Who Are The Koch Brothers?

The Washington Post/Getty Images.
Charles Koch, pictured in Dana Point, CA, on August 3, 2015.
Two of the richest men in the world, who raised some $400 million to influence the last major election cycle, are throwing their hands up at this crop of Republican candidates. Charles Koch, a conservative Libertarian worth billions, even said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday that “it’s possible” Hillary Clinton could be better than her GOP rivals for the office. Clinton was quick to distance herself from Charles Koch’s deep pockets, tweeting that she was, “Not interested in endorsements from people who deny climate science and try to make it harder for people to vote.” Charles Koch and his brother David are two of the most dominant political influencers in America — referred to as “homegrown oligarchs” for their bankrolling of right-wing causes. Refinery29 breaks down how the Kochs are able to sway a political landscape — and why Clinton was so eager to bat away Charles Koch's remark.

The Koch Brothers & Koch Industries The Koch brothers are among the world’s 10 richest men. Since 1967 Charles, 80, has been the CEO of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States. His fortune is an estimated $43.5 billion dollars, according to Forbes. David Koch, 75, is the company’s executive vice president. He is well known in Manhattan, where he is the city's wealthiest resident and a benefactor of the arts. In 1980, he ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket. "They behave like the (business) owners they are, not like hired-help CEOs who often put their own interests ahead of the company,” investigative journalist and author David Cay Johnston told Refinery29 by email. “They should be regarded as serious people who are trying to sell their particular, and peculiar, views of how our democracy should operate."

Koch Industries
, a conglomerate based in Wichita, KS, employs 100,000 people in 60 countries. Koch companies range from cattle ranchland support and building materials to smart phone electronic components and fashion fibers. The Koch Family Foundations & Philanthropy provide college grants to minorities and have contributed more than a billion dollars to cancer research, medical facilities, and other educational organizations.

The Candidates

In the same interview as the remarks on Clinton, Charles Koch said he and his brother are staying out of this presidential campaign — for now. "We haven't put a penny in any of these campaigns, pro or con," Charles Koch told ABC.

He added that before he and his brother could support a Republican candidate, "We'd have to believe their actions will be quite different than the rhetoric we've heard so far." Charles Koch had strong words for Trump's anti-Muslim statements, including his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from travel. "What was worse was this 'we'll have them (Muslims) all registered,'" Koch said. "That's reminiscent of Nazi Germany. I mean — that's monstrous." “The Koch brothers and their network of advocacy groups have mostly stayed on the sidelines of the 2016 presidential race,” said Ken Vogel, chief investigative reporter at Politico. “The brothers and many of the donors in their network are leery of Donald Trump, who they see as an anathema to their brand of small-government, Libertarian-infused conservatism.”

"In some ways, (the Koch network) eclipses the power of the official Republican Party."

Ken Vogel, author of "Big Money"
Last August, Trump, who is financing his own campaign, took to Twitter to denounce the Republican candidates then vying for the top job, including former Gov. Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio, who attended a Koch brothers’ retreat, where elite conservative donors gather. Trump wasn’t invited. "I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?" Trump blasted in a tweet. On Sunday, Ted Cruz was also in Charles Koch’s line of fire, because of his comments about indiscriminately "carpet-bombing" ISIS and the Middle East. "That's gotta be hyperbole, but I mean that a candidate — whether they believe it or not — would think that appeals to the American people," Koch told ABC. "This is frightening," he added. Vogel, who is also the author of Big Money, said the Kochs, "Do figure to play a huge role in the fight for control of Congress, which many conservatives see as critically important to limiting the possible down-ballot losses that could come with Trump at the top of the ticket." The Kochs have pledged to try to raise $900 million on ​issues surrounding the election and other campaigns in 2016 — more than twice the amount the Republican national committee spent in the last presidential election, according to study The Koch Effect by Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, two Harvard scholars.

Koch Network

The Koch brothers are “pro-business” and believe in smaller government and economic freedom, meaning they oppose regulations and stand for lower taxes. Policy influence is focused on budget, energy, health care, taxes, labor, education, fiscal services, and technology, according to research by the Harvard scholars.

The two men have also supported climate-change deniers and groups. “The Koch brothers' most significant impact on American politics has been steering the Republican Party to the right on fiscal and regulatory issues, encouraging a more limited view of government's role in society,” Vogel said. “Their ability to influence how others think is enhanced by the awful Citizens United decision, which ignores the vast history of how money corrupts politics, something well documented all the way back to the ancient world,” Johnston told Refinery29 via email.

“Their ability to influence how others think is enhanced by the awful Citizens United decision, which ignores the vast history of how money corrupts politics."

David Cay Johnston, investigative journalist

The Citizens United v. FEC ruling
by the Supreme Court gave corporations and unions the okay to spend unlimited amounts on political activities. "The privatized political and policy advocacy operation assembled by the Kochs — which includes a handful of groups funded by the brothers and a network of like-minded major donors — is like nothing else in American history," said Vogel.

"In some ways, it eclipses the power of the official Republican Party." In 2015, the Koch network had more people working with it than were on Republican committee payrolls. The centerpiece of its network, advocacy group "Americans for Prosperity," had directors in 34 states, according to Skocpol and Hertel-Fernandez's study. "The Kochs' mission is also in some ways more ambitious than the Republican Party’s," Vogel told Refinery29 "Their goal is not to just elect Republicans, but to fundamentally reshape American public life around their Libertarian-infused brand of conservatism."

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