Kochs still top of the class
But none of the private foundations controlled by these political powerhouses approach the depth and breadth of Koch-connected foundations’ recent investments in American education.
George Mason University is exemplary.
The Charles Koch Foundation poured $8.49 million into the school during 2012, tax filings show, after it had already invested tens of millions of dollars into programs during recent years at this public school of about 34,000 students 20 miles west of Washington, D.C.
The Koch money largely is earmarked for George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, which describes itself as the “world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas,” and its Institute for Humane Studies, which specializes in researching the “the practice and potentials of freedom” and operates 14 research projects and initiatives.
Charles Koch himself is chairman of the Institute for Humane Studies’ board of directors and a Mercatus Center board member.
Koch Industries Executive Vice President Richard Fink is a Mercatus Center and Institute for Humane Studies board member.
Fink also serves as a board member of three Koch private foundations, plus Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that during the 2012 election cycle spent at least $33.5 million just on advertisements attacking President Barack Obama, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
In all, Americans for Prosperity spent $122 million during 2012 — more than it had from its formation in 2004 through 2011. And that’s just a slice of the more than $407 million a complex and secretive network of Koch-connected nonprofits active during the 2012 elections raised.
This year, the Koch brothers are telegraphing their intentions to remain among the nation’s top political actors for years to come. Democrats have made the Kochs their designated bogeymen, demonizing them in fundraising pleas and Senate floor speeches as amoral, self-serving oligarchs — all while public awareness of who the Kochs even are remains spotty, according to a new poll.
George Mason University donors “respect our academic freedom and understand they can’t influence what we do,” university spokesman Michael Sandler said. “Our president [Angel Cabrera] has made clear that if any donor ever threatened our academic freedom, we wouldn’t take their money.”
In an April 2013 question-and-answer session on Reddit.com, Cabrera said as much while responding to a question about Charles Koch’s involvement in George Mason University’s affairs.
Jennifer N. Victor, a George Mason University politics professor who specializes in how individuals and groups influence government, is nevertheless concerned.
George Mason University, she says, is earning a reputation for advocating political conservatism and libertarianism — a reputation she argues is “absolutely unwarranted,” as she’s sensed no pressure to teach a certain way or publish research that clings to a particular philosophy.
“It’s potentially damaging to the image and the reputation of the university and academia, rightly or wrongly, to be associated with ideological anything,” Victor said. “It’s contrary to what the goal of higher education is.”
Student leaders and activists interviewed at 10 colleges receiving Koch foundation funding were generally unaware of the donations.
Some expressed indifference to them, or had more questions than answers.
“The fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, the political leanings of the organizations which donate to us do not affect the political climate of our student body,” said Jaywin Singh Malhi, student body vice president at Southern Methodist University.
Billy Cerullo, Student Government Association president at Suffolk University in Boston, says the $44,700 donation his school received from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2012 isn’t much discussed — probably because few people know about this or any other private foundation grant.
“It’s probably beneficial for us to know more about how we’re funding moving forward, and that’s something we can definitely bring up to upper administration,” Cerullo said.
Others, however, say they’re upset with Koch cash on their campus.
“I definitely have a problem with it, and it makes me wonder what they’re dictating to the university,” said Ohio State University College Democrats President Vince Hayden. “The major donors here are obvious because they have buildings named after them, but for other donors, the university should be more transparent about who they are. Donors over a certain dollar amount should be published on an easily accessible list.”
Nick Mahon, president of the University of Arizona Young Democrats, says he’s not concerned with any political actor making general support donations or funding capital projects.
“But when they’re funding particular programs, that’s where I think they cross the line, if they’re trying to affect the academic nature of the university,” Mahon said.
Diverse causes supported
The six Koch-led private foundations serve somewhat different purposes and support a variety of endeavors, according to IRS filings.
- Charles Koch Foundation, the primary vehicle for funding colleges and universities. It also made grants to non-educational entities that include the American Legislative Exchange Council ($71,100) and Center for Competitive Politics ($34,800), a nonprofit that advocates against campaign finance regulations. Joe Trotter, a spokesman for the Center for Competitive Politics, said its grant specifically paid for the salaries of two interns and a temporary employee. It also reported a $11,000 donation to the Daily Caller News Foundation, the nonprofit sister organization of the Daily Caller that, spokeswoman McKenzie Vaughn confirmed, produces original news content available without charge to news publishers that can guarantee a large audience. The Charles Koch Foundation reported spending about $14 million overall in 2012 and ended the year with $216.3 million in assets.
- Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which generally funds conservative think tanks. Charles Koch is a director. In 2012, grantees included the Heritage Foundation ($650,000), Federalist Society ($265,000), Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ($175,000), and the American Legislative Exchange Council ($150,000). It also gave $125,000 to the Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason magazine. It reported making $2.23 million in contributions and grants during 2012 and ended the year with about $4.2 million in reserve.
- David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, which focuses on the arts. David Koch is its president. In 2012, it spent $10 million — and authorized an additional $55 million in future spending — for renovations of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City. The foundation also sent $500,000 to the New York City Opera, but the money wasn’t enough to keep the struggling company afloat: It declared bankruptcy and closed late last year. The foundation reported $10.5 million in contributions and ended the year with more than $71 million in assets.
- Knowledge and Progress Fund, of which Charles Koch is chairman. In 2012, it made a lone $800,000 grant for “general operating support” to Donors Trust, a tax-exempt, Virginia-based charity that in turn funds pro-free market think tanks throughout the nation. It also is the primary funder of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which runs online news outlets in state capitals across the country. It ended 2012 with $21.6 million in reported assets.
- Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation, which focused its spending on schools and arts organizations mostly located in Kansas. Top recipients in 2012 included the Youth Entrepreneurs of Kansas ($626,000), the Bill of Rights Institute of Virginia ($246,000), the Kansas State University Foundation ($149,000) and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City ($60,000). The foundation distributed more than $2 million in grants during 2012 and ended the year with more than $30.4 million in assets.
- Koch Cultural Trust, which received almost all of its $164,000 in revenue during 2012 from funds transferred to it by the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation. The Koch Cultural Trust, in turn, provided 34 students from Kansas with grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 to pursue studies in music, dance, theater, art or screenwriting. Several grants also went toward students’ musical instrument purchases. It made almost $100,000 in grants during 2012 and ended the year with about $4,000 cash on hand.
Charles Koch also operates the Charles Koch Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that recently split from the Charles Koch Foundation and exists to promote “advancement of liberty and economic freedom by educating students in a classroom.” It spent $8.57 million during 2012, according to tax filings, and funds hundreds of internships, fellowships and associate placements.
The IRS doesn’t require Koch-related foundations to reveal until late this year how much money they spent on education — or anything else — during in 2013. Grants made during 2014 don’t have to be revealed until late 2015.
But expect a host of new schools not among 2012 Koch cash recipients to rank among those receiving support, according to a document posted on the Koch Family Foundations & Philanthropy website.
While the document doesn’t include dollar figures, it does indicate that big-name colleges such as Brown University, Dartmouth College, Georgetown University, Syracuse University and Texas Tech University are due to receive Koch foundation donations.