After House Speaker Paul Ryan helped usher through last year’s Republican tax cuts, Charles and Elizabeth Koch appeared to give the GOP leader a big thank you: the pair donated nearly $500,000 to Ryan’s fundraising campaign, “Team Ryan”, just thirteen days later.
A Snopes investigation revealed that the Kochs each donated $247,000 to Ryan’s fundraising efforts.
Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, co-director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and a Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, concurs. He told us via e-mail that this seemed “pretty close to an illegal gratuity,” which in this case would be a payment as thanks for an official action, a lesser but related offense to bribery, according to the Department of Justice.
And they were not alone in offering a thank you to Ryan for his work with tax legislation:
Casting aside the massive grey area within the interpretation of laws pertaining to political fundraising, we note it is equally important to point out that the Kochs were far from the only ones to participate in similar political giving activity. Six other $100,000 donations were made to Team Ryan after the passage of the bill, according to the IBT:
[The Koch] donations were by far the largest sums added to Ryan’s coffers in the fourth quarter of 2017, but they were by no means the only major contributions: Marlene Ricketts, the wife of billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, donated $100,000, as did five other individuals.
When we asked Professor Briffault whether these donations were something to get worked up about or simply “politics as usual,” he told us that he rejected the premise of the question, suggesting instead that it could be both: “I am tempted to suggest that you’ve made a false opposition — that this is both something to get worked up about and politics as usual,” he wrote.