A job fair in San Francisco, California. 
A job fair in San Francisco, California.  - 
Listen To The Story
Marketplace

"Ban the Box" is a campaign to remove the check-box question "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" from job applications. Supporters of the campaign say the question puts people who have committed a crime at a disadvantage, even though they have served their time. Discrimination against former felons reduces their ability to get jobs and rise out of poverty, the argument goes.

The Koch brothers, owners of Koch Industries, are known for their deep-pocketed support of conservative and libertarian political causes, so a recent move by the company to "ban the box" on the company's job applications surprised some observers.

But while the Koch brothers support conservative causes, they've long supported criminal justice reform.

"They've been front and center out there looking at reform issues," says Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. 

"Ban the box" isn't a liberal issue, says Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

"Business absolutely wants to see people take care of themselves, can give back to the economy, can support their families," Rodriguez says. "That's what keeps our economy going."

“Banning the box” would help about 70 million Americans find jobs, Rodriguez says. That’s a lot of potential employees. Many employers in the public sector have started to ban the box on their application forms, she says, but only a handful of corporations have come out publicly in support of the measure. "We want to see more of this happening." 

But Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative civil rights think tank, thinks some companies have plenty of reason to find out if applicants have been convicted of crimes. In supporting "ban the box," Koch Industries may have more than reform on its mind.

"A lot of companies might think this is good publicity," Clegg says. "I think particularly, larger national companies are always eager to appear to be politically correct."

Follow Tim Fitzsimons at @@tfitzsimons