Koch Backing For Justice Reform Rooted In Environmental Case


The conservative Koch brothers’ financial investment in criminal justice reform is reviewed by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who has just published a book on the Kochs. Mark Holden of Koch Industries, who has overseen Koch Industries' criminal-justice-reform work, acknowledges that the brothers were motivated to give money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2004 after being prosecuted for environmental crimes. A federal case against the company, says Holden, “was a huge overreach, a grave injustice,” adding, “We were very skeptical, going forward, of criminal prosecutors having too much power. So we got involved in criminal-justice reform.” Skeptics who see the Kochs' sentencing-reform effort as a publicity stunt say that they have continued to give money to groups and candidates that have run scurrilous tough-on-crime campaigns, like that of Senator David Vitter (R-LA), who made a failed bid for governor last fall. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), says Republicans in the House would not bend on the white-collar-crime provisions favored by the Koches, saying, “It's a deal breaker for us if they're not included.”

In the midst of this standoff, Holden reassured his liberal partners that the Kochs were sincere about sentencing reform, and would rather see it pass without the white-collar-crime provisions than not at all. Speaking of the white-collar legislation, he told Mayer, “We're not pushing this now. Hopefully, it will get worked out, but if it will kill it we don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.” As Congress returned from the holidays, the criminal-justice-reform coalition seemed to be fraying. Although liberal advocate Van Jones praised the Kochs' promise to support the sentencing-reform bill with or without the House provisions, he criticized the brothers for not doing more to pressure Republicans in Congress to support sentencing reform. “A fair criticism would be that the Koch brothers haven't used their nuclear arsenal on this thing,” he acknowledged. “They haven't said that they'll run ads about it.”

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