Koch Industries: Obama trying to “Chill free speech and squelch dissent”

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Philip Ellender, president of government affairs for Koch Industries, charges in a letter to Obama campaign manager Jim Messina that President Obama and his campaign are fostering “an effort to chill free speech and squelch dissent.”

The Obama campaign today put out a fundraising email by Messina blaming the Koch brothers for higher gas prices. Charles and David Koch, the majority owners of the refining and manufacturing giant Koch Industries, have become a favorite target for the Obama administration since before the 2010 midterm elections.

In the fundraising email, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote:

“In just about 24 hours, Mitt Romney is headed to a hotel ballroom to give a speech sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a front group founded and funded by the Koch brothers.

“Those are the same Koch brothers whose business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump, and who have bankrolled Tea Party extremism and committed $200 million to try to destroy President Obama before Election Day.”

Ellender rejects Messina’s assertion as “false,” though he allows for the possibility that Messina simply misunderstands how commodities markets work. “We own no gasoline stations and the part of our business you allude to, oil and gas refining, actually lowers the price of gasoline by increasing supply. Either you simply misunderstand the way commodities markets work or you are misleading your supporters and the rest of the American people.”

In the letter, Ellender further states that it is false that either Koch Industries or its owners have pledged $200 million to the campaign against Barack Obama. Ellender says “we have stated publicly and repeatedly since last November that we have never made any such claim or pledge.  It is hard to imagine that the campaign is unaware of our publicly stated position on that point.”

Charles and David Koch have led fundraising efforts to support Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)4 social welfare and public advocacy organization that actively campaigns for free market policies, and which has run numerous ads criticizing Obama administration policies, including the subsidizing of green energy companies like the now bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra.

Full text of the letter below:

Mr. Jim Messina

Campaign Manager

Obama for America

Dear Mr. Messina:

Because every American has the right to take part in the public discourse on matters that affect the future of our country, I feel compelled to respond directly about a fundraising letter you sent out on February 24 denouncing Koch.  It is both surprising and disappointing that the President would allow his re-election team to send such an irresponsible and misleading letter to his supporters.

For example, it is false that our “business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump.”  Our business vision begins and ends with value creation — real, long-term value for customers and for society.  We own no gasoline stations and the part of our business you allude to, oil and gas refining, actually lowers the price of gasoline by increasing supply.  Either you simply misunderstand the way commodities markets work or you are misleading your supporters and the rest of the American people.

Contrary to your assertion that we have “committed $200 million to try to destroy President Obama,” we have stated publicly and repeatedly since last November that we have never made any such claim or pledge.  It is hard to imagine that the campaign is unaware of our publicly stated position on that point.  Similarly, Americans for Prosperity is not simply “funded by the Koch brothers,” as you state — rather it has tens of thousands of members and contributors from across the country and from all walks of life.  Further, our opposition to this President’s policies is not based on partisan politics but on principles.  Charles Koch and David Koch have been outspoken advocates of the free-market for over 50 years and they have consistently opposed policies that frustrate or subvert free markets, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican was President.

If the President’s campaign has some principled disagreement with the arguments we are making publicly about the staggering debt the President and previous administrations have imposed on the country, the regulations that are stifling business growth and innovation, the increasing intrusion of government into nearly every aspect of American life, we would be eager to hear them.  But it is an abuse of the President’s position and does a disservice to our nation for the President and his campaign to criticize private citizens simply for the act of engaging in their constitutional right of free speech about important matters of public policy.  The implication in that sort of attack is obvious: dare to criticize the President’s policies and you will be singled out and personally maligned by the President and his campaign in an effort to chill free speech and squelch dissent.

This is not the first time that the President and his Administration have engaged in this sort of disturbing behavior.  As far back as August, 2010, Austan Goolsbee, then the President’s chief economic advisor, made public comments concerning Koch’s tax status and falsely stated that the company did not pay income tax, which triggered a federal investigation into Mr. Goolsbee’s conduct that potentially implicated federal law against improper disclosure of taxpayer information.  Last June, your colleagues sent fundraising letters disparaging us as “plotting oil men” bent on “misleading people” with “disinformation” in order to “smear” the President’s record.  Those accusations were baseless and were made at the very same time the president was publicly calling for a more “civil conversation” in the country.

It is understandable that the President and his campaign may be “tired of hearing” that many Americans would rather not see the president re-elected.  However, the inference is that you would prefer that citizens who disagree with the President and his policies refrain from voicing their own viewpoint.  Clearly, that’s not the way a free society should operate.

We agree with the President that civil discourse is an American strength.  That is why it is troubling to see a national political campaign apparently target individual citizens and private companies for some perceived political advantage.  I also hope the President will reflect on how the approach the campaign is using is at odds with our national values and the constitutional right to free speech.

Sincerely,

Philip Ellender

President, Government & Public Affairs

Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC