By John Hanna – Associated Press
March 2, 2012- TOPEKA | Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, known for supporting conservative political causes and candidates, are pursuing a lawsuit in their native Kansas over the ownership of a libertarian-leaning think tank based in Washington.
The Koch brothers are longtime shareholders in the Cato Institute, a research organization that promotes free-market, small-government policies. Their lawsuit seeks a court ruling that would leave the institute with only one other shareholder, its president and chief executive officer, Edward Crane III, who also is a defendant.
The brothers filed their lawsuit Wednesday in Johnson County District Court, arguing that the Kansas court has jurisdiction because the Cato Institute, while based in Washington, also lists an office in Overland Park. The brothers are the top executives at Wichita-based Koch Industries Inc., but the multibillion-dollar industrial firm is not involved in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit centers on the 25 percent ownership interest in the Cato Institute previously held by William Niskanen, who retired as chairman in 2008 and died in October. The Koch brothers contend that under shareholders' agreements in 1977 and 1985, his wife can't retain the shares and control his ownership interest, but must sell the shares back to the institute.
"Over the past several months, Charles Koch and David Koch have made multiple efforts to resolve this issue," Wes Edwards, an attorney for the brothers, said in a statement. "Reluctantly, they believe the time has come to ask the court for help in confirming the meaning of the shareholders' agreement."
The two brothers are the only plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which names the institute, Crane and Kathryn Washburn, Niskanen's widow, as defendants. The institute did not immediately respond Thursday to a telephone request for comment by The Associated Press.