Charles and David Koch give more than $20 million a year to make America a better place for ultraconservatives.
Charles and David Koch, owners of Wichita’s Koch Industries, are among the major donors in the United States to groups that promote conservative politics. A spokesperson for the Koch family foundation said that the charities that receive a portion of the brothers’ largesse are those who promote the causes of peace, prosperity, and social progress. Others qualify the Koch brothers’ generosity by saying that they give over $20 million a year to organizations that see the world as the Kochs believe it should be—ultraconservative. The Koch brothers direct three family foundations: The Charles G. Koch Foundation, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.
David and Charles are the sons of ultraconservative Fred Koch, the founder of Koch Industries, an oil and gas company, which has grown to become the second largest privately owned company and the largest privately owned energy company in the United States. The brothers have a combined net worth of $4 billion, earning them a position among the fifty wealthiest individuals in America and among the hundred wealthiest in the world. Father Fred was a staunch member and supporter of the John Birch Society, and his sons have continued to found and finance conservative organizations. Charles founded the Cato Institute, and David cofounded and serves as chairman of the board for Citizens for a Sound Economy (currently Freedom Works).
The Koch brothers probably see themselves more as libertarians than as conservatives, for they envision an America where the role of government is very minimized and the role of private economy and personal freedoms is very maximized. David Koch was the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1980, advocating privatization, entrepreneur-ship, and free enterprise.
Charles Koch places special attention on being able to develop “voluntary market-based solutions to social problems.” His foundation’s stated goals are threefold:
- To support “research and education into free societies to advance the well-being of humankind.”
- To foster “the partnership of scientists and practitioners in order to integrate theory and practice.”
- To develop “market-based tools that enable individuals, institutions and societies to survive and prosper.”
The main academic grantee of the Kochs’ foundations is George Mason University in Virginia, which between 1985 and 2002 received over $23 million in contributions. In addition, in 1997 GMU received a $3 million grant to establish the Mercatus Center, a research and education center designed to promote free markets and Western values, and in 1998, a $10 million grant to launch the James M. Buchanan Center for the Study of Political Economy.
Some observers of the political scene have expressed concern that the Koch brothers’ heavy financial support of conservatism is contributing to a shift to the right in America’s policy debates. John Podesta, former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and now head of the Center for American Progress, has said that the Kochs are harming America by backing policies that have the potential to damage the environment and to place a greater tax burden on the working class. A Koch Industries spokesperson answers such criticism by stating that all the Koch brothers wish is to support ideas that will make for better public policy.
The brothers were a major force in the growth of the Tea Party movement, and in November 2011 it was learned that the secretive oil billionaires were close to making available a nationwide database that would connect millions of Americans who were sympathetic to their right-wing, anti-government views. The database would draw upon the extensive network of alliances of conservative politicians, financiers, business leaders, and media figures that the Koch brothers have cultivated over the past twenty years. Named Themis, after the Greek goddess of divine order, the database of right-wing groups, Tea Party organizations, and conservative luminaries was begun secretly in 2009 with $2.5 million of the Kochs’ seed money. According to Koch insiders, the project would be ready to launch in time to be a powerful tool for conservative issues in the 2012 election.