by Peter Galuszka

Imagine the coincidence. On Friday I was reading business writer Christopher Leonard’s excellent “Kochland” book on the hard-right, billionaire industrialists, Charles and David Koch. I put my Nook down for a moment to check the news. David Koch had died at age 79.

He, his brother, the rest of the family and their sprawling, secretive business empire based on oil trading and petrochemicals are fascinating topics. And, the Kochs, especially Charles, have had a huge influence in Virginia as they spread their gospel of free market libertarianism.

David Koch, who lived in New York City rather than Wichita, the headquarters of Koch Industries, had been known as a man-about-town.He was a bachelor until later in life and gave freely to medical research and the arts.

Gifts include $100 million for cancer research art his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he still held the record for the most points ever scored in a school basketball game. He also gave $100 million to underwrite a ballet theater at the Lincoln Center in New York.

When he died, David and his brother were each worth about $50 billion. They got their money by running the family business, which buys and sells oil and distributes it through pipelines. They also have petrochemical plants where they make plastics used in windows, clothing and a lot more.

With Charles taking the lead, they developed a tough corporate control system that involved loyalty, secrecy and tough discipline. According to Leonard’s even-handed book, they Kochs were accused of making millions by cheating oil producers by under-reporting the amount of crude oil they received. The company settled the case. That and smart business led to success.

The Kochs became fanatics against government regulation, especially in the oil business, which they inherited from their father in the 1960s. They fought oversight and regulation. They later were pioneers in efforts to deny climate change was occurring and that humans were responsible for it. These are similar themes one often reads about in Bacon’s Rebellion.

In time, the Kochs, led by Charles, got heavily involved in politics. David ran for vice president in 1980 for the Libertarian Party. He lost.

They started a vast program of making big donations to push their political views. They helped create the Cato Institute, a Washington-based Libertarian think tank along with Americans for Prosperity, a large funding operation. They supported the American Legislative Exchange Council, which creates templates of conservative positions. They are then distributed to state legislatures, which only have to fill in the blanks and get them passed.

The Virginia General Assembly is one legislature that has been involved with ALEC’s policies but the Kochs have gone much further in the Old Dominion.

Their shining example is George Mason University, a former commuter school in Northern Virginia. Led by Charles, the Kochs put together funding that was funneled into the schools Institute for Humane Studies, which promoted such things has opposing minimum wage hikes and questions the idea that there is wealth inequality, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

A foundation run by Charles offered $10 million if GMU renamed its law school after Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice who was a conservative.

Another Koch effort involved the Mercatus Institute, a free market think tank at GMU. Not only did it receive Koch money, a 1992 agreement allowed the Charles Koch Foundation to hire two tenured professors of its choosing, according to the Associated Press.

The agreement was later modified that the Foundation could review the final applicants but the school made hiring decisions. It had similar agreements with a number of other colleges, including West Virginia University.

Koch money was controversial. It sparked a student movement at GMU called “UnKoch My University.” The group sued in court to force the school to release its Koch agreements under the Freedom of Information Act.

Among other groups accepting Koch money was the Thomas Jefferson Institute of Public Policy, a Northern Virginia-based free market think tank, according to the left-leaning group Sourcewatch. The institute once sponsored this blog.

A number of GMU professors have said that the Koch money didn’t really influence much as far as subject matter and it is true that plenty of left-leaning billionaires, such as Mike Bloomberg and George Soros, have made similar donations.

But in Virginia and elsewhere, the impact that David and his brother have made is remarkable.

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10 responses to “The Death of David Koch”

  1. I know you’re no fan of the Koch Brothers, but that was a pretty even-handed treatment. My only objection would be your description of the Kochs as “hard right.” They are (were) more libertarian than conservative. They support(ed) a more liberal immigration regime. And they never pushed right-wing positions on culture-war issues like abortion, gay rights and gun rights (although some of the groups they funded may have). Mainly, they believed in free markets and small government.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Precisely, but they were not progressives so they were regularly smeared and attacked by progressives. That being said, and subject only to Jim’s comment re “hard right,” I also thought Peter’s piece fair, accurate and reasonable.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Peter’s article was fair and honest and well written! The Kochs ARE “hard right” when it comes to government – few are further right on government regulation than they are BUT they are socially moderate, even liberal and totally to the left of many on the right when it comes to immigration and same sex marriage, etc.

    When I hear folks belly-ache about how liberals would do this or do that – one only has to look at the Koch brothers to see just how effective they have been. ALEC and the Tea party are just two that became major influences on government and Donors Trust and others.

    At the end of the day, I’d take a Koch-endorsed candidate ANY DAY over what we have right now!

  3. I know someone who attends regularly the weekend retreats, and once I’d had the chance to read through materials and notes it was clear to me that the Koch brothers are among the most misunderstood forces in US political culture. You may not concur with their priorities but you have to give them credit for the strength of their conviction. So much $ spent on so much that looks futile. Most philanthropists would have stopped giving long ago with some dim prospects for success.

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    And here’s a squib on the dismissal of leftwing idol Michael Mann’s libel lawsuit against Dr. Tim Ball in British Columbia for refusing to produce the documents used to calculate the famous/infamous hockey stick graph.

    Under any common law country’s litigation rules, a party to a lawsuit must produce all documents related to the claims or defenses in the claim. Moreover, Mann was ordered to provide the documents by the judge but refused to cooperate. One would think the MSM media would be all over this one. LoL.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Funny how often the people liberals choose to pillory turn out to be right after all. Dragas was completely correct in her assessment of Theresa Sullivan and Cuccinelli was right about Mann.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    Good article but Jim’s point stands. I can’t really decide whether the left just doesn’t understand the difference between hard core conservatives and libertarians or just doesn’t care because neither are progressives.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Ripper, when it comes to government they are absolutely “hard right” but not so much on social issues. Live them or hate them, they gsve highly effective. Odd they back

    1. djrippert Avatar

      “Ripper, when it comes to government they are absolutely “hard right” but not so much on social issues.”

      Pretty much the definition of a libertarian. Now either light up or leave me alone.

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    No problem. Am having a good day

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