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Koch Industries’ campaign donations questioned after company’s decision to remain in Russia

In this February 26, 2007 file photograph, Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, talks passionately about his new book on Market Based Management.
Bo Rader | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

More than two dozen U.S. lawmakers received roughly $120,000 in campaign contributions from Koch Industries in the weeks leading up to Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine — money some ethics lawyers say should be returned given the company’s decision to maintain operations in Russia.

U.S. lawmakers are being scrutinized for accepting campaigns contributions from the conglomerate, which is run by billionaire Charles Koch, even as other major U.S. and European companies flee the country to avoid sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

The company’s glass manufacturer Guardian Industries, which has two facilities in Russia, will remain fully active despite the Kremlin’s war with Ukraine, Koch Industries President and Chief Operating Officer Dave Robertson said in a statement last week. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and Western allies have taken aim at Russia with sanctions, including targeting the country’s central bank.

Ethics lawyers told CNBC the Koch’s donations could influence congressional leaders as they determine how to further aid Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggressors.

“Having lawmakers dependent on Putin enablers for their positions as they are making decisions about how to handle this crisis is dangerous for America and dangerous for democracy,” Walter Shaub, who ran the Office of Government Ethics under multiple administrations, told CNBC.

Lawmakers who have taken money from Koch Industries, simply “should return the donation and stop taking money from Koch,” Richard Painter, who was chief White House ethics lawyer under then-President George W. Bush, said in an interview

At least one lawmaker, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., won’t accept future donations from Koch industries and will donate what it has recently received to a charity dedicated to providing aid to Ukraine, spokeswoman Deb Barnes said after CNBC emailed to ask about the donations.

Schrader’s campaign received $4,500 from the Koch Industries’ political action committee during the 2022 election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations and spending.

“Schrader believes as long as the company has decided to continue to do business in Russia during the war he will not accept donations from the company,” Barnes said in a statement.

The Oregon congressman is the only lawmaker contacted by CNBC who has committed to not accepting new money from Koch. Representatives for other lawmakers mentioned in this story who saw big money from Koch Industries last month, didn’t immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment. A spokesman for Koch Industries did not return a request for comment.

In February, the Koch Industries PAC contributed just under $120,000 to over two dozen U.S. lawmakers, with most of the the donations going to the campaigns or political action committees of Republicans on Capitol Hill, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filing.

CEO Charles Koch was one of the top donors to his company’s corporate PAC last month.

Republican Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, along with GOP Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa each received donations from Koch ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 last month.

Though most of the over $500,000 from the Koch Industries PAC donations have gone toward Republican efforts during the 2022 election cycle, there are a few other House Democrats who have also recently seen money from the Koch backed committee.

Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., Jim Costa, D-Calif and Terri Sewel, D-Ala., have all seen donations in the 2022 election cycle from the Koch Industries PAC.

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