Koch addicts seek another hit

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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As The Washington Examiner reported last week, Bloomberg Markets appears to be on the verge of dropping a lengthy treatise on the Kansas-based energy conglomerate Koch Industries.

According to an individual interviewed by Bloomberg (who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity), much of the focus will likely be devoted to re-litigating past legal peccadilloes. But the piece may also reveal at least one previously unreported controversy: Koch Industries’ connection to the sale of petroleum industry equipment in Iran in the early-to-mid 2000s.

Koch currently has a policy prohibiting its subsidiaries from doing business in Iran, and the past sales (some of which likely involved state-owned Iranian companies) appear to have been conducted by a foreign subsidiary of a subsidiary of Koch.

Still, this comes on the heels of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech to the UN General Assembly — and at a time when Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are receiving increased attention.

All of this, of course, means the story could provide political fodder to Koch’s political enemies — which are legion. (In 2005, you might recall, Halliburton, the company once run by former Vice President Dick Cheney, also came under fire for doing business in Iran.)

In reality, the revelation isn’t terribly newsworthy. While U.S. law bans American companies from making direct sales in Iran, foreign subsidiaries of multinational corporations may do so under certain circumstances. And many of them do.

Dozens of multinational companies — including household names like General Electric, Exxon Mobil, Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar, and Honeywell — conducted business in Iran during the time period. For example, a 2010 New York Times analysis identified 74 corporations — many of whom received government contracts — that have conducted business in Iran over the last decade.

Regardless of whether or not one finds this troubling, the fact that the practice was ubiquitous raises an obvious question: Why is Bloomberg singling out Koch?

The answer seems pretty obvious.

Led by billionaire libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch, Koch Industries has, in recent years, become the subject of scrutiny and attacks — based primarily on their opposition to Obama administration economic policies.

Since Obama’s inauguration and the rise of the tea party, several media outlets have penned extensive spreads seeking to essentially cast The Kochs as the conservative version of George Soros. They’ve also been singled out for criticism — by name — by Obama Administration officials like former chief economist Austan Goolsbee.

And liberal groups have sought to demonize The Kochs (and the libertarian and conservative organizations they fund) by launching a series of attacks, including questioning their financial support of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, their alleged efforts to “kill public unions” in the state — and advancing the perfidious notion (perpetuated by ThinkProgress) that David Koch somehow had a conflict of interest on the issue of formaldehyde (because of his service on the National Cancer Advisory Board) — just to cite a few examples.

With this Bloomberg article apparently looming in the pipeline, and considering that Koch’s business activities were hardly unique, one can only be left wondering if this is yet another example of a politically motivated hit masquerading as news.

Matt K. Lewis