Charles Koch Says he Won’t Back Any Republican Candidates in Primary

Charles Koch is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)
Charles Koch is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch said Wednesday he’s unlikely to back a candidate in the crowded Republican presidential primary, the latest sign that one of the most influential figures in conservative politics seems less than enthusiastic about his choices.

“I have no plans to support anybody in the primary now,” Koch told USA TODAY during a wide-ranging interview that touched on politics, his management theories and what he views as increasing threats to free speech at universities.

Asked what he wants to hear from Republican contenders vying for his support, Koch said, “It’s not only what they say.

“If they start saying things we think are beneficial overall and will change the trajectory of the country, then that would be good, but we have to believe also they’ll follow through on it, and by and large, candidates don’t do that.”

Koch acknowledged that the vast policy and political network he helps oversee with his New York-based brother, David, might exceed his fundraising expectations before the presidential and congressional elections.

In recent weeks, the Kansas-based executive has downplayed what his organization might spend before the end of 2016, saying his network of about 450 donors might raise $750 million, down from an earlier estimate of $889 million over two years.

Wednesday, he said it’s “possible” that the network could hit its original target and says the network’s fundraising team disagrees with his lower assessment. “They say, ‘We still think we can do that,’ ” he said of the fundraisers. “We’ve had a debate on that.”

He said he lowered the estimate because he’s generally a skeptical person. Koch has consistently said that only a share of the total two-year budget — $250 million if the network raises less money or roughly $300 million if it collects more — would go to electoral politics at the federal and state levels.

He said he’s likely to help a Republican presidential candidate in the general election.

In April, Koch told USA TODAY that his political network could enter the Republican primary for the first time and was weighing supporting one or more contenders from a list of five candidates — former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

In the months since, Walker has dropped out after struggling financially, and Bush and Paul  have seen their standing in the polls fall.  Wednesday, Koch refused to discuss any candidates by name. “When we do, it’s totally blown out of proportion,” he said.

Not talking to presidential candidates

Koch, who insists he’s not focused on politics, said he has not spoken to any presidential contenders since August when Bush, Walker, Rubio, Cruz and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina appeared at a donors’ seminar in Southern California staged by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the network’s umbrella organization.

“My brother talks to them a lot more,” Koch said Wednesday. “Being in New York, it’s easier for everybody to come and see him. He’s more interested in the political side.”

Although Koch insists he is not engaged in politics, the 80-year-old business mogul occupies a unique place on the American political and business landscape. As CEO of Koch Industries, he runs an industrial conglomerate that is the second-largest privately held company in the nation, making everything from Lycra to Dixie paper cups. He and his brother, David, preside over an expanding political and policy network that invests heavily in think-tanks, universities, grass-roots groups and charitable organizations to advance their free-market agenda.

Each brother is worth more than $42 billion, and they are tied as the sixth-richest people in the world, according to Forbes.

Last year alone, Koch said he donated $106 million to his foundations and $5 million to political ventures before the 2014 midterm election. This year, Koch said he has donated $48 million to non-profit groups but virtually nothing to candidates for office.

Koch said “it’s not assured” that he will repeat his $5 million political donation in the 2016 races. “I want to see whether somebody is going to make a difference,” he said.

Koch, who largely has steered clear of media interviews during his decades at the helm of Koch Industries, has been on a publicity blitz to promote his company and his new book, Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies, and to recast his public image.

The book, which mixes bits of personal stories and family history with his management theories, offers a look at the underlying beliefs that drive Koch’s business practices and political activism. He argues that individuals, businesses and society are better off when they are free to pursue their own interests. Businesses have “good profit” when they “create value for others” without seeking unfair advantages or acting unethically, he says.

He said a goal in writing the book, his second, was to share “the principles and values” that have transformed his life — ranging from the ways he’s sought to apply free-market ideas to the operation of the company he’s run since 1967 to his father and company founder Fred Koch’s insistence on hard work. (Despite his family’s wealth, Koch says his youth was spent digging post holes, shoveling wheat into grain elevators and other manual labor.)

Koch said he’s getting strong feedback on the book, which hit No. 3 among business books tracked by Nielsen BookScan during the week ending Oct. 30.

Criticism mounts

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SOURCE: USA Today – Fredreka Schouten

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