our short-term interest. And it’s about making money honorably. People should only profit to the extent they make other peoples lives better. You should profit because you created a better restaurant and people enjoyed going to it. You didn’t force them to go, you don’t have a mandate that you have to go to my restaurant on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or you go to prison. I mean, come on. You feel good about that?
Q: Can we get to a more collaborative political dialogue and process?
KOCH: When you start attacking cronyism and people’s political interests, it gets nasty. We’ve been called every name under the sun. And some of this stuff is ridiculous. One of them said that the reason we supported a number of governors in the upper Midwest was because we had a secret plan to control all the water in the Great Lakes. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it all, other than go drown in it. That’s about the only thing I can come up with. The one that takes the cake, this individual said that the reason David gave $100 million to New York Presbyterian Hospital is to enable us to take over the medical care industry. You cannot have a conversation with people like that. Either they’re just intent on anything to demonize us and destroy us and discredit us, or they’re just in outer space.