Charles Koch in Aspen: Trump vs. Hillary is like ‘cancer or heart attack’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, was interviewed by Fortune editor Alan Murray at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference at Aspen Meadows on Monday.
Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm Tech |

Charles Koch will sit out the 2016 presidential election, he said Monday at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference at Aspen Meadows, indicating he will neither vote for nor donate to a candidate.

The billionaire industrialist, influential conservative political donor and bogeyman of the left said he and brother David are backing neither of the presumptive major-party nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“If I had to vote for cancer or heart attack, why would I vote for either one?” said Koch, the CEO of Koch Industries, in a public interview with Fortune editor Alan Murray.

Asked what he saw in the coming presidential election, he said: “I see two people that at this point we’re not supporting.”

The Kochs had said last year they’d budgeted $889 million to spend on 2016 elections. None of it will go toward the top of the ticket, Koch suggested Monday. Trump and the protectionist trade policy the candidate has touted, Koch said, run counter to the free trade and free-market policies that he and his brother have long supported.

“I’m sure he’s a fine fellow underneath, but there’s just a lot — when you look at our guiding principles you see that his guiding principles are antithetical to those,” he said of the presumptive Republican nominee.

Specifically, Koch pointed to Trump’s threat to slap massive tariffs on foreign imports as a recipe for worldwide depression.

“I think that’s a monstrosity,” he said.

Clearing up a quote that made the rounds in the media suggesting that Koch might support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, he said he would only support the former first lady “if she totally changed everything she stood for.”

To that, he added with a laugh: “You can see why all those years I didn’t give interviews.”

Historically press-shy and rarely appearing in public, Koch, now 80, has in recent months taken on a more public role. He said the shift was a belated response to the criticism he, his brother and their company have regularly received through the media. Koch said he believes about 10 percent of what’s been printed about him is true.

All of the negative attention that the Kochs have received for their outsized influence on American electoral politics, he said, may have hurt or may have helped Koch Industries and its bottom line, he said.

“We have a lot of people who boycott us and then we have a lot that write us and say, ‘Oh, now we’re just going to buy your products,’” Koch said.

If the boycotts have lost them money, he said, that’s all right with him because he has been fighting to shape a world he believes in: “I’d rather die for something than live for nothing.”