Political activities of the Koch brothers

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The political activities of the Koch brothers include the financial and political influence of Charles G. and David H. Koch on United States politics. This influence is seen both directly and indirectly via various advocacy and lobbying organizations in which they have an interest.[1][2]

The Koch brothers are the sons of Fred C. Koch, who founded Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States, of which they own 84%.[3] Having bought out two other brothers' interests, they remain in control of the family business, the fortune which they inherited from their father, and the Koch Family Foundations.

The brothers have heavily contributed to libertarian and conservative think tanks and campaigns. They actively fund and support organizations that contribute significantly to Republican candidates, and that lobby against universal health care and climate change legislation.[4] They have donated more than $100 million to dozens of free-market and advocacy organizations.[4] In 2008, the three main Koch family foundations contributed to 34 political and policy organizations, three of which they founded, and several of which they direct.[4] Some of the political activities of the Koch brothers have brought controversy from organizations such as Greenpeace.[5][6]


The phrase "Koch brothers" generally refers to the sons of Fred C. Koch.[7][8][9][10] The most political sons are Charles Koch and David H. Koch who bought out their brothers Frederick and Bill in 1983.[11]

David H. Koch was a Libertarian Vice-Presidential candidate in 1980.[12] He advocated the abolition of Social Security, the FBI, the CIA, and public schools.[13][14] Koch put $500,000 of his own money into the race,[14] and he and Ed Clark, his presidential running mate, won 1.1% of the vote – the best Libertarian showing in a U.S. presidential race to date.[15] But the experience caused David Koch to change course: "I had enough ... [W]e are not a nation that debates issues. We vote on candidates' personalities." By 1984, David had parted company with the Libertarian Party, because, he said, "they nominated a ticket I wasn't happy with" and "so many of the hard-core Libertarian ideas are unrealistic."[14]

Interested in maintaining their privacy, they prefer to spend on donations to non-profit groups who do not disclose donors.[16]

Charles Koch funds and supports libertarian and free-market organizations such as the Cato Institute,[17] which he co-founded with Edward H. Crane and Murray Rothbard in 1977,[18] and is a board member at the Mercatus Center, a market-oriented research think tank at George Mason University. Charles Koch supported his brother's candidacy for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980.[4] After the bid, Charles told a reporter that conventional politics "tends to be a nasty, corrupting business ... I'm interested in advancing libertarian ideas".[4] In addition to funding think tanks, the brothers support libertarian academics;[19] since 1992, Charles has funded the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program through the Institute for Humane Studies, which mentors young, self-described libertarians.[20] Charles also organizes twice yearly meetings[21] with Republican donors.[17]

The brothers promote the ideal of economic freedom as essential to society's well-being.[22]


Chart showing the flow of money among a network of politically active nonprofits associated with the Koch Brothers


One 1997 study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy[23] identified twelve American foundations which have had a key influence on U.S. public policy since the 1960s via their support for the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute.[24] Three of these are Koch Family Foundations (the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation).[25] Others are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, Carthage Foundation (controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife), Earhart Foundation, Philip M. McKenna Foundation, JM Foundation, Henry Salvatori Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and Smith Richardson Foundation.[25]

Family foundations[edit]

The Koch Family Foundations began in 1953 with the establishment of the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation.[citation needed] In 1980, Charles Koch established the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, with the stated purpose of advancing social progress and well-being through the development, application and dissemination of "the Science of Liberty". David Koch established the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation.[citation needed] According to Matt Lewis, who has spoken for the Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded by David Koch, writing on Politics Daily, the political website of AOL News, the two brothers' foundations have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to a variety of organizations, including arts organizations, educational organizations, medical research,[26] and libertarian or conservative think tanks.

Charles Koch and his wife are trustees of the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, as directed by Claude R. Lambe.[27][28] With less than $6 million remaining as of 2010, the foundation distributed more than $27 million of its assets between 1997 and 2009.[29][30]

Think tanks and political organizations[edit]

Charles and David Koch have been involved in, and have provided funding to, a number of other think tanks and advocacy organizations: They provided the initial funding for the Cato Institute, they are key donors to the Federalist Society,[31] and they also support, or are members of, the Mercatus Center, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Institute for Justice, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, the Institute for Energy Research, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute,[32][33] the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),[34] and the Fraser Institute.[35][36] As of 2011, David Koch sits on the board of directors of the Cato institute,[37] the Reason Foundation and the Aspen Institute.[38] A 2013 study by the Center for Responsive Politics said that nonprofit groups backed by a donor network organized by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch raised more than $400 million in the 2011–2012 election cycle.[39]

Citizens for a Sound Economy[edit]

Citizens for a Sound Economy was co-founded by David Koch in the 1980s.[31] According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Koch Brothers donated a total amount of $7.9 million between 1986 and 1993.[4] In 1990, the brothers created the spinoff group Citizens for the Environment.[4] In 2004, Citizens for a Sound Economy was renamed FreedomWorks, while its affiliated Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation became Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Since then the Koch brothers have given more than one million dollars to AFP.[4][31][40]

Americans for Prosperity[edit]

At an AFP rally in 2009, David Koch said "Five years ago, my brother Charles and I provided the funds to start the Americans for Prosperity, and it's beyond my wildest dreams how AFP has grown into this enormous organization."[40] AFP is the political arm of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, for which David Koch serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees.[31][38] Americans for Prosperity created Patients United Now, which advocated against a single-payer health care system during the 2009-2010 healthcare reform debate. Both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have provided support for the Tea Party movement.[41][42] AFP spent $45 million in the 2010 election.[43]

Cato Institute[edit]

The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard, and Charles Koch. Following the 2011 death of William Niskanen, the chairman of the Cato Institute, Charles and David Koch reportedly made an effort to procure the shares of that institute held by Niskanen’s widow, "arguing that they were not hers to hold".[44] Their efforts were criticized by some at the institute, including the institute's president Ed Crane, who in an email to staff stated that the Kochs were "in the process of trying to take over the Cato Institute and, in my opinion, reduce it to a partisan adjunct to Americans for Prosperity, the activist GOP group they control." The brothers denied any wrongdoing.[45] In June 2012, Cato and the brothers reached an agreement. Crane stepped down and was replaced by John A. Allison IV; the Kochs withdrew two lawsuits.[46]

Freedom Partners[edit]

An organization with ties to the Koch Brothers,[47] Freedom Partners, gave grants worth a total of $236 million to conservative organizations, including Tea Party groups like the Tea Party Patriots and organizations which opposed The Affordable Care Act prior to the 2012 election. A majority of Freedom Partners board of directors is made up of long-time employees of the Koch brothers,[48][49][50] and has been called "the Koch brothers' secret bank" for its function as a vehicle to provide large donations to external organizations that advance causes supported by the Kochs.[51]

Competitive Enterprise Institute[edit]

The Kochs donated more than $17 million between 1997 and 2008 to various groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The group has been accused of opposing unions.[40] It describes itself as offering information on issues including, among others, energy, environment, biotechnology, pharmaceutical regulation, chemical risk, telecommunications, etc.[52]

Generation Opportunity[edit]

The Koch's have supported Paul T. Conway's Generation Opportunity, a youth mobilization effort.[53]

Political activity[edit]

Koch Industries describes itself as being committed to free societies and free market principles and as supporting those who champion these things.[54]

Efforts against the PATRIOT Act[edit]

The Koch brothers each made $10 million grants to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to fight the Bush administration over the PATRIOT Act.[55][56] According to Reason magazine that $20 million is "substantially more than the Kochs have contributed to all political candidates combined for at least the last 15 years."[56]

Educational grants[edit]

The Charles Koch Foundation (and in the case of Kansas schools, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation) provides grants to nearly 270 U.S. colleges and universities for "projects that explore how the principles of free enterprise and classical liberalism promote a more peaceful and prosperous society".[57]

In 2011, the Charles G. Koch foundation made a grant of $1.5 million to Florida State University (FSU) in exchange for allowing the foundation, via an advisory committee,[58] to approve hiring decisions in the university's economics department for a program that promotes "political economy and free enterprise". The foundation also sought to have the university create a class called Market Ethics: The Vices, Virtues, and Values of Capitalism. Required[dubious ] reading for the class would include books by Ayn Rand.[59][unreliable source] The FSU student senate introduced a resolution protesting the Koch's "undue influence on academics as established by the current agreement between the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the FSU Economics department."[60]

In 2014, the brothers made a $25 million grant to the United Negro College Fund, amid unusual publicity.[61] After the fund's president also appeared at a summit held by the brothers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a major labor union, ended its support for the fund in protest.[62]

Free enterprise seminars[edit]

