Politics & Policy

Koch Executives Speak Out on Wisconsin

“We will not step back at all.”

Madison, Wis. Earlier this week, a blogger impersonating industrialist David Koch spoke with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is attempting to pass a budget-repair bill. The conversation between Walker and the poseur, which was recorded, has received heavy media attention and turned the national spotlight onto the political activities of Koch Industries, a private, Wichita-based company with diverse holdings.

In interviews with National Review Online, Koch executives responded to the incident and pledged to “not stop” supporting free-enterprise initiatives, even as opponents attempt to sully the Koch name and the groups that brothers David and Charles Koch, the company’s co-owners, support. They also noted that David Koch and the governor have never met or spoken.

“With the Left trying to intimidate the Koch brothers to back off of their support for freedom and signaling to others that this is what happens if you oppose the administration and its allies, we have no choice but to continue to fight,” says Richard Fink, the executive vice president of Koch Industries. “We will not step back at all. We firmly believe that economic freedom has benefited the overwhelming majority of society, including workers, who earn higher wages when you have open and free markets. When government grows as it has with the Bush and Obama administrations, that is what destroys prosperity.”

Koch executives are not happy about the use of David Koch’s name by the blogger. “It was a fraudulent call,” says Mark Holden, the general counsel for Koch Industries. “There are serious fiscal issues at play in Wisconsin. Yet our opponents are interjecting us falsely into this story. But our Wisconsin story is about bringing and keeping good manufacturing jobs in the state. It is disturbing that when a blogger calls using the Koch name, it is used as an opportunity to attack the company.”

Fink tells us that he does not see the Walker prank as an isolated act. “This is not just left-wing bloggers,” he says. “This is part of an orchestrated campaign that has been going on for many months. It involves the Obama administration, the Center for American Progress, aligned left-wing groups, and their friends in the media. This is just the latest salvo in their attacks on the Koch brothers and Koch Industries. But it is an escalation — they’re now bringing in some labor groups, which they have not done before. We expect this to be part of an ongoing effort against [Koch Industries] as the 2012 presidential campaign approaches.”

Koch Industries has numerous businesses in Wisconsin, from Georgia-Pacific paper mills to coal and shipping companies. Approximately 3,000 people are directly employed by the company in the state, and 8,000 more indirectly. Koch executives say free-market principles and their desire to spur job creation are what drive any political actions or statements they make.

Americans for Prosperity, a political-advocacy group founded by Fink, the Koch brothers, and Jay Humphries, has been actively involved in Madison and supportive of Walker’s efforts. “We are not directing that,” Fink says. “They are staff-driven. They are out there trying to bring fiscal responsibility back to Wisconsin. Do we support them? Yes, we do, but we are not involved with their day-to-day activities. They are out there doing their best trying to make a difference. It is good to have them on the ground, in the battle, trying to help out.”

“We support Governor Walker, along with numerous other governors, who are trying to deal with the fiscal crises in their states,” Fink says. We have not been involved with the Walker bill, but we do support governors who want to take on the special interests. It is clear Scott Walker is trying to do the right thing for Wisconsin. With numerous employees and operations there, we have a stake in the fiscal health of that state.”

“We don’t try to have a high profile,” Fink chuckles. “We are not secretive, but we are private. It is the Left that is giving us a higher profile. Charles Koch has been at this for 50 years and David has been involved with [philanthropy] for decades. I have been at this for 39 years, 35 of them with Charles. This is a big part of our life’s work. We are not going to stop.”

As Koch Industries moves forward, both executives say, its leaders will be undeterred by criticism and remain involved in various business and political projects. “This campaign against Koch Industries has been going on for over a year,” Holden says. “Charles and David Koch are not going to be silenced. They are principled men and we have a principled company.”

— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.


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