Political activities of the Koch brothers

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 political and public policy organizations supported by the Koch brothers.[1][2][3]

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%.[4] 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 made significant financial contributions to libertarian and conservative think tanks and have donated primarily to Republican Party candidates running for office."[5] A network of like-minded donors organized by the Kochs pledged to spend $889 million from 2009–2016 and its infrastructure has been said by Politico to rival "that of the Republican National Committee."[6] They actively fund and support organizations that contribute significantly to Republican candidates, and in particular that lobby against efforts to expand government's role in health care and combating global warming.[7] By 2010, they had donated more than $100 million to dozens of free-market and advocacy organizations.[7]


The phrase "Koch brothers" generally refers to the sons of Fred C. Koch.[8][9][10][11] The most politically active sons are Charles Koch and David H. Koch who bought out their brothers Frederick and Bill in 1983.[12]

David H. Koch was the Libertarian Party's vice-presidential candidate in 1980.[13] He advocated for the abolition of Social Security, the FBI, the CIA, and public schools.[14][15] Koch put $500,000 of his own money into the race,[15] and he and Ed Clark, his presidential running mate, won 1.1% of the vote.[16] The experience of running for office 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."[15]

David Koch has voiced support for gay marriage and U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle East. He has also stated that the government should consider defense spending cuts and tax increases to balance the budget.[17]

Interested in maintaining their discreet influence, Charles and David prefer to donate to non-profit groups who do not disclose their donors.[18]

Charles Koch funds and supports libertarian organizations such as the Cato Institute,[19] which he co-founded with Edward H. Crane and Murray Rothbard in 1977,[20] 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.[7] After the bid, Charles told a reporter that conventional politics "tends to be a nasty, corrupting business ... I'm interested in advancing libertarian ideas".[7] In addition to funding think tanks, the brothers support libertarian academics;[21] since 1992, Charles has funded the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program through the Institute for Humane Studies, which mentors young, self-described libertarians.[22]

The brothers promote the ideal of economic freedom as essential to society's well-being.[23]

Political activity

Koch Industries describes itself as being committed to free societies and free market principles and as supporting those who champion these things.[24]

In 2014, Charles Koch wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, describing his agenda.[25] 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.[26]

Political contributions

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 directed.[7] As of 2011, Koch Industries' political action committee had donated more than $2.6 million to candidates.[27] The Koch brothers support primarily Republican candidates and in 2010 they supported California Proposition 23, which would have suspended the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.[28][29][30][31] The brothers pledged to donate $60 million in the 2012 election season to defeat President Barack Obama.[32][33] 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".[34][35]

Governor Scott Walker contributions

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.[27][36] That contribution amounted to less than one half of one percent of Walker's campaign total[37] because of the limits placed on campaign contributions.[36] Most support for Walker was in the form of independent expenditures estimated at $3 million from Americans for Prosperity.[38] Due to Koch's contribution to Walker's campaign, David Koch became a symbolic target for the protests.[37]

According to the Palm Beach Post, David Koch has been active in Wisconsin politics. Americans for Prosperity reportedly spent $700,000 on ads supporting Governor Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining.[39][40]

Mitt Romney presidential candidacy

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.[18][41][42][43] 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.[44] William Koch, the younger brother of Charles and David, gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Romney.[18] During the 2008 presidential race, David Koch donated $2,300 to Romney.[18]

2016 elections and Donald Trump

A group associated with the Kochs announced plans to raise $889 million leading up to the 2016 elections.[45][46][47] After the Republican primary, they decided to not donate to Trump's campaign at all, instead focusing on the Congress and Senate races.[48] Charles Koch criticized Trump's Muslim travel ban suggestions during the campaign and said "it's possible" that Hillary Clinton could be a better president, although strongly denied rumours that he would actually support Clinton.[49][50] In June 2018, the Kochs backed a multi-million dollar campaign organized by three pro-free trade political groups to oppose the Trump tariffs.[51]

Efforts against the PATRIOT Act

It was claimed by Reason Magazine that the Koch brothers each made $10 million grants to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to fight the Bush administration over the PATRIOT Act.[52] According to Reason magazine, $20 million is "substantially more than the Kochs have contributed to all political candidates combined for at least the last 15 years."[52][53] However, in an update to the article, Reason magazine was unable to confirm that such a donation was ever made.



