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LISTEN: Billionaire Charles Koch Says He's Behind On Political Spending
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LISTEN: Billionaire Charles Koch Says He's Behind On Political Spending

Politics

LISTEN: Billionaire Charles Koch Says He's Behind On Political Spending
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464399982/464399983" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We've been talking with a man who may influence the 2016 election. Charles Koch organized wealthy donors who pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Their money is expected to benefit mainly Republicans, though Koch says he is no fan of either party.

CHARLES KOCH: The Democrats are taking us down the road to serfdom at 100 miles an hour, and the Republicans are at 70 miles an hour. On many of these issues like corporate welfare, the Republicans are just about as bad as the Democrats.

INSKEEP: In that statement, you hear a lot about Charles Koch. The phrase the road to serfdom is drawn from a libertarian economist and philosopher. The disdain for both parties suggests how Charles Koch, his brother David, and their allies are a political force unto themselves. You find more clues to Charles Koch in his book published last fall. It's called "Good Profit." He lays out the business philosophy that has grown Koch Industries into a vast company, producing everything from petroleum products to paper. Koch also refers to his political philosophy, and our conversation showed how they are related. Koch recalled a time that environmental regulators examined a Koch subsidiary.

KOCH: A new regulation was passed to better control benzene emissions. And at one of our plants, the engineer responsible didn't know quite how to fill it out or was lazy or whatever, but he falsified the report.

INSKEEP: What makes this decades-old case stand out for Koch is what happened after. The government began a criminal prosecution. It accused multiple employees of setting up a system to cover up pollution. Koch fought back, insisting there was only one rogue employee and in the end admitted only to that one employee's acts. Koch says the experience made him leery of the justice system, so leery that he is now willing to hire convicted felons.

KOCH: Because it was a witch-hunt. It was a vendetta of some kind.

INSKEEP: You've had a number of battles over the years, your companies have, with the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. You do believe in following the rules, but did this cause you to want to change the rules, to alter the rules?

KOCH: No, I wouldn't say that, or you could say that in - to some extent. But our - what drives me on any position on policy is will it make people's lives better? And for example, on environmental regulations, it is definitely a role of the government to set standards on emissions based on sound science. But I think the way they go about it is counterproductive, that is telling you exactly how to meet the standards, stifling innovation, undermining competition and causing poverty.

INSKEEP: Charles Koch says his political ideas go back decades. He is called a libertarian, though that does not fully capture it. He's also a strong skeptic of human-caused climate change. And his distaste for both parties runs deep. He says there's only one big difference between them. Republicans more strongly support the right of people like Koch to spend money on politics.

If there's not much difference between the parties over time, what has caused you to direct your political energies toward defeating Democrats?

KOCH: Well, it's not so much defeating Democrats. It's trying to find candidates who will move us toward policies that will enable people to innovate and contribute. The single main issue is to have the foundations of a free society intact. We need a government that wants to protect and enforce the First Amendment, not to gut it as 54 senators voted to do a couple of years ago to change the First Amendment.

INSKEEP: Limit the amount of political spending.

KOCH: Well, not only that, but the Senate would determine what political speech is accepted. We already have a system where incumbents have a huge advantage. And if we have the Senate determining what political speech is allowed, guess who will always be re-elected?

INSKEEP: Although let's remember the broad trend has been completely in the other direction. Thanks to the Supreme Court and other factors, people like you who have money to spend on politics can spend it more and more freely than ever before to elect candidates that you want, to criticize people you don't like, to have people defeat it.

KOCH: No, I disagree. The trend is completely the other direction, that is as the government can spend more and more money to create this system of control and dependency, that's what we have. If you take all the corporate welfare, the exceptions and so on in the tax code, it adds up to over $5 trillion.

INSKEEP: But you were talking about political speech.

KOCH: Well, this - that - but...

INSKEEP: Political speech - if political speech is money, you can spend a lot more money in politics a lot more easily than just five or six years ago.

KOCH: But I'm saying what the government spends to get people to re-elect them dwarfs any money spent in a campaign. And besides that, those who are in power have the free microphone. We've got to count that. Just as we see with Donald Trump today because he has the publicity and stuff, he doesn't have to spend his own money, so you say, well, he's not spending as much money. He's at a disadvantage. No, he's at tremendous advantage.

INSKEEP: What does it say that a candidate like that, who's not particularly conservative, is getting so much support at least at the moment in the Republican primaries?

KOCH: Because they do not like the direction of the country, so somebody who they think has a better chance of changing it and everybody who runs say they want to change it, but who's got credibility? Just like with George Bush, we believed he would do certain things, and in many ways, he did the opposite. So longtime politicians don't have a lot of credibility and for good reason.

INSKEEP: Trump has also spent a lot of time denouncing people who spend a lot of money in politics, who buy politicians, as he puts it rather boldly, who are involved in business and also involved in politics. Do you take any of that however slightly as a criticism of you?

KOCH: No, I don't. I don't react to criticisms of me. I mean, if I did, I'd go nuts. And I knew when we got involved in the political realm in 2003 that we would have attacks. So I am not guided or driven by that. What I look at is whether I'm right or wrong, do I believe it will make people's lives better or worse, and that's where I favor a policy or politician or not.

INSKEEP: Charles G. Koch is the author of "Good Profit". Thanks for talking with us.

KOCH: Thank you.

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