Three years ago, Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists and supporters of libertarian causes, held a seminar of like-minded, wealthy political donors at the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colo. They laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes.
Other than financing a few fringe libertarian publications, the Kochs have mostly avoided media investments. Now, Koch Industries, the sprawling private company of which Charles G. Koch serves as chairman and chief executive, is exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.
By early May, the Tribune Company is expected to send financial data to serious suitors in what will be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country. Koch Industries is among those interested, said several people with direct knowledge of the sale who spoke on the condition they not be named. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31 and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties.
The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion.
Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, and The Tribune is No. 9, and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. A deal could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.
One person who attended the Aspen seminar who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the strategy as follows: “It was never ‘How do we destroy the other side?’
Guests at the Aspen seminar included Philip F. Anschutz, the Republican oil mogul who owns the companies that publish The Washington Examiner, The Oklahoman and The Weekly Standard, and the hedge fund executive Paul E. Singer, who sits on the board of the political magazine Commentary. Attendees were asked not to discuss details about the seminar with the press.
A person who has attended other Koch Industries seminars, which have taken place since 2003, says Charles and David Koch have never said they want to take over newspapers or other large media outlets, but they often say “they see the conservative voice as not being well represented.” The Kochs plan to host another conference at the end of the month, in Palm Springs, Calif.
Last month, shortly after L.A. Weekly first reported on Koch Industries’ interest in the Tribune papers, the liberal Web site Daily Kos and Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles-based liberal advocacy group, collected thousands of signatures protesting such a deal. Conservatives, meanwhile, welcomed the idea of a handful of prominent papers spreading the ideas of economic “freedom” from taxes and regulation that the Kochs have championed.
Seton Motley, president of Less Government, an organization devoted to shrinking the role of the government, said the 2012 presidential election reinforced the view that conservatives needed a broader media presence.
“A running joke among conservatives as we watched the G.O.P. establishment spend $500 million on ineffectual TV ads is ‘Why don’t you just buy NBC?’ ” Mr. Motley said. “It’s good the Kochs are talking about fighting fire with a little fire.”
Koch Industries has for years felt the mainstream media unfairly covered the company and its founding family because of its political beliefs. KochFacts.com, a Web site run by the company, disputes perceived press inaccuracies. The site, which asserts liberal bias in the news media, has published private e-mail conversations between company press officers and journalists, including the Politico reporter Kenneth P. Vogel and editors at The New Yorker in response to an article about the Kochs by Jane Mayer.