You may often hear the words “Koch brothers” during casual flips through tense cable TV talk shows or when a campaign attack ad invades your television screen. But you might also be among that half of all Americans who don’t really know who they are, according to an April Wall Street Journal-NBC poll.
But when you hear that two mega-rich right-wing white dudes just dropped $25 million on the United Negro College Fund, you can’t help but wonder: Who exactly are Charles and David Koch (and what’s the most polite way to pronounce their name)?
Leave it to nervous Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)—who said that Republicans are “addicted to Koch”—to draw huffy caricatures of the billionaire duo, and you conjure up visions of evil twins questing for world domination along the lines of the 2012 political spoof The Campaign. Dig deeper and you find that the loot-heavy Kochs are the most controversial and consequential high rollers in American politics. Just this month, Politico reports, they unveiled their newest super PAC—Freedom Partners Action Fund—in time for the 2014 midterm elections.
You won’t find them working the cable news chitlin circuit—nor are they itching to give 60 Minutes a sit-down anytime soon. They are, however, a combined $42 billion worth of family fortune. Forbes just listed their namesake Koch Industries as the second-largest privately held company in the country, valued at $115 billion. Not surprising, then, that they didn’t have much trouble finding a spare $400 million in 2012 for an all-out (albeit unsuccessful) effort to unseat President Barack Obama.
They’re players, and now they’ve put a big bet down on HBCUs. And so, as the Kochs shape a political landscape defined by shadowy super PACs and anonymous donors with fat pockets, it’s worth reviewing some of their other interests. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about these insanely wealthy ultradonors of the right—until now.
“Stand Your Ground” Brought to You By …
Any major legislative campaign giving trigger-happy gun owners a legal bullet up on self-defense needs more than gun-friendly politicians. For that kind of lift, you need ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The name sounds like that of a mad robot in a futuristic movie, but it’s actually a Koch-supported political machine for conservative state-elected officials concentrated into one massive national political hammer that passed versions of the fateful “Stand your ground” law in 30 states.
Climate Deniers Need Money, Too
You know those fanatics who stick their heads in the sand as if scientific proof of climate change were cooked up on Wikipedia? They didn’t come from nowhere. They’re part of a lucrative industry, including think tanks and political partisans who continually spin climate denial in a perpetual closed feedback loop. Gallup notes that 1 in every 4 Americans are skeptical of the obvious, and that speaks volumes about the power of more than $120 million of climate-denial advocacy fueled, in large part, by a Koch-funded effort to keep environmental regulators out of the fossil fuel industry’s bread and butter.
No Love for Labor