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David Koch (1940–2019), industrialist who funded conservative politics

Getty Images / Neilsen Barnard

Co-owner of international conglomerate Koch Industries

David Koch was co-owner of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States. Their holdings include subsidiaries in petroleum, chemicals, paper, and financial products and services. His personal assets were valued at over $42 billion in 2019.

David and his older brother, Charles, were heavily involved in financing political candidates and policies to further their libertarian and conservative views. The groups they funded include Americans for Prosperity, which backed the rise of the Tea Party, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which writes model legislation for state legislators and lobbyists. The Kochs’ political goals have become central to the current Republican Party platform and include tax cuts, the weakening of environmental regulations, and opposition to illegal immigration, gun control, and labor unions.

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Died: Friday, August 23, 2019 (Who else died on August 23?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 79


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The outgoing Koch brother: David was the public face of the Koch brothers. He ran as the Vice-Presidential candidate on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket. He was also active on the New York social scene. In addition to political causes, he was a philanthropist who donated generously to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the American Museum of Natural History, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.  

Multiple legacies: In 2000, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Koch Industries would pay “the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company” to settle claims related to “more than 300 oil spills from its pipelines and oil facilities in six states” — Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Alabama.

Koch, who battled prostate cancer for years, also gave millions of dollars to fund cancer research at institutes including the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He gave $100 million to MIT in 2007 to construct the new Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

Notable quotes: “The Earth will be able to support enormously more people [after climate change] because a far greater land area will be available to produce food.” —In a 2010 interview with New York Magazine

“The way I look at it is, cancer research is absolutely nonpartisan. Cancer is very democratic in the sense that it attacks people regardless of their race, their gender, their national background, or their political persuasions.” —In a 2011 interview with The Boston Globe

What people said about him: “RIP to a man who lived a life of liberty, peace and philanthropy. Great blessings being great responsibility, and David Koch lived that way. His many contributions will have lasting impact on our country. My thoughts are with his family today.” —U.S. Senator Rand Paul

“Koch Industries—that is, David and Charles Koch and their political network—has played an almost unparalleled role in helping to cast doubt on the basic science behind climate change; create doubt in the public mind that climate change is real; and particularly, most importantly, to cast doubt on the idea that government regulation can or should do anything to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.” —Christopher Leonard, business reporter and industrial historian

Full obituary: The New York Times

Related lives:

  • Ross Perot (1930–2019), billionaire and independent presidential candidate
  • Roger Ailes (1940–2017), longtime Fox News chief
  • David Rockefeller (1915–2017), patriarch of the Rockefeller family
  • Ayn Rand (1905–1982), writer and philosopher embraced by libertarians