Billionaire Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch says he agrees with U.S. Senator from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “that we have a two-tiered society that increasingly dooms millions of our fellow citizens to lives of poverty and hopelessness.”
In an op-ed published Thursday in The Washington Post, Koch said that he believes that the U.S. political and economic system is “often rigged to help the privileged few at the expense of everyone else, particularly the least advantaged.”
“[Sanders] thinks many corporations seek and benefit from corporate welfare while ordinary citizens are denied opportunities and a level playing field. … I agree with him,” added Koch.
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Bernie Sanders frequently personally denounces the Koch brothers by name on the campaign trail. His Senate website states, “The agenda of the Koch brothers is to repeal every major piece of legislation that has been signed into law over the past 80 years that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country.”
Koch said that even though Sanders often criticizes him personally, he sees “benefits in searching for common ground and greater civility during this overly negative campaign season.”
“Consider the regulations, handouts, mandates, subsidies and other forms of largesse our elected officials dole out to the wealthy and well-connected. The tax code alone contains $1.5 trillion in exemptions and special-interest carve-outs. Anti-competitive regulations cost businesses an additional $1.9 trillion every year. Perversely, this regulatory burden falls hardest on small companies, innovators and the poor, while benefitting many large companies like ours. This unfairly benefits established firms and penalizes new entrants, contributing to a two-tiered society,” said Koch, who argued that “it’s not enough to say that government alone is to blame. Large portions of the business community have actively pushed for these policies.”
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Koch declared that Koch Industries “opposes all forms of corporate welfare — even those that benefit us” and pointed to his company’s opposition to a government ethanol mandate despite the fact that it is the fifth-largest producer of ethanol in the U.S.
The billionaire also highlighted his common ground with Sanders on criminal justice reform. Koch complained that harsh criminal laws targeting non-violent drug offenders are upending families and lives. He noted that poor people who cannot afford top legal representation often find themselves punished harshly for pot possession, while wealthy people with connections are treated differently. He also said that he feels that businesses should voluntarily assist in reforming the criminal justice system by ceasing to ask potential employees about their past criminal convictions in an effort to help ex-convicts obtain jobs and rejoin society.
Koch stopped short of saying that he is “feeling the Bern” and noted that he disagrees with Sanders’ “desire to expand the federal government’s control over people’s lives,” arguing that expansive federal power “is what built so many barriers to opportunity in the first place.”
“When it comes to electing our next president,” Koch opined, “we should reward those candidates, Democrat or Republican, most committed to the principles of a free society. Those principles start with the right to live your life as you see fit as long as you don’t infringe on the ability of others to do the same. They include equality before the law, free speech and free markets and treating people with dignity, respect and tolerance. In a society governed by such principles, people succeed by helping others improve their lives.”
Koch, who is not yet backing any specific presidential candidate, concluded by saying that he is looking for a candidate who “can demonstrate a commitment to a set of ideas and values that will lead to peace, civility and well-being rather than conflict, contempt and division.”
According to Politico, the Koch brothers’ donor network is set to spend $750 million advocating political causes over the next two years, less than the $900 million that was originally planned, due to a decline in contributions.
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