They have been called "radical," "toxic," and even "un-American," but over the weekend, the billionaire Koch brothers who are reportedly planning to spend nearly $900 million to support conservative candidates and causes during the 2016 election cycle, received a forceful defense from three likely Republican presidential contenders.
"Let me be very clear, I admire Charles and David Koch," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told ABC's Jonathan Karl at a forum sponsored by Freedom Partners, a non-profit backed by the brothers. "They are businessmen who've created hundreds of thousands of jobs and they have stood up for free market principles and endured vilification with equanimity and grace."
"There are a bunch of Democrats who have taken as their talking point that the Koch brothers are the nexus of all evil in the world," Cruz continued. "I think that is grotesque and offensive."
Cruz, who noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vilifies the Kochs "every week," added, "There is a reason Harry Reid and the Democrats do that. They cannot defend the record. They can't defend the Obama economy, it's a disaster. They can't defend Obamacare, which is a train wreck. And they certainly can't defend the Obama/Clinton foreign policy. So they want to scare people by painting a picture of nefarious billionaires."
Rubio asserted that some on the left criticize the Kochs for their political spending, but welcome campaign cash from friendlier sources.
“The people who seem to have a problem with it are the ones that only want unions to be able to do it, their friends in Hollywood to be able to do it and their friends in the press to be able to do it,” Rubio said.
Rubio used the example of billionaire Tom Steyer, who donated heavily to Democratic candidates in 2014, arguing that while he doesn't agree with Steyer's views, he stands by his right to spend money to promote them.
"There is a gentleman out there who has radical environmental ideas who has spent tens of millions of dollars, lost most of his races," Rubio said. "But spent tens of millions of dollars attacking Republicans that don't want to impose his radical environmental agenda. He has a right to do that."
Rubio added, "I believe in freedom of speech. And I believe that spending on political campaigns is a form of political speech that is protected under the constitution."
Paul acknowledged that special interests can have a negative influence on government, but said the only special interests he's concerned about "are those who do business with government, get government contracts, take the government money and then try to get more contracts."