Koch, David, Industries
David Koch spoke in 2015 at the Americans for Prosperity's Defending the American Dream Summit in Ohio. He is dead at age 79. (Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

David Koch Dies, Leaving a Controversial Legacy of Pollution, Climate Change Denial and Support for Ultra Right-Wing Politics

David Koch, the billionaire oligarch who, along with his brother Charles Koch, led Koch Industries and made donations to advance right-wing politics, has died.

Charles Koch announced his brother’s death without noting the cause but said David Koch had suffered from prostate cancer in the past. David Koch was 79.

David Koch’s net worth was estimated at over $50 billion. His influence bolstered far-right politics and is credited with aiding the election of President Trump in 2016, despite claiming he did not support him.

He also donated over a billion dollars to cultural institutions in Manhattan, like the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the American Museum of Natural History and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Related Story: Warren B. Kanders, CEO of Teargas Manufacturer, Steps Down from Whitney Museum Board

The Koch family’s lives and influence have been fraught with controversy. Over the years they have been accused of — and denied — exploiting libertarian principles for greedy, self-serving purposes.

As a libertarian, David Koch stood against taxes and for free trade and free markets. He also advocated for the freedom of the individual and freedom from government intrusion through military drafts, education, business regulations, welfare programs and laws against homosexuality, drug use and prostitution.

In 1998, a civil trial brought by his own family members against Koch Industries nearly tore his family apart over money.

David Koch denied ever funding Tea Party candidates but has been credited with influencing the outcome of elections, undoing limits on campaign contributions and promoting conservative candidates, think tanks and policies, according to the New York Times. The Koch brothers also helped found and contributed money to Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing organization that has been reported backing the Tea Party.

The brothers also supported the American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts model state legislation that proposes laws to cut taxes, combat illegal immigration, loosen environmental regulations, weaken labor unions and oppose gun laws.

Though David Koch has died, his role in contributing to climate change lives on.

In 2014, Rolling Stone published a scathing report of Koch Industries, calling it the “Koch Brothers’ Toxic empire.” It said the company was a black box when it came to releasing where their money came from. Its history has also been clouded by lawsuits, congressional investigations, Department of Justice consent decrees and felony convictions. In 1999, an incident at a Koch pipeline company resulted in a wrongful-death judgement when a defective pipeline exploded and killed two teenagers in Texas, Rolling Stone reported.

Additionally, the article said, Koch Industries is a top polluter of the air, water and climate in the U.S. It had dumped more pollutants into the nation’s waterways than General Electric and International Paper combined. It also ranked 13th in the nation for toxic air pollution. It pollutes more than oil companies like Valero, Chevron and Shell and generates 24 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses per year, Rolling Stone said.

In addition to playing a significant role in climate change, Koch Industries has been found to have been donating millions to groups that have denied the reality of climate change. A Greenpeace USA report made a list of 92 groups the Kochs were donating to. Some of these include the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, which sought to expose “scientific fraud” but faced allegations of attempted extortion, financial mismanagement and fraudulent documents in 2018 and the American Council on Science and Health, which, on its own “About” page, calls corporations harming the planet for profit a “conspiracy.”

Though the New York Times published a rather affectionate, sanguine memorial of the billionaire and NBC News referred to him as a “philanthropist,” Twitter users — with no interest in supporting Koch’s mourning family — have refused to excuse David Koch of his fraught legacy, even in death.

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