WICHITA, Kansas -- In January 2009, just days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Charles and David Koch met in their company headquarters in Wichita with their longtime political strategist, Rich Fink.
The country was headed toward bankruptcy, they agreed. Fink told them bluntly that Obamas administration represented the worst of what Charles and David fear most: a bloated, regulation-heavy, free-spending government that could plunge the country into another deep recession. That day, Fink advised two of the richest men in the nation that it would be the fight of their lives to stop the government spending spree and to change the course of the country, starting with the 2012 election.
If we are going to do this, we should do it right or not at all, Fink, 61, recalled telling the brothers. But if we dont do it right or if we dont do it at all, we will be insignificant and we will just waste a lot of time and I would rather play golf. And if we do it right, then it is going to get very, very ugly.
Three and a half years later, Obama accused the Koch brothers of engineering a corporate takeover of our democracy.
The brothers political spending and the network of conservative political organizations and think tanks they fund have sparked protests.
Two years of condemnations and criticism prompted Charles Koch to break his silence about politics. In his most extensive interview in 15 years, Charles Koch, along with his family and friends, talked about why he wants to defeat Obama and elect members of Congress who will stop what he calls catastrophic overspending.
Government recklessness threatens the country and his business, he said.
The Kochs say the price for their political involvement has been high: Death threats, cyberattacks on their business, hundreds of news stories criticizing them, calls for boycotts of the companys consumer goods, and what the brothers see as ongoing and unjustified public attacks from the Obama administration.
The Kochs arent finished. Win or lose in November, they plan to start a new fight. They are organizing dozens of business and grassroots groups to build support for eliminating all corporate and agricultural subsidies.
The country must deal with corporate welfare, which they say exceeds $350 billion a year, before it can rein in spending on Social Security and Medicare, Fink said.
How is any American going to feel good about reforming Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security when there is so much cronyism going on with these companies, and businessmen are making off with so many tax dollars? Fink asked.
The Kochs wont say how much they are spending or specifically what they are doing to defeat Obama, but its enough to prompt critics to question how much political influence one family should have.
The Koch political machine is the most elaborate, comprehensive financial dip into American politics since Standard Oil and the robber barons a century ago, said Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota.
This is the 21st century version of how you buy yourself a government in America. Their motive, Jacobs suspects, is wealth. The rest of this may well be the means to an end.
Charles Koch says his enemies accuse him of maneuvering so that we can be free to plunder or exploit people, exploit our employees, exploit our customers.