Fred Koch (1900–1967)
Fred Koch was born in the small town of Quanah, Texas in 1900. Koch was a sharp young man, and at the age of twenty-seven he devised a more efficient way of extracting gasoline from crude oil. At the time, the oil industry was dominated by a few monopolistic companies that sued Koch for patent infringement, temporarily stalling his career. In the 1930s, Koch built his company by working with the Soviets and the Nazis. He taught Soviet engineers how to build refineries, and he helped build a refinery in Hamburg as part of Adolf Hitler's industrial expansion plan. Koch was a strict disciplinarian at home. At the recommendation of a psychologist, Koch separated his four sons and sent them to boarding school. Later, he warned his son Charles not to fight with his brothers and squander his inheritance—advice that fell on deaf ears. Koch died in 1967.
Charles Koch, Fred Koch's second-eldest son, was born in 1935. Charles espouses conservative fiscal policies that prioritize deregulation at the expense, Mayer argues, of human rights. Under his leadership, Koch Industries has been targeted by many lawsuits charging that the company has, among other things, knowingly violated a variety of environmental regulations and exposed employees to toxic chemical compounds. In 1995, for instance, the Justice Department sued Koch for lying about the millions of gallons of oil leaking from Koch Industries' pipelines and storage facilities. Koch's business decisions and philosophy are driven by the belief that the government should not regulate big business. Politically speaking, he believes that governments should be small, taxes should be low, and billionaires like him should have a free hand to pursue their bottom line. To that end, Koch has contributed millions of dollars to conservative nonprofits, think tanks, and politicians who push his agenda: fighting the EPA, the Affordable Care Act, the Democrats, and economic regulations. Over the years, Charles and his little brother David have created a vast network of billionaires, Republicans, and nonprofit organizations that work in tandem to achieve their goals. Mayer refers to this as the "Kochtopus" and argues that it can be difficult for conservative politicians to run for office without the support of the Koch brothers. Mayer cites Mitt Romney, who appears to have reversed his stance on climate change to curry favor with the Kochs. Mayer points out that though the Kochs refused to support Donald Trump, Trump's administration is full of politicians who owe their careers to the Kochs—vice president Mike Pence being a prime example.
Charles has funded the following conservative groups, among others:
In 1974, Charles Koch cofounded the Cato Institute, then known as the Charles Koch Foundation. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank based in Washington, DC. It pushes many of Koch's own policies, including strict limits on government spending, decreased regulations on business, and the privatization of many government programs, including NASA and Social Security. During Barack Obama's presidency, the Cato Institute fiercely opposed the Affordable Care Act.
Richard Fink founded the Mercatus Center in 1980. Its original name was the Center for the Study of Market Processes. In the mid 1980s, after receiving over $30 million in donations from the Koch family, the Mercatus Center moved to George Mason University in Virginia, where it took its new name. Mayer argues that the Mercatus Center, like other conservative think tanks, furthers the Kochs' agenda by way of articles and studies that denounce policies contrary to the Kochs' interests.
Americans for Prosperity
Charles and David Koch cofounded Americans for Prosperity in 2004 after a major ideological split destroyed Citizens for a Sound Economy, which Charles and David also cofounded. Americans for Prosperity is a conservative political advocacy group that has been designated a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, meaning it is allowed to participate as a "social welfare" group in electoral politics. One of the group's first orders of business was to propose a broad anti-tax measure called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which would require that all tax increases be approved by public referenda. Mayer draws readers' attention to the fact that this is in line with the Koch brothers' desire to cut taxes across the board—which would, she notes, benefit billionaires the most and do little for the middle class. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, Americans for Prosperity is not required to disclose the names of its donors and thus has been able to act on behalf of the Kochs without being directly linked to them. Since its founding, the group has lobbied for tax cuts for the rich, repeatedly attacked the Affordable Care Act, and...
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