David Koch, the billionaire industrialist and conservative political benefactor, died Friday at the age of 79.
In the 1960s, Koch took over Koch Industries alongside his brother, Charles Koch, from their father Fred Koch. The company, which funds petroleum, oil pipelines and a wide range of other chemical and consumer goods, is the now the nation’s second-largest private conglomerate, with an annual revenue of more than $100 billion, according to The New York Times.
But the brothers are best known for their polarizing influence over American politics. For decades, the two funded Republican and Libertarian political campaigns at the state and national levels with their wide-ranging network of organizations and political action committees that promote small government, anti-regulatory values across the country.
“It’s something I grew up with,” Koch told Brian Doherty, editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, in 2005, “a fundamental point of view that big government was bad, and imposition of government controls on our lives and economic fortunes was not good.”
Here are five things you need to know about David Koch.
Spent billions on political causes
Koch and his brother have spent billions influencing conservative American politics through more than a dozen groups that they either founded or that received millions from them; the groups became known as the Koch network.
In the 2016 election cycle alone, the Koch network spent nearly $900 million, almost matching what the entire Republican Party spent on candidates that year, according to The Washington Post.
The Koch network also announced that it planned to spend up to $400 million during the 2018 election cycle. It launched four new political action committees for the 2020 election, but Americans for Prosperity, a central wing of the Koch network, said it does not plan to be directly involved in the 2020 presidential race.
The brothers also spent millions outside of political campaigns, attacking specific Democratic and progressive policies. For example, the network spent more than $200 million to try to defeat ObamaCare between 2010 and 2012, according to The Washington Post.
The Koch network lent a hand to a vast swath of influential voices in Washington, including major political figures ranging from Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGeorge Conway group hits Ernst in new ad GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ MORE (R-Iowa), to Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence posts, deletes photo of Trump campaign staff without face masks, not social distancing Pence threatens to deploy military if Pennsylvania governor doesn’t quell looting Pence on Floyd: ‘No tolerance for racism’ in US MORE’s gubernatorial election in Indiana to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo: US response to Floyd protests a ‘stark contrast’ to authoritarian regimes Trump administration accuses international court of corruption at ‘highest levels,’ authorizes sanctions A crisis on the Korean peninsula reinforces the need for allies MORE’s time in Congress, during which he was known as the “congressman from Koch,” the Post reported.
Had a fraught relationship with Trump
Koch and his brother opposed President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE’s campaign in 2016 and did not endorse him, after Trump accused his fellow GOP contenders who sought Koch money of being “puppets.”
Koch attended Trump’s victory party after the 2016 presidential election, and he later met with Trump when he was the president-elect at his Mar-a-Lago resort, according to The New York Times. But, the Koch organization opposed the Trump administration’s policies on top spending-related agenda items as well as Trump’s rhetoric on immigration.
However, the brothers departed from Trump most significantly on trade issues. The two were staunch free-trade advocates, and Charles Koch called Trump’s support of tariffs and other protectionist trade policies “detrimental” to the country.
The Koch network groups, such as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity and the LIBRE Initiative, launched a multimillion-dollar, multiyear program to oppose Trump’s tariffs last year, including lobbying lawmakers, training activists and taking out political ads against the policy.
Trump publicly lashed out at the brothers on Twitter last year, calling them “globalists” and “a total joke in real Republican circles.”
The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas. They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2018
Was a libertarian who — mainly — backed Republican voices
In 1980, Koch served as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for vice president on a ticket with Ed Clark, a corporate lawyer.
The duo’s platform called for an end to all corporate and personal income taxes, abolishing Medicare and repealing child labor laws. The pair received only 1 percent of the popular vote against President Reagan’s presidential ticket, but the experience solidified Koch’s commitment to libertarian policy priorities for the country.
Therefore, although Koch was aligned with most Republicans on issues of trade, taxes, deregulation and campaign finance reform, he told ABC News that he identified as a “social liberal.”
Koch supported LGBTQ marriage and reproductive rights for women seeking abortions, as well as other Democratic policy priorities like withdrawing troops from the Middle East and cutting defense spending as a method of balancing the budget.
But, the Koch brothers poured millions into think tanks, lobbying and other groups to stop mobilization around climate change and environmental research and legislation, as well as public transit initiatives.
Greenpeace accused Koch Industries of being the “kingpin of climate science denial.”
Funded the Tea Party’s rise
Koch can be uniquely credited with helping fund the rise of the Tea Party beginning in 2008 to oppose the Obama administration. Americans for Prosperity funded and inspired Tea Party leaders through campaign contributions, talking points and mobilization efforts.
The group held summits and organized events to raise the “voices of average Americans” that were “drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” Jane Mayer reported in her 2010 analysis in The New Yorker of the group’s influence, titled “Covert Operations.”
It also gave at least $100 million to Tea Party efforts that tried to move the country to the right, according to The New York Times.
Nevertheless, Koch told New York magazine in 2010 that he had never given money to any Tea Party candidate.
“I’ve never been to a Tea Party event,” Koch said. “No one representing the Tea Party has ever even approached me.”
Became a Democratic boogey man
The term “the Koch brothers” has become synonymous with far-right policy priorities for many Democrats, especially on the issues of campaign finance deregulation and the influence of the superwealthy in American politics.
President Obama reserved his first broadcast television campaign ad during the 2012 presidential election to take on the Koch brothers. The ad did not mention them by name, but it told Americans in swing states like Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia that “secretive oil billionaires [are] attacking President Obama with ads fact-checkers say are not tethered to the facts,” The New York Times reported.
After Koch’s death was announced, some took to Twitter to condemn the swath of ways he influenced American politics over his lengthy career.
David Koch, a bad man, has died https://t.co/R5noZBVmQ5 pic.twitter.com/cFDYXIZDku
— Splinter (@splinter_news) August 23, 2019
David Koch wanted to abolish public schools, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and rent control. He financed groups that denied the research on climate change. He funded the Tea Party. And he used dark money to support right-wing causes and Republican candidates for office. https://t.co/x08wiaOh9p
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) August 23, 2019
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