The Koch Brothers’ Rorschach Test
Excerpt: Saturday afternoon at the Koch winter meeting, I was watching a panel of leaders from community-building and social-capital-building nonprofits: the Cara Program in Chicago, which helps workplace skills; Phoenix Multisport, a Boston-based peer-to-peer recovery organization for young addicts; Rising Tide Capital, which helps low-income individuals start businesses in Jersey City, New Jersey; and Chrysalis, which helps low-income and homeless individuals in Los Angeles prepare for, find, and retain employment. The Koch network doesn’t single-handedly keep these organizations going, but their financial and operational assistance is considerable. Stand Together, part of the Koch network of organizations, provided Rising Tide $350,000 last year; the group’s annual budget is $5 million. It struck me that the reaction to the Koch brothers is a pretty good example of how politics has gotten worse over the past two decades. (Alternatively, if you believe American politics has been getting worse for a long time, that worsening accelerated in just the past decade or so.) To hear Harry Reid and a lot of Democrats tell it, they’re “the shadowy Koch brothers.” David Axelrod called them “contract killers.” Liberal columnist Mark Morford once compared them to a combination of “a ruthless drug kingpin, a mafia crime lord, the willful blindness of the NRA, the combined CEOs of Monsanto, Exxon, and RJ Reynolds and a couple scared old wolverines with God complex and a penchant for contaminating the world.” A documentary labeled them “the one percent at its very worst.” The very worst? They donate more to charity that most of us will ever earn in our entire lives. David Koch and his charitable foundation have pledged or contributed “more than $1.2 billion to cancer research, medical centers, educational institutions, arts and cultural institutions, and to assist public policy organizations.” The Charles Koch Foundation donates tens of millions of dollars to colleges and universities each year; in 2014, it gave $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.