WASHINGTON -- The Koch brothers, the Kansas industrialists known for lending their financial support to tea party Republicans, have given more campaign dollars recently to Democratic Sen. David Pryor than any other member of the Arkansas congressional delegation.
In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a Democrat nationwide who receives more support from Koch Industries than the $35,000 that employees of the firm and its political action committee, Koch PAC, have given to Pryor since 2007.
Most of that money -- at least $20,000 -- has flowed to Pryor's personal political action committee, Priority PAC, and has been donated since Pryor's re-election in 2008, according to a breakdown of Federal Election Commission records by the Center for Responsive Politics. The center is a nonpartisan Washington watchdog group that tracks political dollars.
Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a moderate Democrat like Pryor, comes close in Koch money, having received $31,000 since 2007.
But on the whole, Koch PAC gives 98 percent of its money to congressional Republicans, the center's figures show.
Koch Industries, an oil, gas, chemicals and consumer products conglomerate headed by Charles and David Koch, has vigorously pursued an agenda in Washington that includes staunch opposition to Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon emissions, plus numerous other hot button issues for conservatives, including tax relief and opposition to the financial industry reforms pushed through by President Barack Obama.
Liberal and progressive advocacy groups have called them financiers of the radical right.
In addition to supporting numerous conservative political candidates -- including the overwhelming majority of freshman House Republicans elected in 2010 -- the Koch brothers also finance dozens of conservative and libertarian think tanks and advocacy groups, including Americans for Prosperity.
As to why Koch contributions go to Pryor, "I think donors give to Senator Pryor because they think he's doing a good job of working across the aisle to get things done," said the senator's spokesman, Michael Teague.
Teague said the Koch brothers probably appreciate Pryor's efforts to reform the government regulatory process as well.
Pryor and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, are sponsors of the Regulatory Accountability Act in the Senate, legislation that would force government agencies to consider the effects of their proposed regulations on jobs and the economy.
Teague said "maybe they think that is a good bill."
The environmental group Greenpeace said in 2011 that Koch industries favors Pryor because he supported security standards for industrial plants using toxic chemicals that are too weak from the group's perspective. Pryor last year signed on as cosponsor of a bill that would have extended a 2006 law regarding anti-terrorism standards at chemical plants.
Teague did not respond to questions regarding the Greenpeace claim.
Officials at Koch Industry headquarters in Wichita, Kan. did not respond to requests for comment.
Others see a different reason for the Koch contributions.
"If they want sway with someone who is in the majority, a moderate like Pryor is a better place to start than, say, with Barbara Boxer," said Josh Israel, who monitors the Koch brothers for the Center for American Progress, a progressive political research and advocacy group in Washington.
But he added, "It's not like Pryor is going to be (voting) with them all the time."
Koch Industries, a privately held company, also owns Georgia Pacific, a forestry products company with plants in South Arkansas.
Priority PAC, Pryor's personal political action committee, is regarded as a "leadership PAC" by the Federal Election Commission. Members of Congress who have leadership PACs often use the money to gain influence by supporting the campaigns of fellow incumbents in their party. But regulations on use of leadership PAC funds are few, and critics often refer to them as political "slush funds." Other than on their own campaigns, members can use the funds about any way they want, including personal uses.
For the 2012 elections, Pryor has used his PAC to spread contributions of $127,500 among 16 incumbent Democratic senators ranging from Jon Tester of Montana to Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
He also made $11,000 in contributions to Democratic House candidates.
Amounts received by other members of the Arkansas delegation from Koch PAC and Koch employees since 2007, including amounts to their leadership PACs are:
- Republican Sen. John Boozman: $15,000
- Democratic Rep. Mike Ross: $22,500
- Republican Rep. Steve Womack: $10,000.
- Republican Rep. Tim Griffin: $14,000.
- Republican Rep. Rick Crawford: $5,000.
While in Tampa for this week's National Republican Convention, David Koch responded to critics, telling CNN: "We live in a country that believes in free speech. I'm a Republican and I believe in fiscal responsibility and supporting American business. So I think I have a right to speak out."
By PAUL C. BARTON, Gannett Washington Bureau