The Two Faces of Charles Koch
Over the last few months, billionaire Charles Koch has done his best mea culpa publicity tour for his new book, perhaps hoping some “Boy, did we screw up,” sound bytes would cause folks to forget his legacy of funding and supporting climate misinformation, lax environmental regulation, tea party and ultra right wing politicians, the Citizens United ruling, and so much more. Koch’s rebrand has even gone so far (left) that his network has publicly pushed for the certification of Biden’s election, and recently released a statement saying they’ll heavily weigh political donations going further after it was revealed that they financially backed all 13 senators who played a significant role in paving the way for the violence at the Capitol. But as Koch’s PR train keeps chugging along, I’m here to remind people that the tracks are still full of marginalized folks he continues to roll right over.
With a book to sell, a corporate empire to maintain, and a democratic administration in power for at least the next four years, it’s understandable that Charles Koch wants to try and sweep away his right-wing track record. However, it hasn’t been a misstep here or there. Koch and his network has specifically and carefully manipulated politicians, courts, lobbyists and more to their advantage for decades.
A quick refresher: While his spokespeople may be stating that they’ll be more careful with where their money goes, they haven’t outright said they would stop funding these folks. This recent statement isn’t strong enough to make us forget who he funds. Between the Koch PAC and personal donations from the Koch family itself, over $600,000 has gone into bankrolling the 13 Senators who originally vowed to prevent Biden’s confirmation. In addition, the Koch-funded Super PACs Americans for Prosperity Action and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce (now called the Stand Together Chamber of Commerce), spent nearly $15 million since 2016 in hopes of getting five of the 13 senators elected. The massive amount of money the Koch network has placed behind these politicians makes one wonder which side of the mouth the Koch network was talking from when they promoted their support for Biden’s election to be certified.
But it’s not just about the politicians he funds. Over the years the Koch network has worked to limit the rights of both public sector and private sector workers and to drain labor unions of resources and tools to protect workers, in addition to undermining core regulations that protect workers and consumers. They have also bankrolled efforts to privatize public goods and public institutions as well as undermined progressive taxation and taxes on corporations and the wealthiest. In addition, Koch has backed regressive judicial appointments –including Trump-nominated Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett— pouring millions into getting them approved to lifetime positions.
Koch funded campus centers that have been instrumental in creating lax environmental regulations. The Trump administration has acted on many of these centers’ polluter-friendly recommendations, directly harming the 68% of Black Americans who end up living next to harmful coal-fired power plants, incinerators, chemical factories, and other polluters, increasing the risk of both air and water contamination, resulting in chronic health conditions like cancers, asthma, and heart, kidney, liver, and lung diseases. It will be interesting to see how much Koch has changed when he has to “play nice” with an administration that pushes for a much greener environmental plan, which will certainly impact his bottom line.
When it comes to COVID-19, Koch has been instrumental in promoting dangerous ideas and legislation. He’s been tied to funding the Great Barrington Declaration, which promotes a herd immunity approach to solving COVID-19 — a scientifically unsound and deadly idea. And regardless of those “screw ups” that happened in the past, Koch continues to fund Americans for Prosperity, an organization instrumental in getting harmful legislation passed regarding COVID-19, like this recent bill in Wisconsin, that would limit liability around COVID-19 lawsuits, even if businesses didn’t follow proper health and safety protocol, and make it harder for public schools to go remote, even at the expense of students, teachers, and staff.
With all of this and more, it’s hard to believe Koch at his word. Especially when his actions show that he and his network continue to bankroll the very people and organizations he claims to be distancing from. And even the platitudes being expressed are lukewarm at best. Encouraging Congress to confirm Biden isn’t some groundbreaking statement putting Koch out on any limb. Biden won, regardless of the false claims of election fraud Trump and his acolytes continue to try and push. Pushing for Biden’s certification and promising to consider future funding is the safe bet, not a bold move the way some are trying to spin it.
What would be a true change of character would be to call out the politicians, including Trump, who promoted and laid the groundwork for what happened at the Capitol. It would be a true apology to not only condemn these people but pull the money that has supported them and their actions for all of these decades.
But we know that’s not going to happen now, if the last 50+ years are any indication. Charles Koch has a long track record of putting profits over people and, despite his pretty words, his actions haven’t betrayed his past. Who knows, perhaps when he has another new book to sell we’ll see some actual change.
Jasmine Banks is the executive director of UnKoch My Campus.