In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.
First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.
Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.
And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.
The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.
“As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs,” Benson at the time wrote to economics department colleagues in an internal memorandum. “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”
Benson concluded, “If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”
While the documents are seven years old — and don’t reflect the Charles Koch Foundation’s current relationship with Florida State University, university officials contend — they offer rare insight into how Koch’s philanthropic operation prods academics to preach a free market gospel in exchange for cash.
In 2012 alone, private foundations controlled by Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch, combined to spread more than $12.7 million among 163 colleges and universities, with grants sometimes coming with strings attached, the Center for Public Integrity reported in March.
Florida State University ranked a distant second behind George Mason University of Virginia as a recipient of Charles Koch Foundation money. In a tax document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation described its Florida State University funding for 2012 as “general support.”
Some schools’ professors and students were aghast at the funding, arguing that such financial support wasn’t widely known on their campuses and could threaten schools’ academic freedoms and independence. Others argued that colleges and universities — long bastions of liberal academics — would be well served by more libertarian courses of study.
Separately, Charles Koch is the financial force behind a “curriculum hub” for high school teachers and college professors that criticizes government and promotes free-market economic principles. He’s also funded programs for public school students, and this year, his foundation donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.
At Florida State University, Benson noted in a November 2007 memorandum that the Charles Koch Foundation would not just “give us money to hire anyone we want and fund any graduate student that we choose. There are constraints.”
Benson later added in the memo: “Koch cannot tell a university who to hire, but they are going to try to make sure, through contractual terms and monitoring, that people hired are [to] be consistent with ‘donor Intent.’”
A separate email from November 2007 indicates that Benson asked Charles Koch Foundation officials to review his correspondence with Florida State associates about potential Koch funding.
Trice Jacobson, a Charles Koch Foundation representative, did not respond to questions, although Benson and Florida State University spokesman Dennis Schnittker each confirmed that the emails and documents are authentic.
But Benson noted that the documents were meant for internal use and reflect the “early stages of discussion” well ahead of a 2008 funding agreement signed by the university and the foundation.
That agreement, initiated in 2009, has earned Florida State $1 million through April, according to the university. Until it was revised in 2013, an advisory board would consult with the Charles Koch Foundation to select faculty members funded by the foundation’s money.
Benson also said that while he continued serving as Florida State’s economics department chairman until 2012, Charles Koch Foundation money wasn’t a factor.
While the foundation initially discussed providing money to help fund Benson’s salary, “that idea was taken off the table very early in negotiations,” he said. “I continued as chair because I felt I could still make a valuable contribution to the department.”
The 2008 agreement between the school and the foundation nevertheless faced harsh criticism from some professors and students who argued it indeed gave the foundation too much power over university hiring decisions.
The school and foundation revised their agreement in 2013 “for clarity” and to emphasize the “fact that faculty hires would be consistent with departmental bylaws and university guidelines,” Schnittker said. “Our work with CKF [Charles Koch Foundation] has always upheld university standards.”
Those guidelines, spelled out in a Florida State University statement about the foundation from May, say the money will not compromise “academic integrity” or infringe on the “academic freedom of our faculty.”
Ralph Wilson, a mathematics doctoral student and member of FSU Progress Coalition, doesn’t buy it.
Florida State University “willfully and knowingly violated the integrity of FSU by accepting funding meant only to further Koch’s free-market agenda,” said Wilson, whose student group works to “combat the corporatization of higher education.”
The Charles Koch Foundation, meanwhile, “is using our universities solely to further their own agenda and plunder the very foundations of academic freedom,” Wilson said.
At the end of 2012, the foundation reported having almost $265.7 million in assets, according to its most recent tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
In his 2007 memo to colleagues, Benson acknowledged the school’s relationship with the foundation would invite blowback.
“I guess I am trying to say that this is not an effort to transform the whole department or our curriculum,” Benson wrote. “It is an effort to add to the department in order to offer some students some options that they may not feel they have now, and to create (or more accurately, expand) a cluster of faculty with overlapping interests.”
Benson also predicted entering into an agreement with the foundation carried some risk.
“There clearly is a danger in this, of course. For instance, we might be tempted to lower our standards in order to hire people they like,” Benson wrote, in advocating that the university not do so. “We cannot expect them to be willing to give us free reign to hire anyone we might want, however, so the question becomes, can we find faculty who meet our own standards but who are also acceptable to the funding sources?”
The Koch brothers are best known not for their educational efforts but for controlling a constellation of conservative, politically active nonprofit corporations.
For example, this election cycle alone, six nonprofits connected to the Kochs have combined to air about 44,000 television ads in U.S. Senate races through late August, with the ads typically promoting Republicans or criticizing Democrats.
