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Koch brothers push back against report that they're backing Scott Walker

David Koch
David Koch
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

The Koch brothers are pushing back against a New York Times report that they've named Scott Walker as their favorite 2016 candidate — and are putting out the word that, for now, they haven't chosen one favorite, but are picking among at least five.

In an interview with USA Today's Fredreka Schouten, Charles Koch said five candidates stand out as possible leaders: Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. And, he said, his network might "give several of them some money."

Earlier, David Koch said in a statement that while Walker is "terrific," he is "not endorsing or supporting any candidate for President at this point." And a Tuesday morning story by Politico's Mike Allen quoted an anonymous "top Koch aide" saying that the brothers and their political operation are still considering whether to intervene in the GOP primaries.

The Times story that started all the fuss, by Nick Confessore, said that at a Monday fundraiser in New York City, David Koch said he hoped Walker would become the party's nominee. It was sourced to two anonymous attendees of the fundraiser.

An endorsement of one candidate now would mean a loss of leverage for the Kochs

One potential reason for Charles Koch's emphasis that he might back several candidates is that with an endorsement of just one, the brothers would lose their leverage over the others in the field. Currently, each GOP hopeful has an incentive to woo the brothers — and, potentially, to take issue positions and craft a platform that appeals to them. With a Koch endorsement handed off to one rival, that incentive would no longer exist.

That would explain why, in Allen's story, anonymous Koch aides stressed that even Jeb Bush still has a shot at their backing. As one aide explained to Allen, "We wouldn't want to take options off the table by getting behind one of them now."

Accordingly, Koch aides also told Allen that the brothers might still mobilize their well-funded political operation to pick a favorite in the primaries — even though, according to Confessore's sources, David Koch suggested at the Monday event that the operation would stay neutral.

Though it's been floated before that the Koch operation might intervene in the GOP primaries, many have remained skeptical. The operation — which hopes to raise $889 million before the 2016 election, according to Matea Gold of the Washington Post — fundraises from many other wealthy donors in addition to the brothers. And some of those donors might have their own preferred primary candidates — and might not want their donations going to back the Kochs' pick in an intraparty civil war.

Another potential way the Kochs could get involved without picking one favorite is by using their money to attack a candidate they believe to be unelectable. "I'm told that, in fact, watching Newt in 2012 made Kochs more likely to try to sink a candidate than to rally behind one," Eliana Johnson of National Review tweeted.

"Only if somebody really stands out from the standpoint of their message and what they would actually do to benefit America and has a chance a decent chance of being elected, only then would we select one over the others," Charles Koch told Schouten.

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