If you don’t really know who the Koch brothers are it’s understandable. They go to a great deal of trouble to stay behind the scenes. But since the election of Barack Obama, their names and faces have had a lot more public scrutiny. The Kochs have their oily fingers in just about every corner of the U.S. economy and politics. Here are some things you need to know about them.
Who ARE The Koch Brothers?
1. Their father, Fred Koch, sold oil in Nazi Germany when he was barred from doing so in the U.S. He was invited to do this by Erich Koch, a relative and a highly placed Nazi official. After the Nazis were defeated, Erich helped Fred expand his business into the Soviet Union. It ended badly, though, as Erich was arrested and tried for war crimes and Fred returned to America where he was once again allowed to do business. He did a lot more than that – he was a founding member of the John Birch Society in New York in the 1950s, with Robert W. Welch Jr. and others. His sons took a page from Daddy’s book when they founded the Tea Party. (Source)
2. Koch Industries is one of the biggest privately run businesses in the country and their family’s wealth is second only to Bill Gates’ fortune. Koch Industries has operations in 45 states and is involved in oil, gas and refining, chemicals, minerals, fertilizers, forestry, consumer products and ranching. Government regulation is their primary concern and they have fought it in every quarter: health care, Wall Street, collective bargaining rights and efforts to fight climate change are a few of their favorite targets.
3. They are the controlling founders of Americans For Prosperity, which they use as a front for their operations. They gave $196 million over the past 15 years to right-wing advocacy groups and spent nearly $40 million (mostly through AFP) in the 2012 election cycle, 95 percent of which went to Republican candidates. Early in 2012, the brothers pledged to spend $60 million to defeat President Obama, mostly through “dark money” groups. They must be pretty miffed about how that went.
4. On a state level, the Kochs have spent millions on governors, state representatives and initiatives. They helped bankroll Republicans such as Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Rick Scott and John Kasich. In return, these Republican governors and legislatures proposed and, in most cases, passed such things as the ban on collective bargaining. The Kochs poured $10 million into defending Wisconsin’s union-busting bill and, when Scott Walker was recalled, they helped him out with even more funds. (Source)
5. The Kochs have been funding special “judicial junkets” for years. These are all-expenses-paid trips for judges so that they can be “educated” about corporate-friendly legal issues. The Kochs know that they need to have friends in the judicial branch so they have been spending to influence judicial elections.
6. The Koch brothers are major funders of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an advocacy group that influences policy at the state level. The group is behind legislation that is corporate-friendly, dictating policy as much as they are able. Environmental protections, regulations, worker safety, unions and even education have come under attack by ALEC. Many of the recent bills that have passed Republican-led states have been written by the group, including voter ID and “stand your ground” bills.
7. Koch Industries is one of the country’s biggest polluters. This explains why they have spent over $67 million since 1997 funding climate change deniers and their “studies.” They funded the echo chamber that was “Climate-gate” and continue to fund initiatives to kill green energy alternatives. Climate change? What climate change? As long as they are making money by extending our reliance on oil and preventing green energy from growing, they don’t give a damn about the planet. Oh yeah, they are also the biggest donors to various committees and individuals in Congress who have oversight of the Keystone XL pipeline.
8. In the past 13 years, the Kochs have received nearly $100 million in government contracts. Most of that came from the Department of Defense. Most of the money went to three companies: Koch Industries, Koch Membranes and Georgia-Pacific (which they acquired in 2005). I guess it really pays to have most of Congress in your pocket, eh?
9. One of the things that Koch Industries manufactures is formaldehyde, a carcinogenic substance. They make over 2 billion pounds of the stuff every year. How do they manage to do that? David Koch has been lobbying the EPA to prevent formaldehyde from being classified as a carcinogen. Here’s the kicker… David Koch is not only on the National Cancer Advisory Board, he is a cancer survivor. That’s a pretty obnoxious case of “I got mine so screw you,” don’t you think? (Source)
10. You have to be vigilant to avoid enriching the Kochs with your consumer dollars. They own so many companies that it is hard to keep track. Toilet paper is particularly hard to avoid (rather apropos, really). If you buy Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, Coronet or Soft ‘n Gentle you’re wiping with Koch products – though that could be seen as a statement. If you use paper products like Brawny, Zee, Sparkle, Mardi Gras, Dixie or Vanity Fair, you might want to switch. Anything made by Georgia-Pacific (and that’s a lot of stuff), Invista (textiles and plastic bottles); any kind of petroleum products (see what I mean?), fertilizer (under scads of labels), equipment (including John Zink Company) and even cattle can all be traced back to the Kochs. They even sell in Europe. It’s almost impossible to avoid giving them some of your money, but it’s worth a try.
The Koch brothers are the poster boys for the corporatocracy. They have managed to get their fingers into every branch of government and our everyday lives. It’s almost impossible to find some aspect of America that they don’t have influence over. Now they are trying to purchase eight major American newspapers owned by the Tribune company including the Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Sun-Times and the Orlando Sentinel. If they manage to do this, they will control a good portion of the media. The Tribune Company has made it known that they prefer to sell everything as a bundle and even with other interested parties (including Rupert Murdoch) eager to buy, the Kochs may end up being the owners of not only those newspapers but 23 television stations. And since the Kochs have always felt like they have been picked on by the media (cry me a freaking river), they may find the idea of controlling that media irresistible. In which case, independent online sources like Addicting Info, Think Progress, Raw Story, et.al. will be more important than ever.
[UPDATE: The Koch brothers wound up backing out of their attempts to buy the Tribune company’s chain of newspapers, claiming the papers wouldn’t be economically viable.]
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…