David Koch may once have called Koch Industries "the biggest company you've never heard of," but facing increasing scrutiny--as the Koch brothers’ plan to inject nearly a billion dollars in into the 2016 election cycle through their "Freedom Partners" dark money operation--the company seems to be on a spin doctor hiring spree.
The privately-held corporation now has hired a cadre of PR flacks with experience defending toxic clients like the tobacco industry as the Kochs struggle to refashion their public image.
Starting last year, the Kochs' PR blitz has included a $20 million ad campaign called "We Are Koch" featuring Koch employees and bucolic landscapes, which touts the company's "American values." One of its ads was famously mocked by Jon Stewart.
The Koch brothers' PR team has also scored interviews with Barbara Walters and USA Today to assert their softer sides, with David Koch claiming to be a "social liberal" and with a photo of Charles Koch getting lunch in the company cafeteria.
So, who's in the PR stable the billionaire brothers have assembled?
Behind the new Koch spin is a growing list of well-connected PR staff and lobbyists, many with extensive ties to the tobacco industry or the Republican party or both.
Dave Dziok, director of communications (July 2015). In addition to a term as spokesperson for former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann whose absurd claims were widely criticized, Dziok was vice president of public affairs at Edelman, a global PR company that received millions for helping to orchestrate efforts against regulations to protect the public from cancer-causing tobacco use. One of Edelman's other executives infamously advised staffers:
Like Koch, Edelman has ties to ALEC and orchestrated its PR strategy after CMD launched ALEC exposed and connected the dots between it and the law that shielded George Zimmerman from initial arrest and conviction for killing Trayvon Martin. Part of their PR operation included attempting to discredit those reporting on ALEC, like Bill Moyers and CMD. ALEC's current spokesperson is also a former Edelman hand. Edelman has garnered some positive press for itself since announing it would not accept clients that deny climate change, even though it worked for ALEC, one of the nation's most notorious spreaders of disinformation on climate change, as CMD/PRwatch.org has documented on ALECclimatechangedenial.org and other sites.
Steve Lombardo, head of marketing and communications (January 2014). Before serving as senior research and communications director for Mitt Romney's 2008 campaign, Lombardo was public affairs/crisis chair at Burson-Marsteller and headed StrategyOne research at Edelman. Lombardo's resume also includes extensive work for the tobacco industry, and StrategyOne conducted researchon how to convince the public that Philip Morris (now Altria), the world's largest purveyor of cancer-causing cigarettes, was a "responsible company." Several of Lombardo's fellow new hires are StrategyOne alumni.
Ken Spain, managing director for external relations (March 2015). As vice president of public affairs and communications for the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, Spain helped defend the buyout industry during Mitt Romney's run for President in 2012. Spain is also a former communication director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Peter Ventimiglia, director of research and strategy (June 2014). Former executive vice president at Edelman and Edelman subsidiary StrategyOne, where he helped research messaging for Philip Morris.
Amy Treanor, director of corporate branding (June 2014). Treanor was a vice president at Edelman's StrategyOne from 1998-2003, spent six years at Steve Lombardo's consulting agency, and ultimately became an executive vice president at Edelman.
Matt Lloyd, communications director (June 2014). Former chief of staff for Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) and communications director for former Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN, now Governor of Indiana and an ALEC alum.
Don Nickels, lobbyist on campaign finance and repealing wind energy tax credit (June 2014). Nickels, a Republican, is a former U.S. Senator from Oklahoma whose elections were funded in part by Koch money and who is also an alum of ALEC/
Crossroads Strategies, hired to lobby on regulation of financial derivatives (February 2015). The Kochs' representation includes John Green, who served as deputy chief of staff for former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
More details on Edelman's history on tobacco and other disinformation campaigns is available on CMD's SourceWatch site, and detailed reporting about Edelman's work for big polluters is available at DeSmogBlog, the Climate Investigations Center, and Greenpeace. CMD also has detailed resources on Burson-Marsteller, Philip Morris (Altria), and on the tobacco playbook, which CMD extensively documented on PRWatch and in its book by CMD's founder John Stauber with Sheldon Rampton in "Trust Us, We're Experts."
CMD's Executive Director, Lisa Graves, contributed research to this article.
Jessica Mason is a CMD research intern. She is completing her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.