Right broth­ers

Be­fore bat­tling Obama, Koch sib­lings’ spat was in­ter­nal

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

CHARLES and David Koch are fa­mous for two things: enor­mous wealth de­rived from Koch In­dus­tries, and sup­port for right-wing causes. Sons of Wi­chita cov­ers both those themes, as well as the duo’s decades-long con­flict with their broth­ers. Daniel Schul­man, Wash­ing­ton se­nior edi­tor for Mother Jones mag­a­zine, clearly did a thor­ough job re­search­ing along all three themes. And he seems to have taken pains to treat the con­tro­ver­sial bil­lion­aires fairly — per­haps a bit too fairly (but more on that later). Koch In­dus­tries has its roots in oil re­fin­ing, specif­i­cally a re­fin­ing process Fred Koch and part­ners de­vel­oped in the late 1920s. Since Fred’s death in 1967, two of his four sons — he had no daugh­ters — have ex­panded the com­pany through ac­qui­si­tions that in­clude the mak­ers of, among other things, Brawny paper tow­els aand Ly­cra fab­ric. Their em­pire also in­in­cludes a no­table Man­i­toba com­po­nent: the Koch Fer­til­izer pplant in Bran­don. For decades, Charles and David em­pha­sized the “pri­vate” in the pri­vately held com­pany they con­trol. Sure, Charles used his wealth to fund the lib­er­tar­ian Cato IIn­sti­tute think-tank, aand David was on the Lib­er­tar­ian pres­i­den­tial ticket in 1980. Other­wise, how­ever, they kept a low pro­file and avoided the spot­light. That changed af­ter Barack Obama’s elec­tion to the White House in 2008. “Charles con­sid­ered him a ‘ded­i­cated egal­i­tar­ian’ who had ‘in­ter­nal­ized some Marx­ist mod­els,’” Schul­man writes. “David... de­clared him ‘the most rad­i­cal pres­i­dent we’ve ever had as a na­tion,’ a leader steeped in the ‘hard core eco­nomic so­cial­ist’ pol­i­tics of his Kenyan fa­ther.” The bil­lion­aires de­cided they had to act quickly in re­sponse to the Obama threat. They did so by see­ing that Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that gets much of its fund­ing from the Kochs, sup­ported the “tea party” ral­lies that sprang up across the U.S. in 2009. Their role in anti-Obama ac­tiv­i­ties be­came well­known and the broth­ers be­came, in Schul­man’s words, “the Punch to Obama’s Judy in the par­ti­san pup­pet show.” The busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal as­pects of the Koch story are in­ter­est­ing, but Sons of Wi­chita ac­tu­ally be­gins with a vivid scene from the 1950s on the theme of sib­ling ri­valry: teenage David and twin brother Bill, both wear­ing box­ing gloves, an­grily throw­ing punches at each other near the fam­ily es­tate in Kansas. That scene fore­shad­owed a 20-year con­flict Bill was to have with David and Charles through the 1980s and ’90s. With old­est brother Fred­er­ick on Bill’s side but min­i­mally in­volved, the war was waged in the board­room, un­til Bill was kicked out of Koch In­dus­tries, and then con­tin­ued through a se­ries of law­suits Bill filed against David and Charles. They reached a set­tle­ment in 2001, and haven’t pub­licly sniped at each other since. Bill has an en­ergy com­pany of his own, Oxbow Corp., and spent many mil­lions of dol­lars to win the Amer­ica’s Cup yachting tro­phy in 1992. Fred­er­ick, who will turn 81 in Au­gust, has since the 1960s led a guard­edly pri­vate life, with no in­volve­ment in Koch In­dus­tries. He’s known in New York and Europe as a gen­er­ous pa­tron of the arts. Schul­man and his aides have clearly done their re­search, as ev­i­denced by 30 pages of end­notes, and Sons is very well-writ­ten. But it’s a tad dis­ap­point­ing that some­one from a lib­eral-left “hell-raiser” mag­a­zine such as Mother Jones would pull his punches so much on the rightwing “Kochto­pus.” Schul­man goes out of his way to be fair to these fo­menters of anti-Obama rage, whether they de­serve it or not. A lit­tle in­vec­tive would have been ap­pre­ci­ated. Charles and David might dis­agree with that, but surely as lib­er­tar­i­ans they would de­fend a re­viewer’s right to say it.

Mike Stimp­son is a Win­nipeg writer and edi­tor.

BO RADER / MCT FILES

COUR­TESY KOCH IN­DUS­TRIES INC. VIA MCT

Sons of Wi­chita: How the Koch Broth­ers Be­came Amer­ica’s Most Pow­er­ful and

Pri­vate Dy­nasty

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