Billionaire industrialist David Koch said the money he gives to outside politically active groups like Americans for Prosperity is a way for him to “speak out.”
At a rare and brief impromptu press conference today during an AFP event in his honor during the Republican National Convention, a reporter asked him about being labeled an enemy of the Democratic Party.
“We live in a country that believes in free speech,” said Koch, 72. “I have a right to speak out.”
Republican outside groups have spent more than $141 million in this year’s presidential race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based campaign-finance research group. Outside groups helping President Barack Obama have put up about $79 million.
The co-owner of Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch said his primary political interest is promoting fiscal responsibility. Last month, he opened his Southampton, New York, home for a fundraiser for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
He and brother Charles Koch, 76, typically give to nonprofits that don’t identify their donors. The two are the seventh and eighth richest people in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, together worth more than $70 billion.
The Koch brothers helped start and give money to Americans for Prosperity, which plans to spend $100 million for this election year. The group this month purchased about $25 million in television advertisements that specifically call for people to vote against Obama.
Koch is attending the convention as a New York delegate. He and fellow Americans for Prosperity board member Art Pope, a businessman and North Carolina delegate, were honored as entrepreneurs at a reception held by the nonprofit.
During a mixer with at least 200 attendees that included cocktails and appetizers, Pope told reporters that outside groups are weakening the Republican Party.
“I’m not sure that’s a bad thing,” he said, noting that Americans for Prosperity calls out both Republican and Democrat elected officials if they do not vote in line with the group’s agenda of lower taxes and smaller government.
He was asked whether the Koch brothers are unfairly portrayed as the singular force behind Americans for Prosperity, which gives money to state-level Tea Party groups in addition to helping candidates.
“Yes, the media and the left-wing bloggers in particular like to paint us as an astro-turf front group,” he said. Pope said 2 million people -- Americans for Prosperity calls them “activists” -- participate in some way. AFP officials have said thousands of people other than the Koch brothers contribute money to the group. “We do combine paid media with our grassroots activism. They reinforce each other.”
Koch was greeted as a celebrity when he entered the reception with an entourage of at least half a dozen people. Members of the media snapped photos while attendees posed for photos with him and circled to shake his hand.
Lawmakers in attendance included Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who was elected with the support of Tea Party activists and Koch Industries, and retiring Arizona Senator John Kyl. This week, a reporter snapped a photo of Koch dining with Johnson in the private room of a Tampa restaurant.
Johnson said reporters have asked him what the two discussed over dinner. His response to that question: “We talked about saving America.”
About an hour into the mixer, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips kicked off the remarks portion of the evening by introducing Koch and Pope.
“I know President Obama may attack them,” he said, “but we love them.”