David and Charles Koch, billionaire owners of Koch Industries, have donated their money to organizations beyond the political arena. In fact, Koch Industries has donated millions of dollars to non-profit, as well as for profit, organizations and museums.
In a profile by Gary Weiss for portfolio.com, David Koch explained why he donated $100 million to renovate the aging State Theater in Manhattan, home to both the New York City Opera and New York City Ballet. Koch explained that not only could he afford to give, but he attends that theater more than any other theater in the world. Koch is quoted as saying, “I love the whole aspect of it—gorgeous music, fabulous sets.... And, of course, there are beautiful girls.”
The reasons why they donate to these companies are not always quite so apparent as the ballet’s “beautiful girls.”. Weiss suggests that the Kochs’ philanthropy is being used to balance the scales against their ardent politics.
Those politics are deeply rooted in the free market system. Koch explained to Weiss, Taking David Koch at his word suggests that he and his brother are giving because it’s the right thing to do; however, they also donate because it also allows them to further their own political agenda.
Several examples illustrate this point.
In 1991David Koch survived a plane crash. In fact, he was the only one on the plane who survived. He documented that experience in a piece titled "Recollections of My Survival of an Airplane Crash. “When you’re the only one who survived in the front of the plane and everyone else died—yeah, you think, ‘My God, the good Lord spared me for some greater purpose.’ My joke is that I’ve been busy ever since, doing all the good work I can think of, so He can have confidence in me,” Koch has said.
However, while he was in the hospital he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Koch underwent treatment and took time off from his company. While being treated for cancer, he started to give hundreds of millions of dollars to different hospitals and research departments.
In 2004 President George W. Bush, named Koch to the National Cancer Advisory Board. The National Cancer Advisory Board has a relationship with the National Cancer Institute by providing them with information.
But has Koch’s appointment to the National Cancer Advisory Board had an impact on the National Cancer Institute’s policy decision? That’s a question Jane Mayer posed in her recent New Yorker article and perhaps influenced Koch's decision to resign from the NCAB in September 2010.
Mayer related that Koch Industries has been lobbying to prevent the Environmental Protective Agency from classifying formaldehyde as a cancer-causing carcinogen.
Not surprisingly, Koch also has ties with the Formaldehyde Council Inc., a non-profit association that represents the leading producers and users of formaldehyde in the United States, focused on the relationship between formaldehyde and the public health.
In response to a recent EPA toxicological report linking formaldehyde to leukemia, Betsy Natz, executive director of FCI, disputed the findings, noting that “the theoretical link between formaldehyde and leukemia is biologically implausible as it rests on the necessity which requires that the basic biochemistry of the molecule is ignored. The most recent, state-of-the-art studies demonstrate that inhaled formaldehyde cannot cause systemic harm at typical or even elevated exposure levels.”
According to FCI, the manufacture and use of formaldehyde is responsible for 4 million jobs in the United States and Canada (data available as of 2003). This number represents nearly 3.4% of employment in private, non-farm establishments in these two countries. The value of sales of formaldehyde and derivative products amounted to more than $145 billion, which represents 1.2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States and Canada.
And when the 2008-09 Annual Report of the President’s Panel on Cancer issued a warning that formaldehyde posed health risks, Natz responded by claiming that “scientists agree that formaldehyde does not pose a health risk at typical levels of exposure. Americans should feel confident in the knowledge that formaldehyde-based products are safe.”
Not surprisingly, Georgia-Pacific, a Koch-owned company, is the largest producer of formaldehyde in the world.
When it comes to healthcare the Kochs take an up front approach to his political beliefs on it by supporting a group called Patients United Now, a group lobbying against the government’s take over of the healthcare system.
Typical of the information at the PUN website is a section which answers questions regarding what will happen “If Washington takes over health care…”
In response to the question, "Could my health care be denied because of my age or because I am too sick?" this answer is supplied: “It’s possible, if we continue down the path we’re on. This happens to patients in the United Kingdom. Their version of cost-benefit analysis means that you can be denied treatments that are judged to cost ‘the system’ too much because your life is worth less to save after a certain age or because you’re so sick that they decide you’re not worth saving. That’s wrong. Patients, at any age and in any condition, with their families should be empowered to make their own health care choices with their doctors.”
The group was original formed by doctors and nurses who fear changes in the health care system. It is also a supporter of the Tea Party Movement.
PUN also provides a section called Real Facts, which includes the following headings:
1. Washington May Be Close to Taking Over Your Health Care
2. Medicare-for-All Is Bad News
3. The "Public Option" Is a Step Toward Total Government Control
4. Your Medical Privacy Is in Jeopardy
5. The Impact of Government Health Care Mandates
These claims, many unsupported with any scientific data, prey on the public’s fears, as MediaMatters has documented since the beginning of the health care reform debate.
PUN was formed as part of a Koch-sponsored group called Americans for Prosperity. a huge supporter of the Tea Party Movement since its inception.
Koch has also donated money to the arts and museums. He has supported renovations of the Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater building, the dinosaur wing of the American Museum of Natural History, and the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural.
Koch donated $15 million to the Smithsonian to help to create an exhibit on human evolution. The exhibit hall is titled The David H. Koch Hall of Human Evolution. Paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and curator of anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, has come under criticism for accepting Koch money.
When questioned about it, Potts called Koch a “philanthropist who is deeply interested in science…. our donors have no control over the content of our science or scholarship of our exhibits. And the same is true in this case. We feel very grateful for David Koch’s contributions to helping, I hope, the American public and us being able to bring science to them.”
Dr. Joseph Romm, editor of Climate Progress and a Senior Fellow at the American Progress, has criticized Potts’ “greenwashing,” noting that the Smithsonian downplays or ignores the risks posed by human-caused climate change in a number of exhibits.
“The exhibit’s main theme is that extreme climate change in the past made humans very adaptable, an interesting theory based on limited data and lots of speculation,” Romm writes at his website. “But its huge flaw is that it it leaves visitors with the distinct impression that human-caused global warming is no big deal — even though our understanding of the grave threat posed by that warming is based on far, far more research and data.”
Romm asserts that Koch has spent over $48.5 million since 1997 to fund the anti-science disinformation machine, calling Koch “an even bigger funder of disinformation on climate science than Exxon Mobil” in an attempt to derail climate change policy.
According to a report released in March 2010 by Greenpeace USA, Koch may keep out of the public eye, but he plays a “dominant role in a high-profile national policy debate on global warming. Koch Industries has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition. This private, out-of-sight corporation is now a partner to Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute and other donors that support organizations and front-groups opposing progressive clean energy and climate policy.”
The Greenpeace report, titled “Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine,” documents roughly 40 climate denial and opposition organizations receiving Koch foundation grants in recent years.
Time after time, the Kochs’ deep pockets end up financing public projects whose agencies impact important public policies.
That the Kochs use philanthropy to foster his own agenda through these agencies undercuts their good intentions and undermines the public’s trust in institutions that have no business shaping public policy.
Want to read more about the Tea Party movement?
Click here to learn about the history of the Tea Party, tracing the origins of the movement from a national frame to its current role in state and local communities, including Duluth!
Click here to view the results of a survey identifying what CSS students know about the Tea Party.
Is the Tea Party truly a "grassroots" movement, becoming a large force in American politics without the financial support of large corporations? Click here to read about the "media fantasy" behind financial contributions to the Tea Party.
Click here to learn about possible Tea Party principles outlined in Pledge to America, the GOP position paper that articulates an agenda the GOP would attempt to legislate if the party is able to win a majority in Congress.
Click here to read blog reflections from the CSS journalist students who have been researching the Tea Party in light of the 2010 elections.