Billionaire businessman William Koch once operated green energy plants on multiple continents and had a reputation for being more politically moderate than his better-known brothers, Charles and David — the principal owners of Koch Industries, Inc.
But William now rejects the “apocalypse of global warming.” He says investing in alternative energy is “foolhardy.” And ahead of the 2012 election, he criticized President Barack Obama for trying to “socialize” the country.
Koch is putting his fortune where his mouth is and is also using his companies’ funds to do so. He has spent millions of dollars to aid politicians he sees as more business-friendly and to fight the Obama administration’s moves to combat climate change, which could mean costly new regulations for Koch’s expansive Oxbow Carbon LLC business network.
Unlike his brothers who have favored politically active nonprofits as their vehicles of choice to back conservative causes, William Koch has poured resources into super PACs, with millions of dollars coming straight from the corporate treasuries of his firms. Meanwhile, donations from his company’s traditional political action committee are at an all-time high — as are Oxbow’s lobbying expenditures.
“Energy companies see a threat to their bottom line and they are taking action,” political analyst Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told the Center for Public Integrity. “Whatever way they can influence the process, that’s what they’re going to do.”
At the vanguard
Very few large companies took advantage of the more liberal campaign finance system that emerged following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010 the way Koch’s Oxbow Carbon LLC did.
The decision allowed corporations to use treasury funds to pay for expenditures that call for the election or defeat of a candidates — or give them to intermediaries, like super PACs.
In 2012, Oxbow was at the vanguard, contributing millions to Republican super PACs — more than nearly any other company. Oxbow, along with Huron Carbon LLC, another of Koch’s companies, contributed $4.35 million to GOP super PACs, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal records.
The vast majority of that sum — $3.75 million — went to Restore Our Future, the main super PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful presidential bid. Meanwhile, $500,000 went to a group that backed former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., known as the America 360 Committee.
Another $100,000 went to a Florida-based organization called Freedom PAC, which spent money on behalf of then-Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack IV.
Through Oxbow spokesman Brad Goldstein, Koch declined an interview for this story. But earlier this year, Koch told Massachusetts-based CommonWealth magazine that “a lot of our business is influenced regularly by government, too damn much by government. And so we have to play in that game.”
In 2011, Goldstein told The Village Voice that the Obama administration “has made it extremely difficult for businesses to operate.” Koch himself used even stronger language in a 2012 interview with the Cape Cod Times. “I think Obama's trying to socialize this country,” he said.
Koch also argued to CommonWealth that the renewable energy industry is only profitable when big government gets involved: “The alternative energy business is uneconomical unless you get a government subsidy or a government-enforced contract,” he said.