Hazy Memories

Obama aide makes another claim about the source of his anti-Koch brothers comments

Austan Goolsbee / AP
May 20, 2013

A onetime economic adviser to President Barack Obama offered up yet another explanation on Twitter last week for why he claimed in 2010 that Koch Industries paid no income taxes.

Austan Goolsbee caused a mini-scandal in 2010 when he told reporters during a background press briefing that Koch Industries—the company of libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch—paid no income taxes.

"So in this country, we have partnerships, S corps, we have LLCs—we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax," Goolsbee told reporters in August 2010. "Some of which are really giant firms. You know, Koch Industries, I think, is one, is a multibillion dollar business, and so that creates a narrower base because we got literally something like 50 percent of the business income in the U.S. is going to businesses that don’t pay any corporate income tax."

Conservative lawmakers and activists said Goolsbee’s statements not only unfairly singled out the president’s political opponents and used confidential IRS documents to do so.

"Almost 3 years since his remarks and the inspector general's investigation of those remarks, we still don't know what Mr. Goolsbee really relied upon nor has it ever been explained why Mr. Goolsbee was talking about Koch in the first place," Koch Industries legal counsel Mark Holden said in an email.

Goolsbee himself has yet to clear the air; in a tweet last week, he offered yet another explanation as to how he received the confidential IRS filings of Koch Industries.

"There was no secret info on koch bros. It came from here," Goolsbee tweeted, linking to a St. Petersburg Times article. "But was a mistake--one of the other Koch bros."

The White House consistently denied that it peeked at Koch Industries tax documents, but it has offered shifting explanations for where Goolsbee got his info.

An administration official told Politico the White House got the information from testimony before the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) and from Koch's own website.

When then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked to name the sources, he dithered.

"I don't know the answer off the top of my head on that," Gibbs said. "Again, I can see if there's better information on that."

The White House later said Goolsbee was just repeating something he recalled reading.

Holden said there has still never been a satisfactory explanation.

"Mr. Goolsbee's May 14th tweet offers up yet another alleged reason for what he relied upon when he discussed our confidential tax information back in 2010," Holden said in an email. "Like the other alleged sources for our tax information that he and the White House claimed he relied upon back in 2010, the 2003 newspaper article he now refers to in no way discusses Koch Industries or our tax information."

Holden also said the philanthropist businessmen are waiting on a government report of the disclosure.

"In addition, we have never seen the final inspector general's report concerning these issues," Holden said.

The Treasury Department’s inspector general launched a probe into Goolsbee’s comments, but that report was never made public.

Goolsbee did not return requests for comment.