In a move that highlights a growing rift in conservative ranks, Koch Industries -- the privately held energy conglomerate owned by billionaires Charles and David Koch -- today distanced the firm from allied political groups lobbying to keep the government shut down unless Obamacare is defunded.
A letter, signed by the company's chief lobbyist and sent to members of Congress, says that Koch Industries has taken no position on the shutdown dispute in Congress "nor have we lobbied on legislative provisions defunding Obamacare."
Instead, Koch Industries wants Congress to focus on "balancing the budget" and "cutting government spending," among other goals, said Philip Ellender, Koch Industries president for government and public affairs.
The letter comes in the wake of media reports documenting how Freedom Partners -- a newly formed conservative trade association closely associated with the Koch brothers -- has helped finance many of the conservative and Tea Party groups that have been pressuring Republicans to link defunding Obamacare to the passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government and extend the debt ceiling.
It was also spurred by a floor speech by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday that blamed the Koch brothers for the government shutdown. The Kochs "have been raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get us to where we are right now," Reid said.
Over the past year, Freedom Partners -- whose board members include three current and former Koch employees -- has doled out over $235 million, including grants to Heritage Action for America, Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party Patriots, State Tea Party Express and other groups that have been pushing to defund the Affordable Care Act.
But privately, Koch officials have expressed concern to lawmakers that the prospect of a government default over the Obamacare issue would be a "disaster" for the economy, according to one GOP consultant who recently discussed the matter with Koch officials and asked for anonymity. Koch Industries associates note that the firm is widely diversified, including last month's $7.2 billion purchase of a company that makes connectors for Apple iPhones and other consumer products -- one of many markets that could be affected by spikes in credit resulting from a government default.