What is wrong with the US #1: The Kochtopus

“The coloured man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.”

Fred Koch Senior, 1963

Democracy is the rule of the majority. Not the majority of billionaires, but of the entire population. That is why voting is so important: Democracy is the power of the people. However, this basic principle is endangered by special interest, especially in the US. Numbers and facts speak for themselves. The power of the Koch Brothers and their meddling with politics and academia is so advanced that critics talk about the “Kochtopus”.

1. Koch Industries: A powerful conglomerate

Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch are the owners of the oil, gas and commodities conglomerate Koch Industries, based in Wichita. It is the second largest privately owned company in the US after Cargill with a yearly turnover of around 115 billion US-dollars. In 2005, Koch industries took over Georgia-Pacific in a strategic move to turn away from the very regulated pipe-laying and refining business to commodities trading, which is – guess what – far less regulated. The company also focuses on chemical and fertilizer production, cattle and game ranching, forestry and timber products, electronics, industrial glass and various consumer products.

The Koch brothers have a market-based, growth-focussed management approach: All their employees are required to read the 2007 Manifesto “The Science of Success”. The internal structure and running of the company is particularly efficient: Hierarchies are surprisingly flat for such a huge company, which gives large opportunities to those willing to succeed, but is also ruthlessly Darwinian for those failing to meet the targets.

Unsurprisingly, the Koch Brothers‘ ideology is closely related to their corporate philosophy.

2. The Koch Brother’s Philanthropy: A Web of Foundations

Although profits are not published, it is a safe bet to believe that the Koch brothers have more than enough money to fund a whole range of think tanks, political foundations and research centres, next to the direct lobbying activities. Fred senior was already a founding member of the radical right and anti-communist John Birch Society. And this profound hate for all things socialist or egalitarian has nurtured the funding choices of the Koch family until today. No one describes the ideology of the Koch’s better than writer Jane Mayer in an article in the New Yorker from 2010:

 «The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry – especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers‘ corporate interests. … Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a ‚kingpin of climate science denial.‘ The report purported to show that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outspent ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies – from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program – that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the „Kochtopus. »

Indeed, the extent of their philanthropic activities is truly shocking.

Since the 1960s, the Koch Brothers have had large influence over US public policies by funding the conservative Heritage Foundation, which according to its own mission statement “promotes conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and strong national defense.” The Koch brothers also support the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank famous for its (extreme) libertarian views. Friedrich Hayek’s book “The Road to Serfdom” from 1944, which explains that centralized planning may inevitably lead to totalitarianism, is the basis of the Brother’s ideology, alongside radical thinker Robert LeFevre, the founder of autarchism.

3. Radical Libertarians or Freedom Totalitarians

The Koch’s brothers fallacious ideology is inspired by the surrealist idea of perfect competition in all aspects of private and public life. What libertarians understand as “individual liberty” means the absolute power of corporations, the scrapping of trade unions as well as the effective unravelling of statehood. Rather than social progress, this is the reduction of thousand years of progress, democracy and individual liberties into an anarchic state of war (Hobbes would not be impressed.)

What is so dangerous about the Koch’s funding schemes is that they achieved to permeated American society with their notions of “individual liberty”, leading to a strong belief in the population that power is a right in itself.

In the 1980s, the Koch family led the way for the creation of the current Tea Party. Koch Industries supported the libertarian candidate Ed Clark and its programme: an abolition of the FBI and the CIA, as well as all federal regulatory agencies such as the Department for Energy (guess why), the end of social security, minimum wage, gun control laws as well as all personal and corporate income taxes. It proposed the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs and suicide.

Government should be reduced to only one function: the protection of individual rights. Their ideology is basically anarcho-totalitarianism.

These radical ideas have been watered down to more populist arguments in order to adapt to a larger audience. However, the “Kochtopus” still makes sure to fund all organizations supporting this radical ideology. Both the David H. Koch and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundations, the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Fred and Mary Charitable Foundations as well as the Knowledge and Progress Fund are part of the network.Through those foundations, the family has donated more than a hundred millions US-dollars to 34 political and policy organizations advocating free-market policies since the 1980s.download full movie Life 2017

This is not counting the additional millions they gave to political campaigns, advocacy groups and lobbying activities.

