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Google and Koch brothers team up to take on bail reform

  • Google and Koch Industries are co-sponsoring an event that aims to help reform U.S. bail system.
  • Leaders from both companies are expected to attend the special event Tuesday in Washington.
  • A Koch executive says this is not the first time his group and Google have teamed up to push for criminal justice reform.
Charles and David Koch
Miller Hawkins | MSNBC
Charles and David Koch

Technology behemoth Google is revving up its support for bail reform and it's getting help from one of the most influential groups in Washington — the Koch political network.

Google is partnering with Koch Industries, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate owned by political financiers Charles and David Koch, in an event Tuesday to push for changes to the bail code within the United States, according to an invitation obtained by CNBC.

The event is expected to take place in Washington and, among others, leaders of the Koch network are expected to attend. Several will be making comments at the event.

Mark Holden, general counsel and senior vice president of Koch Industries and chairman of the board of directors for Freedom Partners, one of the network's nonprofit political advocacy groups, confirmed the event. He explained that he's hoping to see more due process before someone has to pay a bail fee that at times can exceed $20,000.

"Our desired state is that after people are arrested, there should be a risk assessment done, a determination if they are a risk to public safety" and then a decision should be made on whether they should be detained and pay bail, Holden said. He noted this was not the first time Google and the Kochs had teamed up to push for criminal justice reform.

For its part, Google is already taking action against the bail bond industry.

In a press release published Monday, Google said it has decided to "prohibit ads that promote bail bond services" from its platforms. It cites studies that show bail bondsmen taking advantage of low-income neighborhoods and creating financial packages that leave people in debt for an extended period of time.

Google credited Koch Industries for helping it come to the conclusion.

The work between the two groups goes to show the efforts they make to sway lawmakers, particularly as the Koch network has started stepping back from endorsing specific candidates and, instead, pushing for change to individual issues with bail reform being just one of them.

The partnership also is unique because of the causes they are linked to, with the Kochs traditionally backing conservative ideologies and Google being associated with the more liberal views of Silicon Valley.

Other issues for the Kochs include making individual tax cuts permanent, protecting participants of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as Dreamers, curtailing the Dodd-Frank Act, providing access to experimental drugs for the terminally ill and cutting back spending, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Bail reform has become a political issue going into the 2018 congressional midterm elections for a few members on Capitol Hill, including Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Both Harris and Paul are not up for re-election this year but co-sponsored a bill in July 2017 that proposed to replace the current bail system and implement what they described as a National Pretrial Reporting Program, which collects data on the processing of defendants by state and local courts.

In that same month, they authored an op-ed in The New York Times calling for change and echoing the same goals of the Kochs.

"Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally," Paul and Harris said. "Yet that doesn't happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail," they added.

Harris was invited to go to the Google-Koch event but, according to her spokeswoman, she could not attend because of a prior engagement.

There were also efforts to get Paul to attend, however it's unclear if he will be a speaker on Tuesday, according to sources familiar with the matter.

A spokesman from his office did not return requests for comment at the time of publication.