David Koch was a major philanthropist in the arts world; if you live in New York, you will see his name plastered all over the place in cultural citadels like the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center. But what animated him most was using the vast sums of wealth he and his brother amassed through their company, Koch Industries—his net worth was an astounding $58.7 billion—to fund the conservative movement in America. The Koch brothers have been very successful in doing this, to the detriment of the rest of us.
From Jane Mayer’s definitive 2010 New Yorker profile of the Koch brothers:
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. In a study released this spring, 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. 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.
In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
The Kochs funneled much of their money into groups like Americans for Prosperity, which then spent huge sums around the country to influence political campaigns. Here’s just one example, from a report in the Guardian:
In recent years, AFP has quietly pushed behind the scenes for many of the most important conservative victories across the nation, including the anti-union bills that passed in former union strongholds such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.
AFP’s laser-like focus on anti-union legislation is in part driven by the Kochs’ libertarian embrace of free markets and limited government. But it also reflects strategic calculations. AFP has recognized that to make lasting change in US politics, the Koch network would need to permanently weaken the organizations that support liberal candidates and causes – and above all, the labor movement.
Since the passage of the anti-union bill, public union membership rates in Wisconsin have plummeted by more than half, falling from around 50% in 2011 to around 19% by 2017. With fewer members and revenue, the political clout of the labor unions has fallen sharply. Campaign contributions by teachers’ unions to state and local races have fallen by nearly 70%.
The consequence: a profound and long-term decline in Democrats’ chance of securing office in the state.
You want more examples? Here’s two more, from the New York Times:
Among the groups they supported was the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of conservative state legislators and corporate lobbyists. Alec, as the group is known, drafts model state legislation that members may customize for introduction as proposed laws to cut taxes, combat illegal immigration, loosen environmental regulations, weaken labor unions and oppose gun laws.
As part of their longstanding crusade for lower taxes and smaller government, the Koch brothers in recent years opposed dozens of transit-related initiatives in cities and counties across the country, a review by The New York Times found. Campaigns coordinated and financed by Americans for Prosperity fought state legislation to fund transportation projects, mounted ad campaigns and public forums to defeat transit plans, and organized phone banks to convince citizens that public transit was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
OK OK one more example!
I could go on and on and on. The Kochs were not happy with everything Donald Trump did, but that is a low standard for anyone walking the planet—and anyway, they loved his tax plan. We are all worse off thanks to them. And now David Koch is dead.
In other news, Henry Kissinger is somehow still alive.