By: Dave Levinthal, The Center for Public Integrity, September 12, 2014
“Selfless Libertarian Activist?”: Charles Koch Personally Founded Group Protecting Oil Industry Hand-Outs, Documents Reveal
“Lifestyles of the Rich Environmentalists,” produced by a group called the Institute for Energy Research, is a slick web video campaign designed to lampoon Leonardo DiCaprio and will.i.am as hypocrites for supporting action on climate change. The claim is that wealthy celebrities who oppose industrial-scale pollution supposedly shouldn’t fly in airplanes that use fossil fuels. The group, along with its subsidiary, the American Energy Alliance, churns out a steady stream of related content, from Facebook memes criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency, to commercials demanding approval of new oil projects like the Keystone XL, to a series of television campaign advertisements this year attacking Democratic candidates in West Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina and Alaska. On Capitol Hill, IER aggressively opposes any effort to repeal tax breaks afforded to the oil and gas industry.
Documents obtained by Republic Report reveal for the first time that the group was actually founded by none other than Charles Koch, the petrochemical, manufacturing, and oil-refining tycoon worth an estimated $52 billion.
IER has no information about its founding members on its website, and only lists a board composed of seemingly independent conservative scholars and businessmen. Earlier reports revealed that IER/AEA has received grants from Koch-funded foundations, and its leadership includes several individuals who have at times worked for Koch or Koch-related interests. But this is the first time it has been revealed that Charles personally founded the organization.
In October of 1984, Charles, then using a Menlo Park, California address, founded a non-profit called the Institute for Humane Studies of Texas. That organization briefly lost its charter in 1989 for failure to pay the Texas state franchise tax. Four years later, incorporation documents reveal, the group rebranded as the Institute for Energy Research, or IER, which later formed a subsidiary called the American Energy Alliance.
IER/AEA’s advocacy contrasts sharply with Charles’ personal brand as a selfless libertarian activist. The industrialist has argued that he is resolutely against special government handouts, such as tax credits or subsidies that benefit one industry over another. “Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them,” Charles wrote in a column for The Wall Street Journal this year.
But Charles’ group, IER/AEA, has fought to protect special tax breaks that benefit fossil fuel producers. Along with issuing press releases against various federal efforts to eliminate oil and gas industry tax credits, IER/AEA commissioned a study claiming that such tax reforms would have an adverse effect on jobs and on oil production.
Charles and his brother David are personally responsible for founding and funding much of the modern conservative infrastructure. The popular libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, was in fact first named the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc before rebranding. The largest political organization in America outside the Democratic and Republican parties is Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-organizing foundation also founded by the Kochs.
The latest organs in the Koch political network have carefully guarded the sources of their funding and direction. There is the new youth group, Generation Opportunity, along with the new veterans-related campaign organization, Concerned Veterans for America. But IER/AEA’s true origin casts new light on its motivations.
By: Lee Fang, Public Report, September 3, 2014
“The Promise Of So Much Money”: For 2016 GOP Candidates, Does Courting The Kochs Bring More Risk Than Reward?
While most Americans were settling in for a long weekend, many of the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates — Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Pence — went to Dallas for a convention of Americans for Prosperity, the group through which Charles and David Koch channel much of their political money. If any of the politicians were wary about how it looks to have so many people who want to be the leader of the free world kissing the Kochs’ rings, you couldn’t tell. They’re making a strategic calculation that whatever PR risks are inherent in getting too close to the Kochs, they’re outweighed by the money the brothers bring to the GOP’s table. And if the Kochs plan to intervene in the 2016 primaries — something no one seems sure they’ll do — then every Republican candidate wants to be the one on the receiving end of that fire hose of cash.
At the moment, Republicans couldn’t be happier about the Kochs’ support, because the sums they mobilize are staggering. The Koch network (which includes other like-minded benefactors) spent at least $400 million in 2012 and are expect to drop another $300 million in this year’s midterms. The law of ever-increasing campaign spending suggests that in 2016 they’ll spend even more. It would be a surprise if the total didn’t top a half billion dollars.
So far, the Democrats’ efforts to make voters see the Kochs as a pair of villains have met with only limited success. One poll taken in March found 37 percent of people with an opinion about the Kochs (25 percent negative, 12 percent positive). On the other hand, it might be enough if many voters had only the vaguest sense of who the Kochs are and what they stand for. If people hear the name and say, “Aren’t they those billionaire Republican guys? I don’t quite remember,” then that would make Democrats happy. As Greg has explained before, while Democrats certainly want voters to think of their opponents as heartless robber barons, the strategy is more complex than that; it’s also about establishing a context for attacks on Republican positions on economic issues. When you go after Republicans for not supporting an increase in the minimum wage, an association with billionaire oil magnates tells voters why Republicans believe what they do and why their interests are opposed to those of ordinary people.
