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The Koch family (/koʊk/ KOHK) is an American family engaged in business, best known for their political activities and their control of Koch Industries, the 2nd largest privately owned company in the United States (with 2019 revenues of $115 billion). The family business was started by Fred C. Koch, who developed a new cracking method for the refinement of heavy crude oil into gasoline. Fred’s four sons litigated against each other over their interests in the business during the 1980s and 1990s.
By 2019, Charles Koch and David Koch, commonly referred to as the Koch brothers, were the only ones of Fred Koch’s four sons still with Koch Industries. Charles and David Koch built a political network of libertarian and conservative donors and the brothers funneled financial revenue into television and multi-media advertising. David Koch died in August 2019.
Charles and David Koch have been active in American politics since at least 1980, when David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee. Their political contributions began to attract widespread attention from media outlets in 2008, when, through their family foundations, the brothers contributed to 34 political and policy organizations, three of which they founded, and several of which they directed. They have since organized a network of an estimated 500 libertarian and conservative donors, candidates, think tanks, and other groups. As an example of their influence, investigative journalist Jane Mayer noted House Speaker John Boehner’s appeal to David Koch in 2011 when Boehner needed votes to prevent a government shutdown.
The Koch brothers indicated that they intended to raise almost $880 million in support of candidates in the 2016 elections, and have given more than $100 million to conservative and libertarian policy and advocacy groups in the United States, including The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, and more recently Americans for Prosperity.
Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch, has been reported by Kenneth P. Vogel of Politico to be one of the main nonprofit groups assisting the Tea Party movement; but in 2010, Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia distanced the Kochs from the tea parties and FreedomWorks saying that “no funding has been provided by Koch companies, the Koch foundations, Charles Koch or David Koch specifically to support the tea parties.” According to the Koch Family Foundations and Philanthropy website, “the foundations and the individual giving of Koch family members” have financially supported organizations “fostering entrepreneurship, education, human services, at-risk youth, arts and culture, and medical research.”
Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, has pointed out that the Koch brothers have supported more than just what are generally considered conservative causes. They opposed George W. Bush on many issues, are pro-choice, support same sex marriage, and worked closely with the Obama White House for the Obama administration’s criminal justice reform initiatives that aligned with their own.
In early 2018, political advocacy groups linked to the Koch family pledged to spend $400 million on the 2018 midterm elections, including $20 million to promote the H.R.1 – An Act to provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018 to skeptical voters.
The Koch family funding apparatus has been funding conservative and libertarian groups through think tanks for over forty years. The Cato Institute, which Charles Koch helped create in 1974, is consistently ranked as among the top 25 U.S. think tanks overall in terms of influence on public policy in the United States. In 2015, the Kochs worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on criminal justice reform, specifically in the realm of civil asset forfeiture. The Kochs have also worked to push legislation aiming to adjust federal sentencing guidelines and reduce prison populations.
According to a report by American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, the Koch brothers have built “what may be the best funded, multifaceted, public policy, political and educational presence in the nation today.” Opposition to the government spending any money on climate change is among this network’s activities. Anthropogenic climate change skeptic Willie Soon received more than $500,000 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and a trust used by the Kochs.