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New York Times

WASHINGTON - After months of wincing in the face of negative ads funded by the industrialists David and Charles Koch, Democrats believe they have found a way to fight back: attacking the brothers' sprawling business conglomerate as callous and indifferent to the lives of ordinary people while pursuing profit and power.

By drawing public attention to layoffs by subsidiaries of Koch Industries across the country - a chemical plant in North Carolina, an oil refinery in Alaska, a lumber operation in Arkansas - Democrats are seeking to make villains of the reclusive billionaires, whose political organizations have spent more than $30 million on ads so far to help Republicans win control of the U.S. Senate.

The approach is similar to one used by President Barack Obama and his allies against Mitt Romney in 2012, when they painted a dark picture of Bain Capital, the firm Romney founded, as a company that cut jobs and prized the bottom line over the well-being of its employees.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is one of the Democrats whose latest political ads call out the Kochs, whose combined net worth is estimated to be $100 billion. In an ad that features a picture of the brothers grinning, Alaskans look directly into the camera and unload. "They come into our town, buy our refinery," says one. "Just running it into the ground," says another. "A lot of Alaskans are losing jobs, and I'm definitely concerned about the drinking water," says a young woman holding a baby.

At stake in the midterm elections is the ability to control the agenda on tax legislation, health care and judicial nominations.

But with the U.S. Supreme Court last week striking down limits on aggregate giving to candidates, spending by wealthy donors is expected to accelerate.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he found the attack on the Koch brothers unseemly because Democrats appear to object to the brothers exercising their First Amendment right to political expression. "What I find startling is singling out private American citizens who have decided to engage in the political process, and basically demonizing them by name," Rubio said.

Last week, Charles Koch, in a rare public defense of his endeavors, wrote in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, "Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs - even when we benefit from them."