David Koch
David Koch

David Koch, an industrialist who financed conservatives dies

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

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

“It is with great regret 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 approximately $59 billion in Bloomberg’s billionaire index related him to his brother as the seventh richest person in the world, earned most of its wealth from a 42% stake in Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kansas, which has annual revenue of about $110 billion. It is one of the largest closed companies in the country, and its spectacular growth included Georgia Pacific’s 2005 acquisition of $21 billion.

A resident of New York’s Upper East Side and the richest person in town, Koch joked once that Koch Industries was “the biggest company I’d ever heard of.” The conglomerate has interests ranging from oil and livestock to agriculture and the manufacture of electrical components.

But he and Charles Koch, 83, became better known for boosting their views than for their business acumen, injecting millions into conservative causes and candidates. The operation they built includes more than 700 donors who donate $100,000 or more a year and a group called Americans for Prosperity that has chapters in 35 states. It only rivals the Republican Party in its influence on the conservative agenda in the United States.

David and Julia Koch
David and Julia Koch

The Koch brothers and other wealthy donors were able to expand their influence in the election after the 2010 United Citizens decision of the Supreme Court that paved the way for rampant spending, both directly and indirectly, by outside groups.

“David Koch’s imprint on the American political scene will endure in 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 us into the age of the mega-donor, an era of unprecedented political spending in which wealthy individuals, as well as corporations, can influence politics like never before. His political legacy is enormous.”

Pence, Pompeo, Perry

Koch’s 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 Environmental Protection Governor Rick Perry Wisconsin Scott Walker.

But all those men, except Walker, worked for President Donald Trump, who has altered the free-market views that the Kochs have sought to foster within the Republican Party. That has led to clashes with Trump, especially on trade and immigration policy.

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

By then, his political network was moving away from thoughtful support for Republicans, such as then-Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who could stray too far from the brothers’ view of free-market orthodoxy. However, Cramer beat a starting Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp, by a Senate seat.

Days after that year’s by-election, when Democrats retook the House despite Koch’s millions in spending for Republicans, the network called for a more bipartisan approach to what links Americans with work on justice reform immigration and the promotion of free trade.

Koch was the vice-presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in 1980. But as his health failed, he became less prominent in Koch’s political operation. Charles Koch has served as a philosophical and practical leader, while David was president of the foundation that oversees AFP, its main political body.

In June 2018, Charles Koch told company employees that his brother would leave business and political empires due to health problems. Charles Koch’s letter did not provide details, although he noted that David Koch had announced in October 2016 that he had been hospitalized the previous summer.

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

Koch was diagnosed with prostate cancer more than two decades ago. Through personal donations and contributions from the David H. Koch Foundation, he pledged or contributed more than $1 billion to cancer research, medical centers, educational institutions, arts and cultural institutions, and to help public policy organizations, according to their official biography.

Philanthropist “practical”

“Many billionaires make their contribution and their name is on the board, but they have no intention of running for meetings,” New York philanthropist Adrienne Arsht said. “He came to the meetings. It was always practical.”

Arsht said David Koch never acted as the richest person in Manhattan.

“He was very discreet,” he said. “There was nothing in what made you think he was anything but a Kansas man.”

But the Koch brothers played a massive role in politics, helping shape state and federal politics.

“By lavishly subscribing to candidates, political organizations, and advocacy groups, often through untraceable donations, they have taken American policy toward their own arch-conservative, pro-business, anti-tax and anti-tax agenda Anti-regulatory,” Jane Mayer, who covered the Koch brothers for the New Yorker, wrote in June 2018.

Tea party

The brothers were credited with helping to substantiate the limited-government Tea Party movement that helped Republicans take control of Congress in 2010. “They helped unleash a political insurgency that in turn set the stage for our current state of extreme polarization, an outcome I don’t think they expected or wanted,” Schulman said.

The brothers favored ending the minimum wage, eliminating so-called “corporate welfare” for new factories and stadiums and supporting union weakening laws. While their efforts gained the most attention in Washington, the field presence of almost the entire country from AFP meant that its influence was felt in state and local affairs that included fights against gasoline tax increases and referendums about local projects.

Organizations that the brothers help found or found, such as the Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, and the Manhattan Institute, have supported some of their ideas through media studies and interviews conducted by resident academics.

Confused critics

Characterizing himself as a social liberal, David Koch was a pro-abortion is about abortion and supported same-sex marriage and stem cell research. In addition to confusing liberal critics, the brothers supported efforts to free nonviolent prisoners and review sentences, changes they argued would reduce recidivism, save taxpayers money, and eliminate taxpayers barriers to opportunity.

“He believed he had the responsibility of a world that had given him so many opportunities to succeed,” his family said in a statement Friday. “David’s philanthropic dedication to cancer education, the arts, and research will have a lasting impact on countless lives.”

He opposed the Affordable Care Act and was skeptical of the need for the government to deal with global warming, giving money to groups that raised questions about the scientific consensus that climate change is happening. In 2011, David Koch called then-President Barack Obama “the most radical president we’ve ever had as a nation,” pointing out the damage he thought Obama had done to the free enterprise system.

Basketball star

David Hamilton Koch, whose grandfather was a Dutch immigrant, was born on May 3, 1940, in Wichita, the son of Fred and Mary Koch Robinson. His father, after helping Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin develop oil refining plants, became one of the early supporters of the anti-communist society John Birch. That group was often in conflict with the conservatism of the movement that drove the emergence of figures like former President Richard Nixon, so family policy has long been uncomfortable in the Mainstream of the Party Republican.

David and his twin brother, William, were the youngest of four siblings. David and Charles successfully fought Fred and William in court for control of the company.

David Koch attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. He then studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1962 and a master’s degree a year later. Koch, who was 6 feet 5 feet tall, averaged 21 points per game on the MIT basketball team and kept the scoring record in a single 41-point game that stood for 46 years, according to his official biography. He also played for Boston Rugby Football Club.

Family business

Koch initially worked as a consultant and engineer for companies such as Arthur D. Little before joining the family business in 1970. Charles had taken over after his father’s death three years earlier.

The company was then an oil refining business worth approximately $70 million. The brothers made him an industrial giant with interests in oil refining, pipelines, commodity trade, livestock and paper, and pulp products that include brands such as Dixie Cups and Brawny paper towels.

While Charles ran Koch Industries from Wichita, David opened the company’s New York office in 1970, ascending to the executive vice president when his brother ruled as chairman and chief executive.

“David was smart, really smart,” said Frayda Levin, a donor to the Koch network and a former New Jersey book distributor who worked with him at the Americans for Prosperity board. “I could focus on any problem and ask insightful questions.”

Using his New York base, David squandered money on museums and art institutions, such as the $100 million he gave to the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center, which was renamed the David H. Koch Theater.

Cancer research

He also supported medical research, especially after surviving a USAir accident in 1991 at Los Angeles International Airport. Soon after, she discovered she had prostate cancer, a disease that affected her siblings.

“When you’re the only one who survived at the front of the plane and everyone else died, yes, you think, ” My God, the good Lord saved me for a greater purpose,” he said to portfolio.com.

The David H. Koch Charitable Foundation gave $150 million to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to build a next-generation outpatient medical center, the largest individual gift the institution had ever received. He gave $100 million to MIT to create the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

In 1996, at the age of 56, he married the former Julia Flesher, former assistant to designer Adolfo. They had three children: David Jr., Mary, and John.

– With the assistance of Ben Brody