BY ROY WENZL
A group supporting the political views of retired billionaire investor Tom Steyer bought a full-page color advertisement Friday in The Wichita Eagle — the Koch brothers’ hometown newspaper — inviting the brothers to a public debate on climate change.
The brothers, Charles and David, don’t plan to take him up on it.
“We are not experts on climate change,” wrote Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia in an e-mail Friday afternoon. “We do believe there should be free and open debate on the climate issue and it should be based on sound science and intellectual honesty. The debate should take place among the scientific community, examining all points of view and void of politics, personal attacks and partisan agendas.”
Heather Wong, a spokeswoman for NextGen Climate Action, responded to Cohlmia’s comment. NextGen, which paid for the ad and was founded by Steyer, claims to be non-partisan and “focused on bringing climate change to the forefront of America’s political dialogue.”
“We’re glad that Koch Industries has acknowledged that they are not experts on climate change,” Wong said in an e-mail. “The scientific community has in fact had a free and open debate about climate change and reached an unequivocal conclusion: Our climate is changing and carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is primarily responsible.”
Steyer, according to a February story in the New York Times, is a 56-year-old retired founder of a successful hedge fund, Farallon Capital Management, where he accumulated $1.5 billion in wealth.
The story said he planned to rally fellow donors to spend as much as $100 million — $50 million of his own money and $50 million in donations — in state and national primary races this year. According to the Times, Steyer spent $11 million to help elect Democrat Terry McAuliffe as governor of Virginia last year.
He has also spent money to try to stop the Keystone Pipeline. Koch critics often claim that pipeline will substantially benefit the Kochs; the Koch brothers and Cohlmia have long said the company has nothing to do with the project.
The political advertisement in Friday’s Eagle labeled itself as, “An invitation to the Koch brothers” and juxtaposed photographs of David Koch vs. Steyer side by side.
“The Koch Brothers have always been shrouded in secrecy, their labyrinth of shadowy organizations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars benefiting candidates who deny basic science and push legislation that enables climate change,” the advertisement read. “Charles Koch has already mourned the oppression of ‘free and open debate.’ Here’s his chance to do something about it.”
The Koch brothers are personally worth $40 billion each. Both, including in interviews with The Eagle in 2012, have said they espouse a libertarian economic vision for the country based on low taxes, light regulation and free markets.
They also point out that they create jobs. Koch Industries — which is based in Wichita — has grown from the small Wichita oil company the brothers inherited in the 1960s to a $115 billion company, employing 60,000 people in the United States and 100,000 worldwide.