One 1997 study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy[54] 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.[55] 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).[56]

Family foundations

The Koch family foundations began in 1953 with the establishment of the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation.[57] 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.[58] The two brothers' foundations have provided an estimated $1.5 billion to a variety of causes and institutions including public television, medical research, higher education, environmental stewardship, criminal justice reform and the arts.[58][59]

Charles Koch and his wife were trustees of the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, as directed by Claude R. Lambe.[60] The foundation distributed more than $27 million of its assets between 1997 and 2009.[61] The Claude. R. Lambe Charitable Foundation was formally dissolved in 2013.[62]

Think tanks and political organizations

Charles and David Koch have been involved in, and have provided funding to, a number of other think tanks and public policy organizations: They provided the initial funding for the Cato Institute, they are key donors to the Federalist Society,[63] and they also support, or are members of, the Mercatus Center,[64] the Institute for Humane Studies,[64] the Institute for Justice,[65] the Institute for Energy Research,[66] the Heritage Foundation,[67] the Manhattan Institute,[67] the Reason Foundation,[64] the George C. Marshall Institute,[68] the American Enterprise Institute,[68] and the Fraser Institute.[69][70] As of 2015, David Koch sits on the board of directors of the Cato Institute,[71] the Reason Foundation and the Aspen Institute.[72] A 2013 study by the Center for Responsive Politics said that nonprofit groups backed by a donor network organized by Charles and David Koch raised more than $400 million in the 2011–2012 election cycle.[66]

Citizens for a Sound Economy

Citizens for a Sound Economy was co-founded by David Koch in the 1980s.[63] According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Koch Brothers donated a total of $7.9 million between 1986 and 1993.[7] In 1990, the brothers created the spinoff group Citizens for the Environment.[7] 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.[7][63][73]

Americans for Prosperity

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation is the Koch brothers' primary political advocacy group.[74][75][76][77] David Koch was the top initial funder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.[78][79] At AFP's 2009 annual summit meeting, 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."[73][80][81] AFP is the political arm of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, for which David Koch serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees.[63][72][82][83]

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.[84][85] AFP spent $45 million in the 2010 election.[86]

Cato Institute

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".[87] 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. The brothers issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and stated they "never asserted that Cato should be directly by, or at the whim of, any other organization, or that they should aspire to advocate the way AFP does.[88][89] 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.[90]

Freedom Partners

Freedom Partners gave grants worth a total of $236 million to conservative organizations, groups like the Tea Party Patriots and organizations which opposed the Affordable Care Act prior to the 2012 election.Freedom Partners financed the socially conservative group Concerned Women for America, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage in the United States [91] A majority of Freedom Partners board of directors is made up of long-time employees of the Koch brothers.[92][93][94]

Other groups

The Kochs donated more than $17 million between 1997 and 2008 to various groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It describes itself as offering information on issues including, among others, energy, environment, biotechnology, pharmaceutical regulation, chemical risk, telecommunications, etc.[95]

The Kochs have supported Generation Opportunity, a youth mobilization effort.[96]

The Kochs have donated millions of dollars via organizations they fund to the National Federation of Independent Business. In 2013 "NFIB and its affiliated groups received $2.5 million from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative advocacy group with deep ties to the Koch empire. Of the five men that sit on the group's board, four are current or former employees of Koch companies and one is a friend of Charles Koch's." [97]

Free enterprise seminars

In recent years, Charles and David Koch have organized semiannual seminars to promote their political views.[98] 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".[99] The seminar program indicated that past meetings have featured speakers including 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.[100]

Educational grants

The Charles Koch Foundation (and in the case of Kansas schools, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation) provides grants as of 2013, 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".[101]

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,[102] to approve hiring decisions in the university's economics department for a program that promotes "political economy and free enterprise". 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."[103] In response, John Hardin, who is a program officer with the Charles Koch Foundation, stated that, "when we support a school's initiative, it is to expand opportunity and increase the diversity of ideas available on campus."[104]

In 2014, the brothers made a $25 million grant to the United Negro College Fund.[105] 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.[106]

Issues and policy


In 2009 David Koch gave the Smithsonian Institution $15 million for the purpose of building a hall covering 6 million years of human evolution. He has given the American Museum of Natural History $20 million and the Smithsonian $35 million to build dinosaur halls.[107]

Climate change and use of fossil fuels

The Koch brothers have played an active role in opposing climate change legislation. In 2011, the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts reported that "Koch Industries and its subsidiaries emitted over twenty-four million tons of carbon dioxide from 50 sites", as much as is typically emitted by five million cars.[108] 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."[109][110]

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. Two of the project's seven scientists are seen as climate change skeptics by many in the climate science world.[111] 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".[112] UC Berkeley physicist Richard A. Muller initially concluded that global warming climate data was flawed, but later reversed his views, supporting scientific consensus.[113][114]

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 change skeptic Dr. Willie Soon. Soon has stated that he has "never been motivated by financial reward in any of my scientific research".[115] The foundation helped finance a 2007 analysis suggesting that climate change was not a threat to the survival of polar bears,[116] which was questioned by other researchers.[117]

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.[118] 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.[109][119][120][121]

In 2010, Koch Industries supported efforts to roll back emission regulations in California.[122][123]

The Koch brothers' Lambe Foundation has donated to the American Energy Alliance, an offshoot of the Institute for Energy Research.[124]

In January 2011, Rolling Stone magazine included the Koch brothers on its list of the top twelve people blocking progress on global warming.[125]

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.[126][127]

The Kochs have also funded efforts to stop the growth of solar power.[128][129]