4. Funding = Influence = Power

One example is the large funding for the controversial Competitive Enterprise Institute, accused of opposing trade unions. While the Institute does not disclose the list of its donors, three of the Koch’s family foundations contributed to the annual fundraising dinner, alongside Google and ExxonMobil. Further organizations funded by the Koch Brothers comprise think tanks and organizations for women, seniors, for energy research, for health research, for justice, for culture, for local community supports, and even for minorities, as with the 25 million dollars donations to the United Negro College Fund in 2014.

The Koch Brothers have their hands everywhere: from the American Ballet Theatre to the highly regarded Aspen Institute to famous universities such as MIT.

Of course, funding is power: David Koch sits on the board of directors of the Aspen Institute, in addition to the board of the Cato Institute, the Rockefeller University and MIT. There is even a whole cancer research institute named after David H. Koch at MIT (His alma mater).

But that’s not enough for the megalomaniac family. They also fund Republican and Tea Party candidates.

Such as with 8 million in the recall campaign for Wisconsin Senator Scott Walker in 2012. According to Greenpeace, Koch Industries and top employees have spent over $22 million on contributions to federal political candidate since 1999, more than any other oil-and-gas sector PAC. In any given year, 84% to 98% of this money went to Republican candidates. They also fund the Tea Party-related foundation “Americans for Prosperity” and the “FreedomWorks” initiative. Funding for 2014: 125 million US-dollars.

The Koch Brothers pretend to substitute for the “failing state” which they undermine through their own funding.

Example: The Kochs fund the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI).  The website of the institute says: « As budgets for liberal arts and social studies continue to shrink, BRI provides much needed instructional materials and conducts programs that teach the words and ideas of our Founders and the liberties and freedoms guaranteed in our Founding documents. BRI reaches about 30,000 teachers annually. »

Translate: As the government has no money to fund our ideology, we will do so. And we will “educate” our children at the same time. However, it remains highly questionable if public funding can be replaced by Koch Industries money while keeping the same teaching aims – I doubt it.

5. Funding Academia or How To Produce „Scientific“ Studies

The Koch’s meddling with academia is particularly vicious. In 2014, the Koch Brothers tried to influence the appointment of economics professors at the Florida State University. As there are “no free lunches” as stated in a confidential letter, the university had to understand that the 1,5 million dollars funding by the Koch brothers came to a certain price: Making decisions about the content of the classes taught and the appointment of professors. Interestingly enough, the Koch Brothers did not deem necessary to give the “individual freedom” to the university to decide about what professors should teach at their own university. But Florida State University is not the only academic institution that the Koch family has financial relationships with: The brothers dispensed $13m to 163 colleges and universities only in 2012.

Of course, this does not mean that every penny that goes to the universities will automatically have an impact on the teaching. However, it shows the scale of the monetary power they have, and how much they can influence, depending on how universities rely on grants of the Koch Brothers.

And some are worse than others. The Mercatus Centre as George Manson University in Virginia was named “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of” by the Wall Street Journal. The libertarian Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) is also largely funded by the Kochs, and provides ideological brainwashing for young people with video platforms such as “LearnLiberty.org”.

6. Philanthropy for whose benefit?

The focus of the lobbying activities against all kind of regulation makes it pretty obvious that it is not out of charity they spent more than $20 million on lobbying in 2008 and $12.3 million in 2009. This amounts of over 79 million dollars since 1998 for direct federal lobbying.

Despite the majority of the Koch’s corporate funding not disclosed, this interactive map gives you a broad overview about the influence of the Koch Brother’s funding in the US: http://www.kochfamilyfoundations.org/locations.html

The conclusion of this rather long article is a very simple, yet often forgotten fact: Democracy in the US is far from being the power of the people. 

Unfortunately, this culture of corporatization is still in the trend. And in regards to the current wealth of both brothers, estimated to 25 billion US-Dollars, their ideological brainwashing campaigns are not about to stop anytime soon.


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French-German twentysomething living in Berlin. Winner of the blogging competition "Zukunft Europa", organised by the debating magazine "The European" and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The views expressed are mine and mine only /// Deutsch-Französin und Berlinerin. Gewinnerin des Blogger-Wettbewerbs "Zukunft Europa" des Debattenmagazins "The European" und der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. Die Ansichten, die auf diesem Blog vertreten sind, sind meine (und keine Anderen.)

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