Sunday 15 September 2019

Conservative mega-donor and billionaire Koch dies at age 79

David Koch: His money incubated the political careers of Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Rick Perry. Photo: Reuters
David Koch: His money incubated the political careers of Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Rick Perry. Photo: Reuters

Patrick Oster

The American billionaire David Koch has died aged 79.

The industrialist and libertarian used his fortune to transform American politics while also donating more than $1bn to philanthropic causes.

The death was confirmed by Koch spokeswoman Cristyne Nicholas.

Koch, whose net worth of about $59bn in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index tied him with his brother as the world's seventh-richest person, derived most of his wealth from a 42pc stake in Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries, which has annual revenue of about $110bn.

A resident of New York's Upper East Side and the city's richest person, Koch once joked that Koch Industries was "the biggest company you've never heard of". The conglomerate has interests ranging from oil and ranching to farming and the manufacturing of electrical components.

But he and Charles Koch (83) became better known for pushing their views than their business acumen, pumping millions into conservative causes and candidates. The operation they built includes more than 700 donors who give $100,000 or more a year and a group called Americans for Prosperity that has chapters in 35 states. It's rivalled only by the Republican Party in its influence on the conservative agenda in the US.

The Koch brothers and other wealthy donors were able to expand their influence on elections following the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision that paved the way for unbridled spending, both directly and indirectly, by outside groups.

"David Koch's imprint on the American political scene will endure long into 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 to give rise to the age of the mega-donor, an era of unprecedented political spending in which wealthy individuals, as well as corporations, can influence politics as never before. His political legacy is huge."

Koch 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 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Yet all those men but Walker worked for President Donald Trump, who has upended the free-market views the Kochs have tried to foster within the Republican Party. That has prompted clashes with Trump, especially on trade and immigration policy.

The brothers didn't support Trump in his 2016 campaign, although they praised his efforts to cut taxes and regulations.

Koch was the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 1980. But as his health failed, he became less prominent in the Koch political operation. Charles Koch has served as the philosophical and hands-on leader, while David was chairman of the foundation that oversees AFP, their flagship political organ.

In June 2018, Charles Koch told company employees that his brother would step down from the business and political empires because of health problems. Charles Koch's letter didn't provide details, although he noted that David Koch had announced in October 2016 that he'd been hospitalised the previous summer.

"Unfortunately, these issues have not been resolved and his 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 $1bn to cancer research, medical centres, educational institutions, arts and cultural institutions, and to assist public-policy organisations, according to his official biography.

The brothers were credited with helping underwrite the limited-government Tea Party movement that helped Republicans take control of Congress in 2010. "They helped to unleash a political insurgency that in turn set the stage for our present state of extreme polarisation, an outcome I don't think they expected or desired," Schulman said.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News