No, The Koch Brothers Aren’t Socially Liberal


The anti-government billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who helped bankroll the Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, reportedly plan to spend $889 million over the next two years in order to ensure their favored candidates control the entire American government after the 2016 elections. In recent weeks, the historically private duo has mounted something of a media charm offensive, attempting to frame themselves as not as partisan Republicans but as fiscally conservative, social libertarians eager to defend individual liberty.

David Koch said in a December 2014 interview, “I’m basically a libertarian. I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.” But a ThinkProgress review of the brothers’ spending record finds that their actions largely contradict those claims. And the vast majority of the federal officials they have helped elect and re-elect since 2010 have been staunch social conservatives. Indeed, the duo and their affiliated organizations have spent more than $86 million in support of elected officials, presidential nominees and organizations who do not support abortion rights or same-sex marriage. Over that same period, the review found just over $86,000 spent in support of eight current officeholders who support both abortion rights and marriage equality (these totals do not include millions spent on unsuccessful House and Senate candidates).

The Kochs have been major political players — and influential funders — for decades (in 1980, David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee and spent more than $2 million bankrolling the ticket). In 1984, they created Citizens for a Sound Economy — the forerunner to their modern-day Americans for Prosperity. In recent years, they have augmented this with an array of other tax-exempt political entities, including a new 2014 superPAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund.

CREDIT: Andrew Breiner

In the past three federal election cycles, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners Action Fund combined to spend more than $58 million on “independent expenditures” for candidates according to campaign finance data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. The Kochs individually and the Koch Industries Political Action Committee spent about $5 million more in that time in direct contributions to candidates. The Kochs and their organizations spent millions more in less-direct support, including issue advocacy, get out the vote efforts, transfers to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, and funding of other conservative groups. Other politicians and good government advocates lambasted these efforts as an attempt to rig the democratic process and buy the elections.

A spokesperson for the Kochs did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry for this story.

What The Kochs Are Saying

In 2012, as the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity was spending more than $34 million to replace President Obama with Mitt Romney, David Koch told Politico that he supports same-sex marriage and would consider both defense spending cuts and tax increases in order to balance the federal budget. He explained that he’d left the Libertarian Party for the GOP because the Libertarians “got too far off the deep end,” while the Republicans have “a great chance of being successful.”

Back in December, ABC’s Barbara Walters interviewed David Koch and noted that he was “not well liked, primarily because of [his] very conservative politics.” She asked him why a supporter of LGBT equality and abortion rights — supports social conservatives.

Koch, not disputing her characterization of his own public standing, responded, “Well that’s their problem. I do have those views. What… I want these candidates to support a balanced budget. I’m very worried that if the budget is not balanced, inflation could occur and the economy of our country could suffer terribly.” A May op/ed in the Washington Post quoted Charles Koch as having written as far back as 1978, “What a spectacle it is for the same people who preach freedom in voluntary economic activities to call for the full force of the law against voluntary sexual or other personal activities!”

Last month, Charles Koch and his wife Elizabeth invited MSNBC’s Morning Joe’s co-hosts to attend a closed-door conference featuring anti-gay, anti-abortion Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Former Florida Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough spent a segment of their next broadcast praising Koch as a “true believer,” who is “obsessed” with “income disparity and, mainly, crony capitalism.” Scarborough claimed that Charles Koch “has no use for Republicans that support corporate welfare and no use for Democrats,” and “anyone who thinks that they are loyal, faithful Republicans have never talked to them for more than three minutes.” The Kochs, he argued, are really mainstream social moderates with little patience for those who want “huge bloody battles on social issues.”

Two days later, his co-host Mika Brzezinski (who Scarborough calls a “liberal,” despite her opposition to abortion rights) also raved about her new friends. “I mean, it’s everything that you don’t think, and you don’t know,” she beamed. “There are different facets of the story you get to see when you actually go and observe events like this.” She praised Elizabeth Koch as a “ball of fire” who is dedicated to helping poor inner-city kids.

This “freedom” rhetoric also permeates their organization’s websites. The stated Americans for Prosperity mission is: “Freedom Oriented. Activist Supported. Community Driven. Americans for Prosperity is a network of citizens that work on behalf of freedom for their communities — whether it’s local, state or federal issues, we’re leading the way in engaging with elected officials to make change for our friends and neighbors.” Freedom Partners Action Fund’s site promises to reverse the “troubling trend” toward centralized power by backing those “who promote free markets and a free society — candidates who believe that individuals and innovators, not bureaucrats and politicians, create real social and economic progress,” and to “hold accountable candidates who push for intrusive government policies that take freedom and opportunity away from the American people.”

CREDIT: Andrew Breiner

But the Kochs and their political organizations have spent huge sums to elect those very social conservatives.

Reproductive Rights Spending

As Lee Fang noted in his book The Machine, Charles Koch has spoken of the importance of uniting “social and economic conservatives to make a difference.” To do this, the Kochs have poured millions into electing some of the most vocally anti-abortion and anti-LGBT figures in Washington.

Of the 265 federal elected officials who have benefited from Koch spending since 2010, just nine have pro-choice voting records. At least 242 have endorsed controversial proposals to ban abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy. Another 14 identify as generally opposed to abortion rights. The Kochs and their committees have spent more than $27 million in support of these anti-abortion legislators, while they spent just about $90,000 on pro-choice officials. This does not even include the more than $34 million spent unsuccessfully to elect abortion-opponent Mitt Romney.

LGBT Equality Spending

CREDIT: Andrew Breiner

Just 12 of those Koch-backed members of Congress have publicly supported marriage equality to date, compared with 253 who have not. Marriage equality supporters have received just over $400,000 (some of which came before their decision to endorse same-sex unions), while the others have received more than $27 million.

That number includes about $2 million spent in support of freshman Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). As Tillis was mounting his successful campaign to defeat pro-LGBT incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, he simultaneously led the charge to fight implementation of a 2014 court ruling bringing marriage equality in the Tar Heel State.

It also includes 81 legislators who in the last Congress co-sponsored a federal constitutional amendment to redefine marriage as only between opposite-sex couples and/or the “State Marriage Defense Act” (a bill to effectively divorce any legally married same-sex couple who move into a state that does not recognize their union) — with Koch support worth more than $4.8 million.

Socially Conservative Organization Spending

In addition to the millions spent on federal elections, two Koch-connected tax-exempt organizations have reported distributing more than $200 million to other socially conservative organizations since 2010. Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce and the American Encore (formerly the Center to Protect Patient Rights) gave more than $24 million in grants to socially conservative groups, with zero similar contributions to socially progressive organizations.

Among these grants were more than $5 million to Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink, an organization dedicated to anti-abortion and anti-LGBT and pro-Dominionism public policies. They sent north of $10 million to Concerned Women for America’s legislative action committee, another prominent socially conservative organization that works to fight against “all pornography [and] obscenity,” for “protection of all innocent human life from conception until natural death,” and for the “Biblical design of marriage.” The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List has also received seven-figure funding. Even the American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as an anti-LGBT hate group, received a $50,000 grant in 2012.

These totals are perhaps the most overt representation of their socially conservative spending, despite their rhetoric that they are social liberals.