What do we really know about David Koch? Most people primarily know him for being super rich. He is one-half of the billionaire sibling pair known as ‘The Koch Brothers’; recognized for being prolific donors to conservative political action committees and organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party.
David Koch brands himself a fiscal conservative, focused mainly on economic issues. He believes the health of the country is inextricably linked to the health of the economy and will contribute exorbitant amounts of cash towards preserving free market capitalism. Some of Koch’s more visible efforts included privately donating and fundraising millions of dollars in anti-Obama campaign financing during the 2008 and 2012 presidential election. In early 2015, Koch and his brother pledged to spend about $889 million dollars in donor support to 2016 political candidates which align with their conservative ideologies.
To many, Koch is a corporate stereotype: a rich white man advancing a conservative agenda of free market capitalism, small government, and pro-business policies while denouncing climate change and declaring President Obama “a hardcore socialist.”
Upon further inspection we see that there is, in fact, a multifaceted David Koch – one that is not completely bound by the prototypical Republican conservative agenda which we see purported in many mainstream media channels.
David Koch is, surprisingly to most, a social liberal. Through his libertarian beliefs, he supports gay rights, and a woman’s right to choose. He has written against the Iraq War and the system of mass incarceration and over criminalization in America, particularly in regards to people of color. Koch has acknowledged that African-Americans, who make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for almost 40 percent of the inmates, are significantly affected by mass incarceration, and advocates restoration of rights and ending unduly harsh sentences.
He has quietly donated millions of dollars towards these efforts, consistently ranking as one of the most prolific philanthropists in the country. Koch has also openly advocated against the PATRIOT ACT, donated millions of dollars to education and the United Negro College Fund, the arts, medical and public policy research.
So how do we square these seemingly conflicting sides to his personality? How do reconcile the progressive social liberal who denounces the mass incarceration system, with the fiscal conservative which espouses the evils of government overregulation? Well, in many ways it makes sense – someone who abhors excessive government intrusion into personal matters would find it unimaginable that the government should decide who you can and cannot marry and have jurisdiction over a women’s autonomy over her body. Someone who values the free market and fiscal conservatism should understand how excessively over burdensome and expensive the prison industrial complex, in its current incarnation, is to the federal and local governments.
What is troubling about his liberal viewpoints is that you cannot advocate against over criminalization of black and brown people unless you address the underlying issues of poverty, class discrimination and unequal opportunity which exist at the federal and local levels. And you cannot address those issues of poverty unless you speak about the overrepresentation big business holds in the American political system when compared with relatively-low influence the marginalized and poor grasp over the political process. It is specifically because cash-flush private individuals and corporations, based in the private prison industry, exert tremendous influence over state and federal politics, that over criminalization and overcrowding of prisons has exploded within the past 30 years.
So what do we take away from a closer examination of David Koch? Is he a liberal or a conservative?
Though socially liberal, Koch more times than not aligns himself with the Republican Party and Tea Party movements. He has lobbied and donating millions of dollars to state and federal elective candidates with records of being pro-life and anti-gay rights, yet pro-business. How do we understand this?
His answer to this duality is surprisingly simple. If asked why conservative candidates he gives to don’t share his selectively liberal views, he responds, “That’s their problem. I do have those views.”
About the Author, Eric C. Henry Jr.
Eric is a 2005 graduate of Binghamton University, where he double majored in Africana Studies and Philosophy, Politics and Law. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and serves as Co-chair of the Community Service Committee of the New York Urban League Young Professionals.