In recent years, Charles and David Koch have organized semiannual seminars to promote their political views. In June 2010, one such event was held in Aspen, Colorado, called "Understanding and Addressing Threats to American Free Enterprise and Prosperity". The invitation stated that "[our] prosperity is under attack by the current Administration and many of our elected officials" and "we cannot rely on politicians to [defend our free society], so it is up to us to combat what is now the greatest assault on American freedom and prosperity in our lifetimes".[63] The seminar program indicated that "past meetings have featured such notable leaders as Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas; Governors Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour; commentators John Stossel, Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh; Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn; and Representatives Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, and Tom Price."[64]

Political contributions[edit]

As of 2011, Koch Industries' political action committee has donated more than $2.6 million to candidates.[65] The Koch brothers support primarily Republican candidates, who received over 80% of their political donations from 2005 to 2009, and in 2010 they supported California Proposition 23 (2010), which would have suspended the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.[66][67][68][69] The brothers pledged to donate $60 million in the 2012 election season to defeat President Barack Obama.[70][71] According to the Center for Responsive Politics, of $274 million in anonymous 2012 contributions, at least $86 million is "attributed to donor groups in the Koch network".[72][73]

Governor Scott Walker contributions[edit]

According to Mother Jones, Koch Industries' Political Action Committee (PAC) contributed the second largest donation to Scott Walker's 2010 campaign for governor of Wisconsin. It donated $43,000, second in size only to PAC donations of $43,125 from both the Wisconsin realtors and the Wisconsin home builders.[65] The maximum contribution allowed by law is $43,128.[74] That contribution amounted to less than one half of one percent of Walker's campaign total[75] because of the limits placed on campaign contributions.[74] Most support for Walker actually was in the form of independent expenditures estimated at $3 million from Americans for Prosperity.[76] After Walker took office, he and the Republican representatives in the Wisconsin House enacted legislation that placed limitations on collective bargaining by public employees. Widespread protests ensued. In February 2011, the New York Times reported that Americans for Prosperity had actively supported Walker's proposed bill.[63] Due to Koch's contribution to Walker's campaign, David Koch became a symbolic target for the protests.[75]

According to the Palm Beach Post, David Koch has been very active in Wisconsin politics with the group Americans for Prosperity. Americans for Prosperity reportedly spent $700,000 on ads supporting Governor Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining.[77][78]

Mitt Romney presidential candidacy[edit]

In July 2012, David H. Koch hosted a $50,000-a-person ($75,000 a couple) fundraising dinner for 2012 Republican Party Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, which was the subject of liberal and progressive protests.[16][79][80][81] Koch Industries cited the protests an example of what they see as liberal hypocrisy regarding fundraising as these same groups don't protest big money donations for Democratic fundraisers.[82] William Koch, the younger brother of Charles and David, gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Romney.[16] During the 2008 presidential race, David Koch donated $2,300 to Romney.[16]

Lobbying activity[edit]

Koch Industries and its subsidiaries spent more than $20 million on lobbying in 2008 and $12.3 million in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.[33][83]

Issues and policy[edit]

Climate change[edit]

The Koch brothers have played an active role in opposing climate change legislation. Climate-change policy directly affects the profitability of Koch Industries. In 2011, the EPA reported that Koch Industries "emitted over twenty-four million tons of carbon dioxide", as much as is typically emitted by five million cars.[84] A study from the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University reported that "[I]n 2011 and 2012, Koch Industries Public Sector LLC, the lobbying arm of Koch Industries, advocated for the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which would have rolled back the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could regulate greenhouse gases."[85][86]

The Koch Foundation is a major funder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, an effort to address the criticism of records of the earth's surface temperatures. At least two of the project's seven scientists are seen as climate change skeptics by many in the climate science world.[87] In an article about the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study (Chair Richard A. Muller), Los Angeles Times reporter Margot Roosevelt called the Koch Brothers "the nation's most prominent funders of efforts to prevent curbs on fossil-fuel burning".[88] UC Berkeley physicist Richard A. Muller initially concluded that global warming climate data was flawed, but later reversed his views, supporting scientific consensus.[89][90]

The Charles G. Koch Foundation gave the Smithsonian Institution two grants totaling $175,000 in 2005/6 and again in 2010 to support research of climate skeptic Dr. Willie Soon. Soon has stated that he has "never been motivated by financial reward in any of my scientific research".[91] The foundation helped finance a 2007 analysis suggesting that climate change was not a threat to the survival of polar bears,[92] which was questioned by other researchers.[93]

According to the environmentalist group Greenpeace, organizations that the Koch brothers help fund such as Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato institute, and the Manhattan Institute have been active in questioning global warming.[94] Through Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers influenced more than 400 members of Congress to sign a pledge to vote against climate change legislation that does not include equivalent tax cuts.[85][95][96][97]

