07/19/2012 07:05 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2012

Frank Lautenberg Takes On The Koch Brothers

WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, Koch Industries escalated what began as a quick jab by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) into a heated back-and-forth. The company lashed out at Lautenberg, who spoke on the Senate floor earlier this week about legislation he had cosponsored to increase transparency in campaign finance.

On Monday, Lautenberg had tough -- but mostly overlooked -- words for Charles and David Koch: With a visual display behind him declaring "The Koch Brothers: Subverting the Democratic Process," the Garden State senator demanded the conservative billionaires "have the courage" to make their political activities known to the American public.

"They are unabashed in their zeal to use their fortunes to further their political agenda," Lautenberg said in a speech that urged passage of the Disclose Act. "If these wealthy individuals want to pick our next president, they should have the muscle and the courage to stand and say so, [and] tell everybody what it is they want to accomplish -- what they want to do to our democracy."

Lautenberg also referred to the Koch brothers' multibillion-dollar conglomerate, Koch Industries, as a "secretive corporation" that has a "huge impact on our lives."

On Tuesday, the company followed up with a tough statement on its website that went so far as to accuse Lautenberg of mounting an anti-Koch Industries boycott. "At a time when the United States remains mired in an economic crisis with unemployment above 8 percent and 30 consecutive months of troubling private sector hiring reports, Sen. Lautenberg and three other Democratic senators took to the Senate floor this week to falsely and maliciously attack Koch Industries, a U.S.-based manufacturing company that employs 50,000 people including more than 100 in his home state of New Jersey," the company said.

Freshman Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) also defended the Kochs Thursday on the Senate floor, according to the Daily Caller. "Rather than having a debate about the Disclose Act, what we should be doing is finding ways to replicate what the founders and shareholders of Koch Industries have done in Kansas, the United States and around the globe -- create jobs for Americans in our country's economy," he said.

Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden then attacked Lautenberg in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post on Thursday: "So Senator Lautenberg is in favor of protecting the First Amendment rights of US flag defilers and providing habeas corpus rights for suspected foreign terrorists but attacks a U.S. company, urges a boycott of its products, and is trying to drive it and its U.S. employees out of business because he disagrees with the company owners’ exercise of their First Amendment rights to express their public policy views?"

"It's strange that Koch Industries appears to be inventing a boycott of their own products that Senator Lautenberg never called for," said Caley Gray, a spokesman for Lautenberg, by email on Thursday. He also noted it was unusual that "Koch Industries would use a corporate website to launch partisan political attacks."

On Monday, Lautenberg had also criticized Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-linked organization that has spent millions of dollars during this election cycle but calls itself a "social welfare" organization. Lautenberg called it an "insult" that the organization can claim this tax status, which enables it to "keep their donors secret."

Koch Industries -- not Americans for Prosperity -- handled the defense on Tuesday. "Sen. Lautenberg’s rambling diatribe is directed at the alleged activities of Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots organization with more than 1.8 million activists and 90,000 donors in 50 states," Koch Industries stated on its website.

While Lautenberg did not call for a boycott of Koch products, he did make some quips at the company's expense on Monday, saying the firm's Brawny paper towels would not be able to "clean up what is going on with our electoral process."

UPDATE: July 20 -- Mark Holden, Koch Industries' general counsel, reiterated in an email to The Huffington Post on Friday his company's contention that Lautenberg had called for a boycott of its products: "The Senator’s blatant hypocrisy and outright hostility towards a longstanding U.S. manufacturer and its 50,000 U.S. employees are deeply troubling. Senator Lautenberg’s after-the-fact claim he wasn’t calling for a boycott is not credible and begs the question of why he listed in detail our products during his diatribe on the Senate floor."