TAMPA, Fla. — Normally tight-lipped about his political spending, energy executive David Koch said Thursday that his prolific contributions to conservative groups and causes were an exercise of his 1st Amendment rights.
“We live in a country of free speech,” Koch told reporters at a public reception thrown in his honor by the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. “I think I have a right to speak out.”
Groups backed by Koch and his brother Charles are expected to spend as much as $400 million in the 2012 election cycle, according to Politico. Koch declined to confirm that figure Thursday.
The staggering sum has made the Koch brothers the bogeymen of the left, a portrayal Koch described as “vastly inaccurate.”
“I try to do things in my life that make the world a better place,” Koch said, citing his philanthropic contributions to cancer research and cultural institutions.
The brothers provided the seed funding for Americans for Prosperity 10 years ago, and David Koch remains chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which has a less overtly political mission and can accept tax-deductible donations. Donations to both AFP branches are not publicly disclosed.
In Koch’s remarks to the crowd, which clocked in at three and a half minutes, he said that of all the public policy initiatives he has helped fund, “the institution I feel most closely attached to, most proud of, is Americans for Prosperity.”
Koch and Art Pope, the chairman of AFP and a fellow mega-donor, were feted at AFP’s afternoon reception, which attracted top Republican elected officials, including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Boozman of Arkansas.
Though indisputably tilted toward the right, AFP’s operatives insist they are not simply an arm of the Republican Party.
“Now, obviously a good many of you in this room may be here for a little event going on behind me,” said Pope, alluding to Mitt Romney’s acceptance of the Republican nomination, set to occur later that night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, blocks from the reception’s location in a gleaming, just-constructed medical technologies building.
“But the purpose of the Republican Party is to elect Republican candidates. The purpose of the Democratic Party is to elect Democratic candidates,” Pope said. “AFP is about driving home the issues to ensure freedom and future prosperity.”
Pope, a North Carolina businessman, told reporters that many operatives in the official party structure resented the rise of groups like AFP and other outside groups.
“They feel that the advocacy groups are weakening the political party,” Pope said, a view he considered to be true to some extent.
“But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing,” he added.