Charles Koch: We like 5 GOP candidates in primaries
Koch, his brother David and their team have identified five candidates who have the right message and "a good chance of getting elected," he told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview at Koch Industries' headquarters. They are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.
"Those are the ones we have talked to the most and who seem to be the possible leaders," he said.
"What we've told them all is that right now, we're not supporting anyone," Koch said. "We're telling them that if they want our support, one way to get it is articulating a good message to help Americans get a better understanding and a better appreciation of how certain policies … will benefit them and will benefit all America."
The Kochs run Koch Industries, a multibillion-dollar privately held conglomerate with interests in the energy industry, as well as building supplies and other products. They have been active donors to Republican candidates, which has led to numerous attacks from Democratic politicians, such as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and their supporters.
For the first time, Charles Koch also outlined what share of his network's staggering $900 million, two-year budget would be devoted to politics. He said only a third of that amount — roughly $300 million — would be spent directly on electoral politics in 2016, including federal and state elections. He said there's no breakdown of exactly how the political portion of the budget will be divided.
The $300 million would rival the almost $400 million the Republican National Committee raised and spent in the 2012 election cycle.
"A good part of the rest is education and research," Koch said, ticking off university grants and other projects he is supporting, including an overhaul of the criminal justice system.
Koch repeatedly emphasized the importance of a candidate with a positive message.
"Only if somebody really stands out from the standpoint of their message and what they would actually do to benefit America and has a chance a decent chance of being elected, only then would we select one over the others," Koch said.
Even then, Koch said there was no guarantee his network would back one candidate ahead of the 2016 general election.
"We may give several of them some money to get this positive message out," he said.
"What we expect them to do is to compete on who has a more positive message for America, rather than what's wrong with some other candidate and did he smoke pot when he was 15 or whatever."
Koch's move to unleash his massive political organization to help individual candidates seeking the nomination could upend the 2016 primary battle, elevating some candidates above their rivals with more resources. It also could drive the Republican field to embrace more of Koch's small-government, free-market agenda as they seek his backing in the months ahead.
His comments came a day after his brother David Koch lavishly praised Walker during a speech in New York — prompting immediate speculation that the brothers has settled on Walker as their choice. In a statement, David Koch insisted that he was not endorsing anyone.
"We haven't raised the money," Charles Koch said of the $900 million budget. "This is just a figure out there."
Koch collects funds from a network of some 450 donors, who attend semi-annual seminars to meet candidates and discuss policy.