Harry Reid and the Koch brothers, David and Charles, have battled for years. But recently, that battle turned into a war of words.
The Senate majority leader frequently directs at the libertarian, deep-pocketed industrialists the sort of tirades that have become his election-year specialty.
“Is even one of you — is even one of you — willing to stand up and disavow the Koch brothers’ agenda?” Reid railed against his Republican colleagues last month. “I’m not afraid of the Koch brothers. None of us should be afraid of the Koch brothers.”
In variations from “Koch-topia” to “Koch-addictions,” Koch is Harry Reid’s new “extreme.”
The back story
Reid’s hatred for the Koch brothers began in 2010. Reid was running for his political life against Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite. The Koch brothers, in that election cycle, funded Americans for Prosperity and excoriated Democrats for supporting clean energy and health care reform.
Health Care: Where the Kochs got going
Reid’s recent anti-Koch comments started with the subject that has defined the Kochs’ campaigns: President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Some Koch-backed groups have aired Obama-care ads featuring people who claim to have suffered losses of or changes in their health plans. Reid didn’t like the ads and, during a Senate floor speech in February, expressed his disgust at the people who bankrolled them.
“It’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers,” Reid said, “who are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine.”
The government shutdown: A favor to the Kochs?
Amid the first government shutdown in years last fall, Reid pointed fingers at the Kochs.
“By shutting down the government, Republicans are satisfying the Koch brothers while millions of people are suffering,” Reid’s official Twitter account said Oct. 8.
The Kochs had their lobbyists send letters to Capitol Hill decrying Reid’s remarks as “erroneous,” “misleading” and “false information.”
That just may have helped convince Reid that he had a winning strategy.
Climate change: Koch and Keystone
Much of the Koch brothers’ money comes from Koch Industries, an oil conglomerate that’s the second-largest privately held company in the United States.
That makes the Kochs a natural antagonist for Reid’s clean energy agenda. Reid has taken the brothers to task over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
He’s charged that the “oil barons” — as Reid calls them — could earn tens of millions if the project moves forward. The Koch brothers deny this, and Reid’s claim has not been independently confirmed.
“Anything that’s dirtying the environment, look around and they’re involved in it most of the time,” Reid said last month. “It’s hard to find anything dirtier than coal. But you look around, you got tar sands — that beats it.”
Ukraine: Campaign finance and foreign policy
A few heads spun around in Washington when Reid accused the Koch brothers of meddling in Ukraine — potentially to the point of causing a Russian takeover of Crimea.
Here’s the background: It took Congress nearly a month to pass a billion-dollar aid package for Ukraine. Democrats and Republicans disagreed on whether the U.S. should simultaneously approve International Monetary Fund reforms that would have freed up more money for similar causes.
Some Republicans, balking at the proposal, demanded an unrelated change: Halting stricter Internal Revenue Service regulations to keep tax-exempt groups from participating in political activities. Reid leapt at the chance to swipe at the brothers behind some such groups.
“Republicans objected to moving forward with this aid package unless Democrats agreed to allow the Kochs and billionaires like them to continue to anonymously spend millions trying to buy America’s democracy,” Reid said. “It’s hard to believe. But that’s the truth.”
It even became a family affair. Reid later credited his wife, Landra, for likening the Republicans’ Ukrainian stance to a “Koch addiction.”