The Koch brothers' Lambe Foundation has donated to the American Energy Alliance, an offshoot of the Institute for Energy Research.[98]

In March 2015, the general counsel of Koch Industries, in a letter responding to a request from three Senate Democrats, wrote that "The activity efforts about which you inquire, and Koch’s involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution", and declined to cooperate with the senators' inquiry into the funding of researchers skeptical of climate change.[99][100]

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act[edit]

Koch brothers-funded groups including Americans for Prosperity, Pacific Research Institute, Center to Protect Patient Rights, and Generation Opportunity[101] oppose the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) commonly called Obamacare, favoring a free-market approach.[102][103]

Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and Generation Opportunity[104] ran more than $3 million worth of advertisements opposing the Affordable Care Act, including a series of ads in which Uncle Sam was depicted as a "creepy" doctor. The ads are directed at women and young adults, and are designed to "undermine confidence"[105] and to dissuade younger people from enrolling in health care coverage through exchanges which opened October 1, 2013.[102][106][107] In October 2013, the Americans for Prosperity group began a campaign to oppose "Obamacare" in the state of Virginia.[108]

Response to Senator Reid[edit]

In 2014, Koch Companies Public Sector CEO Philip Ellender responded to comments that Harry Reid made on the floor of the Senate, when he said that the Koch brothers were trying to "buy the country".[109]

Jane Mayer article in The New Yorker[edit]

In an article in the August 30, 2010 issue of the New Yorker, writer Jane Mayer wrote,[4]

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry – especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers' corporate interests. ... Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a 'kingpin of climate science denial.' The report purported to show that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outspent ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies – from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program – that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the "Kochtopus."

According to Mayer: "The Koch brothers are known for their strongly conservative politics and for their efforts to finance a network of advocacy groups whose goal is to move the country to the right."[110]

Conor Friedersdorf, for the The Atlantic's "Daily Dish" wrote that while he respected Mayer, "as best I can tell, the Koch brothers are legitimately upset by some aspects of the piece, and anyone who reads it should also look at the rebuttals from libertarians who are persuasively pushing back against some of its conclusions."[111]

Koch Industries posted an extensive reply on its website. It acknowledged funding libertarian and conservative causes,[112] but stated there were inaccuracies and distortions in Mayer's article, and that she failed to identify alleged conflicts of interest on the part of several persons whom she quoted.[113] Koch Industries responded to the allegations in Mayer's article by stating that "the story dredges up issues resolved long ago and mischaracterizes our business philosophy and principles, our practices and performance record, and the education efforts and policies we support."[114]

Matthew Continetti article in The Weekly Standard[edit]

In an article in the April 4, 2011 issue of the Weekly Standard, writer Matthew Continetti wrote,[115]

Starting in the spring of 2009, whenever you turned on MSNBC or clicked on the Huffington Post you’d see the Kochs described in terms more applicable to Lex Luthor and General Zod...

To Charles, the call for bigger government was egalitarianism run amok. Liberals, he thought, fetishized equality of condition at the expense of personal liberty. “They cannot stand that some people are better off than others,” Charles said. “I think part of it fits Mencken’s definition of a Puritan: someone that’s miserable because he knows that someone, somewhere, is enjoying himself. He cannot stand that. And I think they all slept through Economics 101.”

The controversy surrounding the Koch brothers was a classic illustration of the saying that liberals think conservatives are evil while conservatives think liberals are stupid.

Brian Doherty, writing for reason.com's Hit & Run blog, while calling Matthew Continetti's article a well-reported and thoughtful story which delivers a calm, sensible, detailed, and accurate picture, also said that Continetti starts to sound almost like the people he's jousting against when he describes the supposed highly coordinated sinister progressive machine of hate and death that has taken on the Kochs and that it is difficult to feel so sorry for such successful men. He concludes by saying that to call the public furor thus started "astroturf" or phony misses the point; people can try to make an idea catch fire, but it only does so if it genuinely meets the emotional or political needs of a mass, thus calling to question "the need to pretend that the only reason anyone is against public unions, taxes, and spending is that evil oil billionaires are paying them or manipulating them"[116]

Wall Street Journal op-ed[edit]

After being criticized increasingly by opponents, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,[citation needed] Charles Koch wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, describing his agenda.[117] Koch wrote that "our critics would have you believe we're un-American" and trying to "rig the system," and described his pursuit of "the principles of a free society." He described his opponents as "Collectivists" who promise "heaven but deliver hell." Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas placed the article into the Congressional Record. The article was published April 2, 2014.[118]

See also[edit]


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