Republicans will tell you that it’s foolhardy of Democrats to try to make an issue out of the Kochs’ sway over the GOP, mostly because voters don’t particularly care about the influence of money in politics. But even if the attacks had some effect, it would have to be clear and unambiguous before Republican contenders started shying away from the Kochs and all that money.
I’d be extremely surprised if the Kochs actually chose to back a single candidate in the 2016 primary; not only does that risk alienating whoever wins if it’s not the one they picked, it could also turn them into just one faction in a factional conflict. Even if the brothers aren’t toeing the GOP line on some issues (such as immigration or foreign interventionism), they benefit from having everyone on the right view them as a friend to all Republicans. At the same time, it’s in the Kochs’ interest to have all the candidates believe they might back a primary candidate. That way, those candidates will continue to cater to their concerns and maybe even make some promises about actions that could be taken once a Republican is in the White House.
But the closer we get to the 2016 general election, the more problematic it will be for the eventual nominee to be seen as too close to the Kochs. Democrats aren’t going to stop going after them, and if the Republican candidate himself isn’t a plutocrat (none of the contenders this time around approach Mitt Romney’s level of wealth), the next best thing is to say that he’s in a plutocrat’s pocket. So there will be many more Democratic ads with the brothers’ pictures, and many more Democratic speeches tying that eventual nominee to the oil barons from Kansas.
The longer that goes on, the higher the chances that being seen as too close to the Kochs poses a political risk for Republican presidential candidates. But for the moment, they don’t seem too concerned, especially when gaining the Kochs’ favor comes with the promise of so much money.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, September 1, 2014
This year Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chose to spend Father’s Day with two GOP political sugar daddies, Charles and David Koch, at their annual retreat, this time at the lovely St. Regis Monarch Bay resort in Orange County, California. As befit the day, McConnell brought the love: “I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”
It’s a good thing McConnell sucked up to the wealthy right-wing industrialists. He could be looking for a job soon, once Kentuckians (and opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes) hear the audiotape of the session obtained by the Nation. (A transcript can be found here.)
The same weekend ISIL began approaching Baghdad, and Eric Cantor had just lost his primary for, among other reasons, being too cozy with big donors, McConnell took time to schmooze the Kochs and their network of funders and organizers. He wasn’t the only Senate candidate there: the next day, GOP Senate nominees Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado joined the retreat, the Nation’s Lauren Windsor has reported, and all pledged allegiance to the Kochs.
“The exposure to this group and to this network, and the opportunity to meet so many of you, really started my trajectory,” kvelled Ernst, who attended the summit last year. (You can hear audio of her remarks at the Huffington Post).
But only McConnell was devoted enough to spend Father’s Day addressing the Kochs – and only McConnell said anything substantive enough to ensure him home-state trouble.
Kentuckians may find themselves chagrined to learn that McConnell promised the Kochs and their friends that he would intensify gridlock if Republicans win control of the Senate. While legislation requires 60 votes, he noted, budget bills only require a simple majority, and he promised to attach “riders” defunding Obamacare, financial regulation laws and the entire Environmental Protection Agency to any spending bill — riders that President Obama would likely veto, which could trigger another government shutdown.
He also attacked Democrats for wasting time on their “gosh darn proposals” – like raising the minimum wage, which Kentuckians support by almost 2-1, and extending unemployment insurance, likewise backed by his state’s voters.
Here’s what McConnell said on those points, verbatim.
We can pass the spending bill, and I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill: No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.
And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage — cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment — that’s a great message for retirees; the student loan package the other day; that’s going to make things worse. These people believe in all the wrong things.
Kentuckians can decide who believes in all the wrong things come November.
In June the Nation first reported on the annual Koch retreat, loftily titled “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society,” and heavily focused on helping the GOP take back the Senate. 2016 contender Sen. Marco Rubio attended along with McConnell, but it was the man the Kochs hope will be the Senate majority leader come January who headlined the crucial session “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights.”
If dollars themselves could vote in Kentucky politics, McConnell would defeat Grimes in a landslide. At the Koch retreat, the Senate veteran depicted himself as a tireless soldier for the freedom of money in politics. He described the right to make unlimited political contributions as “the one freedom, that without which we can’t do anything.” His fealty to the cause of money in politics got embarrassing at times.
According to the Nation, McConnell talked about his many filibusters of campaign finance reform the way other men his age describe war battles. “The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law,” McConnell told the Kochs and their friends. Others might say 9/11, or the day President Reagan was shot (or further back, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr.) But not Mitch.
