Charles Koch's brazen lie: I'm not powerful, I'm just a humble "classical liberal"!

Industrialist insists his billions in campaign spending don't indicate inordinate influence

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published August 5, 2015 4:59PM (EDT)

  (Screen shot, YouTube)
(Screen shot, YouTube)

Charles Koch, one half of the billionaire industrialist brothers who have pledged to spend nearly $1 billion to help elect a Republican president in 2016, appears committed to the reported rebranding effort he and his brother, David, have set upon recently.

Late last month, The New York Times reported that the famously media-shy brothers were "seeking to remake public perceptions of their family," and this year's annual Koch network retreat was open to journalist (with strict restrictions, of course) for the first time ever. It was at this past weekend's glitzy retreat with 450 conservative millionaires and elected officials that the elder Koch agreed to sit down for an interview with the Washington Post's Matea Gold.

During the interview, Koch denied the powerful political impact of he and his brother's vast network, portraying charges of inordinate influence as simply "ludicrous" and arguing that "people like to overstate the case."

“If I had all this power, why aren’t they getting changed?" Koch asked. “There are so many things I would change,” he exclaimed, pointing to growing economic inequality and the criminal justice system before highlighting a change in the professional certification process as true evidence of any supposed Koch influence:

Wow, believe me, if I had too much, a lot of things would change. Just like the very things we’ve been talking about -- this trend toward a two-tiered society and the trajectory we’re on that’s taking us there and criminal justice. There are over 1,000 low-income occupations that in some communities, you’ve got to get a license. Florist: what, you’re going to stick your finger? Bartender: he’s going to make your drink too strong? I mean, this is nonsense!

Though Koch may not have achieved every item on his policy checklist, a plethora of research shows how big donors exercise tremendous influence over the policymaking process.

And while Koch exclusively donated to Republican candidates in the lead up to the 2012 election, he said he identifies as a "classical liberal," not a Republican:

I am not a Republican. I consider myself a classical liberal.


I like a lot of the Republican rhetoric better than the Democrats’. But when they’re in office, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s serving their supporters, it’s corporate welfare, it’s cronyism which is so destructive, particularly to the disadvantaged. I think the Democrats are taking us down the road to serfdom at 100 miles an hour, and I think the Republicans are taking us at 70 miles an hour.

As for 2016, Koch referred joking to the "126 Republicans running" before declining to endorse any particular one. In walking back early reports on his support for Walker, Koch said that including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he thinks former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have the best shot at winning

"We don’t agree with any of them on all the issues," Koch insisted, explaining that he and his brother had "named five that we think have some combination of probability of winning the nomination and of having the most issues that we agree on."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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