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The children of the late Fred C. Koch who founded the second-largest privately held company in the United States, Koch Industries, are businessmen who control the Koch Family Foundations and contribute a large amount of money to conservative, libertarian, and free-market individuals and organizations.
The Koch brothers have given more than $196 million to dozens of free-market and advocacy organizations. Tax records indicate that, 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.
David H. Koch was a Libertarian Vice-Presidential candidate in 1980. He advocated the abolition of Social Security, the FBI, the CIA, and public schools. Koch put $500,000 of his own money into the race, and he and Ed Clark, his presidential running mate, won 1% of the vote—the best Libertarian showing in a U.S. presidential race to date. But the experience caused David Koch to change course: "I had enough," he said. "We 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." Since then, Charles and David Koch have adopted a much less visible strategy toward advancing their libertarian positions. Interested in maintaining their privacy, they prefer to spend on donations to non-profit groups who do not disclose donors.
Charles G. Koch funds and supports libertarian and free-market organizations such as the Cato Institute, which he co-founded with Edward H. Crane and Murray Rothbard in 1977, and is a board member at the Mercatus Center, a market-oriented research think tank at George Mason University. Koch supported his brother's candidacy for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980. After the bid, Charles told a reporter that conventional politics "tends to be a nasty, corrupting business ... I’m interested in advancing libertarian ideas". In addition to funding think tanks, Charles and David also support libertarian academics; since 1992, Charles has funded the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program through the Institute for Humane Studies. The program recruits and mentors young libertarians. Koch also organizes twice yearly meetings of Republican donors. The brothers have expressed the belief that economic freedom is essential for the well-being of society.
The Koch Family Foundations began in 1953 with the establishment of the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation. In 1980 Charles G. 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 H. Koch established the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation. Charles' and David's foundations have together provided hundreds of millions of dollars to a variety of organizations, including arts organizations, educational organizations, and libertarian or conservative think tanks.
Charles Koch and his wife are trustees of the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, as directed by the late Claude R. Lambe. With $6 million remaining as of 2010, the foundation gave away more than $27 million in assets from 1997 to 2009.
Citizens for a Sound Economy was co-founded by David Koch in the 1980s. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Koch Brothers donated a total amount of $7.9 million between 1986 and 1993. In 1990, the brothers created the spinoff group Citizens for the Environment.
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. 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." AFP is the political arm of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, for which David Koch serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees. 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.
Charles and David Koch also 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, 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, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Fraser Institute.
Following the 2011 death of William Niskanen, the co-founder and chairman of the Cato Institute, Charles and David Koch reportedly made an effort to procure the shares of that institute held by Niskansen’s widow, "arguing that they were not hers to hold.". Their efforts were criticized by some at the institute, including the institute's president Ed Crane, who in an email to staff told them the Koch's 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.” Charles and David denied any wrongdoing. In June 2012, Cato and the brothers reached an agreement. Ed Crane would step down and be replaced by John A. Allison IV, and the Kochs withdrew two lawsuits.
Koch Industries describes itself as being committed to free societies and free market principles and as supporting those who champion these things. The Charles Koch Foundation (and in the case of Kansas schools, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation) provides grants to nearly 230 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".
As of 2011, Koch Industries' political action committee has donated more than $2.6 million to candidates. The Koch brothers support primarily Republican candidates, who received over 80% of their political donations from 2005-2009.
According to Mother Jones Magazine, Koch Industries' Political Action Committee contributed the second largest donation to Scott Walker's 2010 campaign for governor of Wisconsin. 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 lobbied for Walker's proposed bill. Because of the Koch contribution to Walker's campaign, David Koch became a symbolic target for the protests.
According to the Palm Beach Post, David Koch has been very active in Wisconsin politics with Americans for Prosperity, spending $700,000 on ads supporting Governor Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining.
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 protests.
William Koch, the younger brother of Charles and David, gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Romney. During the 2008 presidential race, David Koch donated $2,300 to Romney.
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. It describes itself as offering information on issues including, among others, energy, environment, biotechnology, pharmaceutical regulation, chemical risk, telecommunications, etc.
Koch employees were the largest donors from the oil and gas industry to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is responsible for legislation affecting that industry. Koch employees donated $279,500 to 22 Republicans and $32,000 to five Democrats, including $20,000 to committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Michigan). Americans for Prosperity supported five of the six Republican members who were elected to Congress for the first time in 2010. Of twelve Republicans newly appointed to the Committee, nine signed a pledge distributed by Americans for Prosperity to oppose the regulation of greenhouse gases.
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. 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".
The Claude R. Lambe Foundation, has donated to the American Energy Alliance, an offshoot of the Institute for Energy Research.
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, and titled "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". 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."
The Koch Foundation (along with the Folger Fund, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research [created by Bill Gates], the Bowes Foundation, and the Getty 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 skeptics by many in the climate science world.
The Charles G. Koch Foundation gave climate skeptic Willie Soon two grants totaling $175,000 in 2005/6 and again in 2010. Soon has stated that he has "never been motivated by financial reward in any of my scientific research." The foundation helped finance a 2007 analysis suggesting that climate change was not a threat to the survival of polar bears, which was questioned by other researchers.
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 anthropogenic global warming .
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.... 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. 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.
Conor Friedersdorf, writing for the Daily Dish at The Atlantic magazine, 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."
Koch Industries posted an extensive reply on its website. It acknowledged funding libertarian and conservative causes, but it said that there were several inaccuracies and distortions in the Mayer article, and that Mayer failed to identify alleged conflicts of interest on the part of several people she quoted. Koch Industries responded to the allegations in Mayer's article by saying 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."
Mayer drew heavily from the writings of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Greenpeace report, and public tax records. For several thousand words, relying on interviews with anonymous sources, Democratic operatives, a disgruntled conservative, a historian of libertarianism, and the author of “A Pagan’s Blog,” Mayer unspooled a fantastic tale of manipulation and malpractice.
Matt Lewis, a columnist for Politics Daily, also posted a critical response to Mayer's article:
To be sure, the Kochs have given "more than a hundred million dollars to right wing causes" (which is their right, by the way). But in the last decade, it's also worth noting the Kochs have given more than $600 million in pledged or donated money to arts, education, and medical research, including (but not limited to): New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell: $15 million, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: $25 million, The Hospital for Special Surgery: $26 million, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: $30 million, Prostate Cancer Foundation: $41 million, Deerfield Academy: $68 million, Lincoln Center's NY State Theater: $100 million, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: $139 million
Libertarian Kimberly O. Dennis, also defended the Koch's maintaining they would do better "protecting their profits" promoting government aid to their business not "free-market capitalism".
One 1997 study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy identified 12 American foundations that have had a key influence on US public policy since the 1960s, particularly via their support for the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and Cato Institute. Three of these 12 are Koch Family Foundations (the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation). Charles Koch co-founded the Cato Institute, while David Koch sits on its board.