Henry Cuellar becomes latest Democrat to distance himself from Koch Industries over company's Russia ties

Key Points
  • Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar is distancing himself from Koch Industries after the company refused to cut its operations in Russia.
  • The decision comes after CNBC first reported on two other Democratic lawmakers opting to no longer take campaign contributions from Koch Industries.
  • The Texas congressperson has an election history with the Koch political network.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) speaks on southern border security and illegal immigration, during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 30, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar is no longer accepting campaign contributions from Koch Industries after the conglomerate decided to remain in Russia despite the ongoing war with Ukraine.

"Congressman Cuellar has not received any money from the Koch Brothers this year and will not accept any future campaign contributions until they disassociate from Russia," Jake Hochberg, a chief advisor for Cuellar, told CNBC in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

Cuellar's decision to distance himself from Koch comes after CNBC first reported on two other Democratic lawmakers who said they stopped taking campaign contributions from Koch Industries' political action committee after the company refused to cut its operations in Russia. Many other business are fleeing Russia as the U.S. and its Western allies levy harsh sanctions on the country.

After publication of this story, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., told CNBC that he too was no longer accepting campaign contributions from the PAC as long as the company continues to do business in Russia. Costa, who has received $2,500 from the PAC this election cycle, is the fourth Democratic lawmaker to pledge that he's rejecting future contributions from Koch Industries.

"The Koch brothers need to do what is right and follow the lead of other U.S. companies and withdraw from Russia," Costa said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. "Putin's criminal and unprovoked actions against the Ukraine are a direct assault on democracy and should not be tolerated. I will not take any further contributions from the Koch PAC until they take a stand against Russia."

Koch Industries' 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. Robertson said in the statement "we will not walk away from our employees there or hand over these manufacturing facilities to the Russian government so it can operate and benefit from them."

The Democrats who have received money from Koch Industries represent a small percentage of the over $500,000 in donations this cycle given by the company PAC that has mainly gone to Republican candidates.

Not a single GOP lawmaker on Capitol Hill that was part of an over $100,000 donation blitz by the Koch Industries PAC in February has said whether they will stop taking their money. Billionaire and Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch was one of the top donors to his company's corporate PAC last month.

Cuellar is the top recipient among Democrats in the latest two-year election cycle to receive donations from Koch Industries' PAC. Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows Cuellar's campaign has reeled in $8,500 from the PAC this cycle. Federal Election Commission filings show that the corporate PAC gave Cuellar three separate contributions starting in March of last year and continuing until November. He's heading into a runoff election with progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros.

Cuellar saw his Texas home and office raided by the FBI in January. That raid was reportedly part of a larger federal probe into companies and organizations with ties to Azerbaijan.

Still, the Texas congressperson has a history with the Koch political network.

During his last successful bid for reelection in 2020, Cuellar saw support from the Koch network, including backing from the super PAC Americans for Prosperity Action. That super PAC has been regularly funded by Koch Industries, including a $3 million donation last month, FEC records show.

The Texas chapters of Americans for Prosperity and the separate Koch-backed Libre Initiative cheered on Cuellar, as well as Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, for introducing an immigration bill that the lawmakers say will "improve both the Department of Homeland Security's and the Department of Justice's capacity to manage migration influxes and adjudicate asylum claims in a timely manner." The bill was introduced in Congress last year.