About seven months ago, billionaire businessman Charles Koch's smiling face was in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The 85-year-old Koch had spent decades funding a vast network of far-right causes, including the Tea Party, the movement which laid the groundwork for Donald Trump's ascension to the presidency.
Koch said his prior work was a mistake. He vowed that, from now on, he would eschew partisanship and focus on "building bridges across ideological divides."
Koch's feature in the Wall Street Journal was part of a broader rebranding effort that coincided with the release of a new book:
Mr. Koch said he has since come to regret his partisanship, which he says badly deepened divisions. “Boy, did we screw up!” he writes in his new book. “What a mess!”
In a separate interview with the Washington Post that was released the same day, Koch congratulated Biden and said he wanted to "work together" with the new Democratic president on "as many issues as possible."
We've got people so hyped on politics now that it seems like they think that's all there is. You know, ‘If the other side wins, it'll ruin the country and destroy us forever.' Both sides are saying that, and feel that, and think this is the most important thing. Well, it is important, but it isn't going to make any difference unless we all learn to work together and help each other and move toward a society of equal rights and mutual benefit.
Koch said he regretted hiring "ex-Republican operatives" and then "doing nothing" as they engaged in bare-knuckled political combat. Koch insisted that things would be different moving forward. "Let's get together and make that happen so we can start helping each other, rather than hurting each other," Koch said.
In the seven months since those interviews, however, Koch has deployed the full resources of his political network to try to stymie virtually every aspect of Biden's agenda.
Most recently, one of Koch's primary political organizations, Americans for Prosperity, has pressured Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to block various priorities of the Biden administration. CNBC reports that Americans for Prosperity has created ads, a video, and a website targeting Manchin. The website calls for Manchin to block a public option for Obamacare, a minimum wage increase, an infrastructure bill, and the For The People Act.
The effort appears to be working, as Manchin announced his opposition to the For The People Act in an op-ed on Sunday. But the campaign targeting Manchin is just one aspect of Koch's multi-faceted attack on the Biden presidency.
Americans for Prosperity also launched a campaign against Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill. The effort included "a robust direct mail, digital, and radio advertising campaign" and "grassroots teams," all dedicated to defeating the legislation. The campaign described the legislation as "a massive spending bill that will drive us deeper into debt and do nothing to defeat the virus."
Meet the new Charles Koch. Same as the old Charles Koch.
Koch backing partisan attacks on the democratic process itself
Motivated by Trump's lies about election fraud, Republicans in states across the country are passing laws to restrict voting and politicize the electoral process. Koch has tried to distance himself from Trump's legacy, but his political network is playing a key role in supporting Trump-inspired voter suppression.
The New Yorker obtained recordings from a secret meeting between a top policy advisor to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and conservative groups, including those controlled by Koch. During the meeting, a top Koch operative admitted that the For The People Act, which would thwart state voter suppression efforts, was extremely popular across the political spectrum. Nevertheless, Koch's group said it was determined to defeat the legislation.
Kyle McKenzie, the research director for the Koch-run advocacy group Stand Together, told fellow-conservatives and Republican congressional staffers on the call that he had a “spoiler.” “When presented with a very neutral description” of the bill, “people were generally supportive,” McKenzie said, adding that “the most worrisome part . . . is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description.” In fact, he warned, “there’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”
...As a result, McKenzie conceded, the legislation’s opponents would likely have to rely on Republicans in the Senate, where the bill is now under debate, to use “under-the-dome-type strategies”—meaning legislative maneuvers beneath Congress’s roof, such as the filibuster—to stop the bill, because turning public opinion against it would be “incredibly difficult.”
Koch promised to prioritize policy that transcends ideological division over the pursuit of raw political power by Republicans. The meeting shows he is doing the exact opposite.
Donations to Republicans who voted to overturn the election
Charles Koch's political network issued a statement following January 6, saying the attack on the Capitol would "weigh heavy" on how it spends its money moving forward. Koch, the statement said, would support "policy makers who reject the politics of division.":
Lawmakers’ actions leading up to and during last week’s insurrection will weigh heavy in our evaluation of future support. And we will continue to look for ways to support those policymakers who reject the politics of division and work together to move our country forward
But in the first three months of 2021, Koch Industries, which is also controlled by Charles Koch, donated $17,500 to six members of congress that voted to overturn the election results — Mike Johnson (R-LA), Adrian Smith (R-NE), Ron Estes (R-KS), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Jim Banks (R-IN), and Richard Hudson (R-NC).
Koch Industries has also donated $105,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in 2021.The NRSC is chaired by Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who also voted to overturn the election. In April, Koch Industries donated $15,000 to Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), another Senator who voted against certifying the Electoral College on January 6.
Koch ices out Biden
After the election, Koch claimed to want to work with Biden on as many issues as possible. But, since Biden was sworn in, neither Koch's political network or industrial conglomerate has cooperated with Biden on any issue.
Asked for examples of any cooperation with Biden, Americans for Prosperity spokesperson Bill Riggs told CNBC it "supported [Biden's] decision to end the war in Afghanistan." The decision to end the war in Afghanistan was within Biden's power as Commander-in-Chief. It did not require support from any Republican or the Koch political network to move forward.
Riggs said the group is also "advocating for better immigration policy and police reform," without specifying how it is engaging with the Biden administration on those issues, if at all. "We are open to working with anyone to do right by the American people," Riggs concluded.