The only people he praises more than the Koch brothers are the five-member Supreme Court majority that voted to abolish McCain-Feingold in the Citizens United decision, calling the John Roberts-led bench:
The best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory on the issue of First Amendment political speech…[Now] you can give to the candidate of your choice, You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government…I’m really proud of this Supreme Court…It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.
But not the other four, obviously. Tough luck, RBG.
When David Koch himself, during the question and answer session, complained about a New York Times editorial lamenting the influence of big Koch money, and asked about Democrats’ attempts to start the process of amending the Constitution to state that Congress may in fact regulate campaign contributions, McConnell was at his feistiest.
“This is an act of true radicalism,” McConnell declared. “It shows how far they’re willing to go to quiet the voices of their critics … The IRS, the SEC and the FEC. They’re on a full-tilt assault to use the power of the government to go after their critics.”
By comparison with the seasoned McConnell, Senate candidates Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner were restrained, as Lauren Windsor reports in the Huffington Post. A grateful Gardner, happy about all the Koch-related third-party money flowing into his race, told the crowd that among the people most excited about his run was “the station manager at Channel 9 in Denver because he knew the activity that would be taking place on the airwaves.”
Tom Cotton likewise thanked the group for its role in his success. “[The Koch-funded] Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state … building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state invested in their communities,” Cotton explained.
But only McConnell went on record endorsing the Koch brothers’ entire big money agenda, while mocking popular “gosh darn” Democratic policies like a minimum wage hike, restoring extended unemployment insurance and easing the student loan burden. McConnell’s role in blocking her student-loan compromise earned him a visit to Kentucky by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on behalf of Grimes. ”Mitch McConnell says it’s more important to protect the billionaires,” she told the crowd. “And that’s what this race is all about.”
It would be ironic if the Koch brothers won their GOP Senate majority, but McConnell wasn’t around to lead it.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 27, 2014
You’ve got to hand it to Charles Koch: The man doesn’t want for self-confidence. The Kochs and their allies are taking a page from Sen. Rand Paul and trying to dress up their free-market, anti-union, welfare-slashing 21st century feudalism as the answer to persistent African-American unemployment even as the economy recovers under President Obama.
Unbelievably, Koch invokes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an ally in a stunning USA Today Op-Ed, “How to really turn the economy around,” which is essentially an argument for deregulating business, slashing welfare programs and forcing low-wage work on the poor in the name of the ennobling power of employment.
With laughable Koch paternalism, he shares life lessons from his father, Fred, an oil industry magnate and John Birch Society founder: “When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs,” Koch tells us. “Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream.”
Not only does Koch fail to mention that he was the son of a very wealthy man when he worked those “unpleasant jobs,” he cites Dr. King as someone who agrees with him that “there are no dead end jobs.” (The Kochs, by the way, also fund “educational” groups that oppose the minimum wage.)
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” Koch quotes King, “he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
This from a man who himself joined the John Birch Society in the mid-1960s, while it was targeting King as a “communist.”
Koch is right about one thing: King was indeed a great admirer of street sweepers. In fact, he was murdered visiting Memphis to fight for the right of city sanitation workers to join a union. Invoking King on behalf of his low-wage, union-busting, anti-minimum wage agenda is despicable, but Koch apparently thinks his money can buy him anything, including the right to claim King’s legacy.
He’s wrong. King died, by the way, while supporting AFSCME, the union representing the Memphis sanitation workers. AFSCME honored Dr. King by making the painful yet correct decision to end a partnership with the United Negro College Fund after UNCF accepted $25 million from the Kochs to establish a “Koch Scholars” program for black students. UNCF head Dr. Michael Lomax also dignified the annual Koch Summit, which plots its right-wing, free-market strategy, in June, alongside Republican senators and right-wing think tankers.
Along with their UNCF donation, which the Kochs widely publicized, Charles Koch’s Op-Ed represents a new front in their public relations battle. Neither their billions in wealth nor their trademark political stealth have served to insulate them from criticism and scorn. When asked about the Koch brothers, a recent George Washington University poll found that most people surveyed hadn’t heard of them, but 25 percent had negative feelings vs. 13 percent who had positive feelings. That’s bad news for a duo who have tried to keep their political activities undercover.
They apparently believe that funding African-American Koch scholars and invoking Dr. King can convince black voters they’re not the enemy. But quoting King on the dignity of street sweepers while forgetting – or never knowing – that he died while fighting for their right to unionize is at best boneheaded, at worst disrespectful. It won’t convince many Koch doubters.
Charles Koch’s billions can’t buy King’s legacy or King’s blessing for his radical far-right agenda, which opposes everything King stood for. But he probably can afford better ghostwriters.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief, Salon, August 7, 2014