Veterans affairs

The Koch network funds the nonprofit group Concerned Veterans for America.[130][131][132]

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Koch brothers-funded groups including Americans for Prosperity, Pacific Research Institute, Center to Protect Patient Rights, and Generation Opportunity opposed the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) commonly called Obamacare, favoring a free-market approach.[133][134]

Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and Generation Opportunity[135] 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"[136] and to dissuade younger people from enrolling in health care coverage through exchanges which opened October 1, 2013.[133][137][138] In October 2013, the Americans for Prosperity group began a campaign to oppose "Obamacare" in the state of Virginia.[139]

Criminal justice reform

The Koch brothers have advocated reform of the United States' criminal justice system. In 2011, Koch Industries received a "Defender of Justice award" from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in recognition of their financial support for providing low-income defendants with competent legal representation.[140]

The Kochs stepped up their work on the issue in 2015, partnering with left-leaning groups to promote reforms to reduce incarceration in the United States. The Kochs aligned with President Barack Obama in heading criminal justice reform, citing poor conditions and an outdated system.[141] In addition to the president, the Kochs have partnered with groups such as the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Coalition for Public Safety, and the MacArthur Foundation.[140][141][142] The Kochs, along with their partners, seek to aid those suffering from systemic overcriminalization and overincarceration, who are generally from low-income and minority communities. Another goal for the Kochs' criminal justice reforms is to reduce recidivism and diminish barriers faced by rehabilitated citizens seeking reintroduction into the work force and society.[142][143][144] The Kochs and the ACLU are also invested in putting an end to Asset forfeiture by law enforcement, which deprives persons of often the bulk of their private property.[145]

In July 2015, after the rare show of bipartisanship, President Obama praised the Kochs' work on the issue.[146] Similarly, civil rights activist Anthony Van Jones lent a comparable praise towards the Kochs' actions.[143] Although critics have called the announcement a public relations stunt on behalf of the Kochs in the midst of media attacks, several media outlets noted that Charles Koch had been making substantial donations for criminal justice reform for almost a decade before the news was made public.[140][141]

Among the reforms are a push for further mens rea requirements, meaning criminal intent must be proven to establish fault. The Justice Department noted that some white-collar crimes, including food safety violations and corporate pollution, would become more difficult to prosecute. However, the Justice Department has been accused of over-criminalizing persons who have committed minor infractions without intent or even knowledge of the law. In essence, the reforms could potentially overturn Ignorantia juris non excusat statutes.[147]

In early 2018, the Koch network continued its mission to "promote criminal justice reform and anti-recidivism programs" through discussions with the Department of Justice in Washington, and initiatives like the Safe Streets and Second changes program.[148][149] While many see Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a potential roadblock to the Koch networks goal of broader criminal justice reform in the United States, Mark Holden, vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, notes that they are making in roads with the Attorney General, starting with prison reform.[150][151]

The Koch network announced at their 2018 meeting the launch of Safe Streets and Second Chances, a $4 million pilot project designed to shift America's criminal justice system from punishment to prioritizing rehabilitation.[152] The initiative, led by Koch Industries in conjunction with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime, will launch in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Pennsylvania.[153] Researchers will develop "individualized re-entry" plans for over 1,000 participants at 8 sites and then analyze the results.[154][149]


In early 2018, the network announced its plans to encourage immigration reform, including legal paths to citizenship for DACA recipients and reforms to the existing visa lottery program.[151]

Response to Harry Reid

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".[155]

Jane Mayer article in The New Yorker

In an article in the August 30, 2010 issue of the New Yorker, writer Jane Mayer wrote,[7]

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."[156]

Conor Friedersdorf wrote for The Atlantic's "Daily Dish" 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."[157]

A Koch Industries company spokesperson issued a statement saying "No funding has been provided by Koch companies, the Koch foundation, or Charles Koch or David Koch specifically to support the tea parties".[7] Koch Industries posted a reply on its website. It acknowledged funding libertarian and conservative causes,[158] 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.[159] 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."[160]

See also


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  3. Schulman, Daniel (2014-05-20). "Koch vs. Koch: The Brutal Battle That Tore Apart America's Most Powerful Family". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
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  8. Davis, Jonathan T. (1997). Forbes Richest People: The Forbes Annual Profile of the World's Wealthiest Men and Women. Wiley. p. 138. ISBN 978-0471177517. Founding member (1958) John Birch Society  – reportedly after seeing Russian friends liquidated
  9. Hoover's 500: Profiles of America's Largest Business Enterprises. Hoover's Business Press. 1996. p. 286. ISBN 978-1573110099. In 1929 Koch took his process to the Soviet Union, but he grew disenchanted with Stalinism and returned home to become a founding member of the anticommunist John Birch Society.
  10. Wayne, Leslie (December 7, 1986). "Brothers at Odds". The New York Times. New York. p. Sec. 6; Part 2, p 100 col. 1. ISSN 0362-4331. He returned a fervent anti-Communist who would later become a founding member of the John Birch Society.
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