WASHINGTON - Koch Industries, the multibillion-dollar company led by David and Charles Koch, tried to distance itself Wednesday from any blame for the government shutdown and congressional quagmire.
But doing so requires some explaining given the long track record that the Koch brothers have of supporting conservative Republican causes.
In a letter sent to Senate offices Wednesday, the company’s president of government and public affairs, Philip Ellender, said claims that Koch Industries pushed for a shutdown are “erroneous or misleading.”
“Koch believes that Obamacare will increase deficits, lead to an overall lowering of the standard of healthcare in America and raise taxes,” Ellender wrote. “However, Koch has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare nor have we lobbied on legislative provisions defunding Obamacare.”
Ellender took particular offense to comments made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid, speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, cited a New York Times report documenting conservative preparations for a possible government shutdown as part of a larger effort to defund the Affordable Care Act. The Times reported that the Koch brothers “have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort,” a conclusion Reid latched onto.
“What the story said is that very rich people in America who don’t believe in government have used Obamacare as a conduit to shut down the government,” Reid said, adding that the Koch brothers “have been raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get us where we are right now.”
Ellender, seeking to separate the company controlled by the Koch brothers from the Koch brothers themselves, wrote that Koch Industries is focused on “educating the public about reducing our nation’s debt and controlling runaway government spending.”
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said that Ellender was technically correct in his effort to distinguish the company from the brothers.
But, she said, “it’s a distinction without a difference.”
Although the company has not endorsed the shutdown, she said the Kochs had endorsed policies, candidates and other organizations that had either helped lead to or called for a shutdown.
Conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, for example, is a Koch-funded nonprofit that calls for repealing Obamacare, supports tea party favorites like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and spent more than $36 million during the 2012 election.
And the Koch brothers recently donated $500,000 to the Heritage Action Fund, a conservative advocacy group, through the intermediary Freedom Partners. Heritage Action Fund has urged lawmakers to place Obamacare at the forefront of their shutdown and debt limit considerations. The group even held a “money bomb,” asking for a surge of donations to support its efforts to “ensure Obamacare is defunded.”
What was their plan? To “attach legislation to defund Obamacare to a ‘must pass’ spending bill,” and eventually “force Speaker (John) Boehner to act on defunding.”
That’s a scenario that sounds uncannily like the buildup to the shutdown.