The billionaire Koch brothers indicated during an event on Monday that they will likely support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) to be the Republican presidential nominee. According to two New York Times sources who attended the New York State Republican Party fundraiser, David Koch told the crowd that Walker should be the Republican nominee.
David Koch’s statement was later disputed by his spokesperson who said the brothers plan to remain neutral during the primaries. “But Mr. Koch’s remark left little doubt among attendees of where his heart is, and could effectively end one of the most closely watched contests in the ‘invisible primary,’ a period where candidates crisscross the country seeking not the support of voters but the blessing of their party’s biggest donors and fund-raisers,” the Times reported.
The Koch brothers have said they plan to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 campaign cycle, so their support could go a long way to helping a candidate like Walker to secure the Republican nomination. An endorsement would also follow the big-spending political donors’ history of lending support to Walker, even when the Republican governor’s policies sometimes contradict their intentions.
Walker has enjoyed the Kochs’ enthusiastic support for much of his political career. Koch Industries was one of the largest contributors to Walker’s first gubernatorial campaign, giving him $43,000, his largest out-of-state contribution. And Walker’s 2014 reelection campaign was one of the top recipients of Koch Industries cash. Tim Phillips, president of Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, has also heaped praise on Walker. “The difference Scott Walker has made with his policy achievements is as transformative as any governor anywhere in a generation,” Phillips said in an interview.
After Walker was elected governor and took office in 2011, he almost immediately set out his plan to cut pay and eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin — he claimed the cuts were necessary to close a budget gap he created by enacting tax cuts for businesses. As protests against Walker escalated, groups associated with Koch Industries including Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity helped to bus in Tea Party protesters to support Walker and his union-busting campaign.
Club For Growth also ran an attack ad against Wisconsin unions as a way to support Walker. “In the face of a grass roots labor movement, millionaires and billionaires are doing the governor’s dirty work for him,” MSNBC’s Ed Schultz reported in 2011. “This isn’t Governor Walker all by himself.”
During the heat of the protests, Americans For Prosperity went as far as launching a website, www.standwithwalker.com, which attacked collective bargaining and urged every state to adopt Walker’s “common sense reforms.”
The Koch brothers openly supported Walker during the 2012 recall election, which Walker eventually won. The financial backing from the Kochs led to reports that David Koch’s willingness to discuss his family’s efforts to support Walker may have crossed the line into illegally coordinating with a political campaign.
“We’re helping him, as we should,” David Koch told the Palm Beach Post in early 2012. “What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is critically important. He’s an impressive guy, and he’s very courageous.”
The governor also embodied the Kochs’ profit-driven goals when he began cutting environmental regulations when he took office, to the benefit of Koch businesses which are known to emit thousands of pounds of toxic pollutants in the state. Walker also quietly worked to allow Kochs’ many Georgia Pacific paper plants to pollute Wisconsin by pouring thousands of pounds of phosphorus into the water.
Yet there is one major policy area in which Walker and the Kochs disagree. The Koch brothers have said they support an overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system and have partnered with other organizations working toward criminal justice reform. But Walker is one of a number of candidates who continue to receive Koch money, despite his tough on crime record.
During his nine years in the Wisconsin state house, Walker sponsored dozens of bills to make more activities crimes, increase mandatory minimum sentences and curb the possibility of parole for many offenders, among other actions that contradict the Kochs’ criminal justice agenda. Under Walker’s governorship, spending on prisons eclipsed the dollars allocated for higher education for the first time in state history.