A representative for libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) on Thursday after Reid denounced the fraternal owners of Koch Industries by name in a speech on the Senate floor.
Reid accused the Kochs of trying to "buy the country" by financially supporting groups that are involved to varying degrees in the American political process.
"The Koch brothers [are] pretending to be social welfare organizations," Reid said.
A statement from Koch Industries president and COO Philip Ellender called Reid’s comments "divisive … disrespectful and beneath the office he holds."
Reid is trying to intimidate the Kochs into silence because he disagrees with them politically, Ellender said.
Reid’s comments "were indicative of what lengths he and his Democratic allies will go to eliminate and silence their political opposition," Ellender wrote in an emailed statement.
The comments came during a floor debate between Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) over the latter’s legislation to block Internal Revenue Service regulations that critics say will stifle political expression.
"What the administration is planning here is nothing less than declaring a war not just on its opponents, but on free speech itself," McConnell said during his floor speech.
Ellender praised McConnell’s position, saying he "has shown great courage today and throughout his career in defending First Amendment rights for all Americans."
The debate over new IRS regulations comes amidst calls from the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat to use the agency to shut down groups associated with the Tea Party movement.
In a recent speech at the Center for American Progress, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) discussed ways to "exploit" IRS regulations to "weaken" Tea Party groups.
Schumer’s speech and Reid’s targeting of Charles and David Koch could weaken the case for greater mandatory disclosure of political spending by independent expenditure groups and their donors if Democrats or their allies see that disclosure as facilitating political intimidation.
Ellender insisted that the Kochs would remain active in the political process despite attacks from Reid and others.
"Charles Koch and David Koch will continue to exercise their First Amendment rights to advocate for their fundamental beliefs in individual liberty, limited government, and the promotion of policies that help people improve their lives."