Charles and David Koch are two donors who are defined by their enemies. We are constantly told how the brothers are string-pullers. We’re told they’re secretive, although given the number of wackos out there, I could well understand why they live under heavy security.
But now a startling new source has emerged, one with unique insights into the thinking of Charles G. Koch. The mole’s name: Charles G. Koch.
Last month Koch was the subject of a long interview in the Financial Times, which was part of their weekly feature, “Lunch With the FT.” The rules are that the subjects of the interviews can have lunch anywhere they want, and the Financial Times picks up the tab. Charles Murray, for example, decided to have a lavish lunch at some snooty French restaurant where he let the newspaper pick up a three-figure tab. Tyler Cowen, by contrast, went to an Ethiopian restaurant in a strip mall, and after learning the bill was $25, promised to take the reporter next time to a place where lunch for two would be below $20.
But Charles Koch proved to be the thriftiest interview of all: lunch at Café Koch, the Koch Industries dining room in Wichita, cost the newspaper $13.80.
Apparently Koch Industries doesn’t have an executive dining room; the owner and his staff all eat in the same place. And Charles G. Koch, who was recovering from a foot injury, made sure to arrive early to beat the lines.
“Suddenly, on hitting the canteen, he was off, speeding to the counter at a rate quite startling for a man using a walking frame,” James Foley writes. Koch said that the company cafeteria “gets real crowded and I don’t want to waste a minute.”
Koch explained that he gave the interview because “I was told I needed to get out and present who we are and what we stand for…We’re being attacked every day by blogs, other newspapers, media, people in government, and they were totally perverting what we do and why we do it. We have had other people answering it, but I’m the evil guy, so I need to come out and show you who I am, like it or not.”
The billionaire spent the lunch expressing his views on a variety of topics. He was skeptical of the Iraq War and blasted Donald Trump’s idea that Muslims in America had to be registered, saying that such a move “would destroy our free society. Who is it that said, ‘If you want to defend your liberty, the first thing you’ve got to do is defend the liberty of people you like the least?’”
On the issue of climate change, however, Koch was far less congenial to the left, saying that he saw no evidence that rising temperatures would result in “an immediate catastrophe or one in the future. He said that tax breaks for solar panels or direct subsidies for solar or wind power was corporate welfare, and artificially high energy prices would be “the poor people subsidizing the rich people, which is what happens with corporate welfare everywhere.”
A month later, Koch wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post where he explained there were two issues where he agreed with Sen. Bernie Sanders. He said he was not in favor of a system where politicians in both parties competed to curry favor with the rich.
“Democrats and Republicans,” Koch wrote, “have too often favored policies and regulations that pick winners and losers. This helps perpetuate a cycle of control, dependency, cronyism, and poverty in the United States. These are complicated issues, but it’s not enough to say that government alone is to blame. Large portions of the business community have actively pushed for these policies.’
He noted that it was Koch Industries’ policy to oppose corporate handouts. For example, the company was opposed to ethanol subsidies, even though it was the fifth-largest ethanol producer in the U.S.
A second point where Koch said he agreed with Sen. Sanders was on criminal justice reform. “Families and entire communities are being ripped apart by laws that unjustly destroy the lives of low-level and nonviolent offenders,” he wrote. Koch said that Koch Industries joined the “ban the box” movement, and didn’t ask job applicants about prior criminal convictions.
Koch wrote that there would be issues on which he and Sen. Sanders would never agree, including “his desire to expand the federal government’s control over people’s lives.” But he wrote his piece, he said, because “I see benefits in searching for common ground and greater civility during this negative campaign season.”
Koch’s piece, of course, provoked conniptions on the left. Last year I looked at how the Koch views on criminal justice reform caused many leftists to break out in hives. Similarly, a piece where Koch tried to find common ground with Sen. Sanders could cause the left to break out in the heebie-jeebies.
Writing in Salon, Conor Lynch explained that Koch didn’t mean what he said (or, perhaps, shouldn’t be allowed to mean what he said). “Many on the left were somewhat baffled that the right-wing-mega-donor would agree with Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, on anything at all.” (The horror!) “They are free market fundamentalists who completely despise the government.” (The horror!)
Sen. Sanders, for his part, reprinted the 1980 Libertarian Party platform, where David Koch was the vice-presidential candidate, as proof that the fiendish Kochs wanted to bulldoze the federal government and sow the earth with salt so it couldn’t grow back. Presumably the Kochs would not be allowed to change their views, unlike Sen. Sanders, who in 1980 loudly explained that he would never ever ever ever be a Democrat.
As for me, I’m glad that Charles Koch expressed his views. More donors ought to do this. In the 1990s, I did research for Joseph Jacobs, who built a billion-dollar construction company, then retired and decided to express his views. He was a good writer who had plenty of interesting things to say, and his book The Compassionate Conservative is thoughtful and engaging.
I doubt I’ll ever meet Charles Koch, and I’ve never taken Koch money. But I enjoyed his pieces, and I hope he’ll write more often.
 Here is a story I heard about 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark. Someone came up to him and asked why he didn’t like the government, and Clark rattled off some standard answers. “But you’re with the Librarian Party,” the person said, “and all the librarians work for the government!”
Photo of Aartsen Meeting by Roel (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons