Whatever Americans may think of them, the Koch Brothers have played a big part in daily life in the US, in ways that go beyond their influence on politics and policy. Their empire may supply your toilet paper, the beef for your steaks, and the spandex in your workout clothes.
David Koch, the industrialist and one-time Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate, died today at age 79. He was half of the famous duo, along with brother Charles, known for their outsized influence on conservative American political causes, funded by profits from Koch Industries. The second-largest privately held company in the US, with $110 billion in revenue in 2018, it has more than a dozen subsidiaries involved in finance and commodities trading, the production of asphalt, chemicals, energy, fibers, fertilizers, minerals, natural gas, plastics, petroleum, pulp and paper, and ranching.
There are other Koch brothers—the eldest and youngest siblings, Frederick and William—who are lesser known and play no role in Koch Industries, the business started in 1940 by their father, Fred, a chemical engineer.
Charles and David turned the family name into a kind of shorthand for wealthy conservatives whose money has reshaped the cultural landscape. They grew Koch Industries, turning themselves into the second-richest family in the US after the Waltons, who own Walmart. And they fund the Koch Family Foundations, which contribute to a slew of causes and operate under the motto, “Free societies are the greatest generators of social progress, sustainable prosperity and well-being.”
Their empire has been called “toxic” by Rolling Stone. Their influence is decried by Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who in a recent New Hampshire campaign stop reportedly mentioned the Koch brothers more than she spoke of Donald Trump, joking, “Oh! You’ve heard of them.” If you type the words “Koch brothers” into a Google search, the first option it offers is “Koch brothers evil,” which should give you some idea of just how the family and its use of its fortune has been widely viewed.
There is some indication that in recent years, however, the Koch brothers have become less hard-bitten. “We’ve become deeply concerned with the degree to which society has become polarized,” Sarah Ruger, director of free expression at the Charles Koch Institute, told Time last year, explaining the foundation’s activities. In June, Politico reported that the Koch network’s policy arm, Americans for Prosperity, is concerned about elevating civil discourse and is considering backing Democratic presidential candidates.
Here is a look at what the Koch Brothers and their companies own, and the causes they support.
The Koch Brothers empire
“From life’s basics to tomorrow’s technological breakthroughs, it’s our job to create and innovate a wide spectrum of products and services that make life better–and to do so responsibly while consuming fewer resources,” the Koch Industries website states.
The conglomerate owns 12 subsidiaries, which employ about 120,000 collectively. Some of the subsidiaries own subsidiaries, too:
Flint Hill Resources A refining and chemical company based in Wichita, Kansas.
Georgia-Pacific A pulp and paper product company based in Atlanta, Georgia, that makes tissue, pulp, paper, toilet-paper and paper-towel dispensers, packaging, building products and related chemicals.
Guardian Glass A company based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, making glass for architectural, residential, interior, transportation and technical applications.
Invista Maker of fibers, fabrics, polymers, and chemicals, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas.
Molex A Lisle, Illinois-based company that makes connectors and other parts for the electronics industry.
Koch Ag & Energy Solutions “Before food makes it to your supermarket or natural gas makes it to your hot water heater, we’re creating and delivering vital ingredients that help our customers make it happen,” Koch Industries says of its agriculture and energy-solutions arm. What precisely does that mean? That this is a holding company for three other Koch entities, including Koch Fertilizer, Koch Energy Services, and Koch Methanol.
Koch Engineered Solutions This company works in the US and abroad providing process- and pollution-control equipment for industrial facilities.
Koch Disruptive Technologies An investment subsidiary, which according to Koch Industries, contributes to “New visions. New strategies. New products…We focus on investments that improve Koch’s core capabilities as well as those that create entire new platforms poised to change society for the better.”
Koch Equity Development The acquisition and investment arm of Koch Industries “looking for opportunities to expand our business and profitably invest the firm’s excess capital.”
Koch Minerals One of the world’s largest dry-bulk commodity handlers, marketing and trading petroleum coke, coal, sulfur, wood pulp, paper and more. Its subsidiaries include, Koch Carbon, Koch Exploration Company, Koch Oil Sands Operating, KMP Holdings, and EFT Analytics.
Koch Supply & Trading A commodities trading firm that leverages experience in the transport, process, and use of raw materials on the markets, as well as transporting petroleum and managing vessels through Koch Shipping.
Matador Cattle This company raises cattle for beef in ranches in Texas, Kansas, and Montana that cover 460,000 acres and 12,000 cattle. It also sells calves and even semen from high-pedigree breeds. One of its goals: “preserving the cowboy way for generations to come.”
Koch foundations and philanthropy
In addition to their industrial endeavors, the Koch family is active in philanthropic and political activities. The various foundations and charities fund academic research, culture, civic and educational projects, and conservative causes.
The nonprofit arms of the family’s empire include the Charles Koch Foundation, which provides grants to colleges and universities for research and education, and the Charles Koch Institute, a funder of education, research, and training programs for professionals. Last year, a report revealed that Charles Koch had given more than $1 billion to charity, mostly to civic and philanthropic groups rather than political causes. In 2017, the vast majority, 95%, of his personal giving went to educational programs and community groups that deal with persistent poverty. The David H. Koch Foundation also funds medical research.
The Koch Cultural Trust funds the arts and provides grants to artists and musicians. The Fred and Mary Koch foundation (named for the founder of Koch Industries and his wife) focuses on Kansas youth, funding education and arts programs in the conglomerate’s home state.
The Koch brothers are perhaps best known for Americans for Prosperity, the libertarian and conservative policy group funded and founded in part with their money, impetus, and influence in 2004. It has been said to fuel the rise of the Tea Party.
Of all the family’s charitable giving, this is the one contribution that will most likely be David Koch’s legacy, whether or not he would have preferred to be remembered for other endeavors.