David Koch, in­dus­tri­al­ist who funded con­ser­va­tives, dies at 79

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Pa­trick Oster And Tom Metcalf Bloomberg News (TNS)

David Koch, the in­dus­tri­al­ist and lib­er­tar­ian who used his for­tune to trans­form Amer­i­can pol­i­tics while also do­nat­ing more than $1 bil­lion to phil­an­thropic causes, has died. He was 79.

Koch died af­ter years of fight­ing var­i­ous ill­nesses, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Koch In­dus­tries on Fri­day. He’d been di­ag­nosed with prostate cancer 27 years ago and ini­tially doc­tors said he had just a few years to live.

“It is with a heavy heart that I announce the pass­ing of my brother David,” Charles Koch said in a state­ment. “Any­one who worked with David surely ex­pe­ri­enced his gi­ant personalit­y and pas­sion for life.”

Koch, whose net worth of about $59 bil­lion in the Bloomberg Bil­lion­aires In­dex tied him with his brother as the world’s sev­enth-richest per­son, de­rived most of his wealth from a 42% stake in Wi­chita, Kan.-based Koch In­dus­tries, which has an­nual rev­enue of about $110 bil­lion. It is one of the na­tion’s largest closely held com­pa­nies, and its spec­tac­u­lar growth included the 2005 ac­qui­si­tion of Ge­or­gia Pa­cific for $21 bil­lion.

A res­i­dent of New York’s Up­per East Side and the city’s richest per­son, Koch once joked that Koch In­dus­tries was “the big­gest com­pany you’ve never heard of.” The con­glom­er­ate has in­ter­ests rang­ing from oil and ranch­ing to farm­ing and the man­u­fac­tur­ing of elec­tri­cal com­po­nents.

But he and Charles Koch, 83, be­came bet­ter known for push­ing their views than their busi­ness acu­men, pump­ing mil­lions into con­ser­va­tive causes and can­di­dates. The op­er­a­tion they built in­cludes more than 700 donors who give $100,000 or more a year and a group called Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity that has chap­ters in 35 states. It’s ri­valed only by the Repub­li­can Party in its in­flu­ence on the con­ser­va­tive agenda in the U.S.

The Koch broth­ers and other wealthy donors were able to ex­pand their in­flu­ence on elec­tions fol­low­ing the Supreme Court’s 2010 Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion that paved the way for un­bri­dled spend­ing, both di­rectly and in­di­rectly, by out­side groups.

“David Koch’s im­print on the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal scene will en­dure long into the fu­ture,” said Daniel Schul­man, who wrote “Sons of Wi­chita: How the Koch Broth­ers Be­came Amer­ica’s Most Pow­er­ful and Pri­vate Dy­nasty,” pub­lished in 2014. “The Kochs helped to give rise to the age of the megadonor, an era of un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal spend­ing in which wealthy in­di­vid­u­als, as well as cor­po­ra­tions, can in­flu­ence pol­i­tics as never be­fore. His po­lit­i­cal legacy is huge.”

Koch money in­cu­bated a gen­er­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, in­clud­ing Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, for­mer En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt, En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry and Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker.

Yet all those men but Walker worked for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has up­ended the free mar­ket views the Kochs have tried to foster within the Repub­li­can Party. That has prompted clashes with Trump, es­pe­cially on trade and immigratio­n pol­icy.

The broth­ers didn’t sup­port Trump in his 2016 cam­paign, although they praised his ef­forts to cut taxes and reg­u­la­tions. Af­ter Charles Koch crit­i­cized Trump’s ap­proach to trade and his lead­er­ship style dur­ing a donor re­treat in 2018, the pres­i­dent tweeted that the broth­ers “have be­come a to­tal joke in real Repub­li­can cir­cles.”

Their po­lit­i­cal net­work by then was back­ing away from re­flex­ive sup­port for Repub­li­cans, such as thenRep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who ar­guably strayed too far from the broth­ers’ vi­sion of free-mar­ket or­tho­doxy. Cramer nev­er­the­less beat an in­cum­bent Demo­crat, Heidi Heitkamp, for a Se­nate seat.

Days af­ter the midterms that year, when the Democrats re­took the House de­spite mil­lions in Koch spend­ing for Repub­li­cans, the net­work called for a more bi­par­ti­san fo­cus on what unites Amer­i­cans with work on crim­i­naljus­tice re­form, immigratio­n and pro­mo­tion of free trade.

Koch was the vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for the Lib­er­tar­ian Party in 1980. But as his health failed, he be­came less prom­i­nent in the Koch po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tion. Charles Koch has served as the philo­soph­i­cal and hands-on leader, while David was chair­man of the foun­da­tion that over­sees AFP, their flag­ship po­lit­i­cal or­gan.

In June 2018, Charles Koch told com­pany em­ploy­ees that his brother would step down from the busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal em­pires be­cause of health prob­lems. Charles Koch’s let­ter didn’t pro­vide de­tails, although he noted that David Koch had an­nounced in Oc­to­ber 2016 that he’d been hos­pi­tal­ized the pre­vi­ous sum­mer.

“Un­for­tu­nately, th­ese is­sues have not been re­solved and his health has con­tin­ued to de­te­ri­o­rate,” the let­ter said.

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