Who are the Koch Brothers? – Part 1

Published: March 7, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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True story: I once asked someone at a social function their opinion of the Koch brothers. Their repy, “I don’t know them, but I’ve been drinking Coke for years!”

David and Charles Koch are businessmen/owners of Koch Industries, the second largest privately owned company in the United States. The company was founded by Fred C. Koch, a chemical engineer, who developed a more efficient method for the refinement of heavy oil into gasoline. After buying out their two brothers, David and Charles became the sole owners of a company with an annual revenue, listed by Forbes, at $100 billion.

After spending time in the former Soviet Union, Fred Koch detested communism, writing in, A Business Man Looks at Communism (1960), that the country had become “a land of hunger, misery and terror.”

A founding member of the John Birch Society, the elder Koch was convinced that both the Republican and Democratic parties had been infiltrated by the Communist Party, writing: “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America… getting a vicious race war started.” (Many Birch members also believed President Eisenhower to be a communist.)

While sons David and Charles are strongly libertarian, the father’s political theories may explain the brothers’ strong interest in today’s political battlefields – particularly when any government intrusion might impact their own interests. For the Kochs, those battlefields include corporate taxes, environmental regulation and government oversight of business.

The brothers Koch actively lobby against The Affordable Care Act and global warming legislation. In 2010, New Yorkermagazine reported that “…the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a ‘kingpin of climate science denial.’ The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups… [with] opposition campaigns against health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program.”

Nevertheless, David Koch has been honored as one of New York’s leading philanthropists. “In 2008, “The New Yorker writes, “he donated a hundred million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears his name. He has given twenty million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of the fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Koch pledged at least ten million dollars for their renovation. He is a trustee of the museum, perhaps the most coveted social prize in the city, and serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than forty million dollars, an endowed chair and a research center were named for him.”

However, The Center for Public Integrity, an American nonprofit group of independent journalists who investigate abuse of power and corruption issues, reported that the Kochs donated $7.9 million to Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group co-founded by David whose self-described mission is “to fight for less government, lower taxes, and less regulation.” In 2004, CSE became FreedomWorks a 501(c)(4) nonprofit while CSE’s foundation arm morphed into Americans for Prosperity.

In 2012, online magazine Slate, a Washington Post company, called Americans for Prosperity “one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics.”

So voluminous are the Koch brothers’ political activities, that they have their own Wikipedia page containing more than 100 references, and each of their supported groups have their own pages as well. Along with Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs have been/are active supporters and/or board members of the Cato Institute, the Mercatus Center, the Institute for Human Studies, the Institute for Justice, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, the Institute for Energy Research, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Fraser Institute (no, not the TV show). And this doesn’t include an army of trusts, services, funds, alliances, clubs, funds, and issue spin-offs that receive support as well.

So, why should we care?

While I applaud the Koch’s civic-minded interest (more citizens should be involved), what troubles me is not only the amount of money they personally donate and the incredible sums they raise, but how most of this takes place under-the-radar, invisible to the public.

“In an analysis of 2011 and 2012 tax filings, The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics found that a coalition of nonprofit groups backed by a donor network organized by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch raised more than $400 million in the last election cycle. Much of the money was distributed to a maze of limited-liability companies affiliated with the nonprofits…”

So, why not utilize the tactic of Woodward and Bernstein’sDeep Throat source, and just “follow the money.”

That’s easier said than done. And I’ll be exploring that on Monday.


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