6. Overt political activity

A. Political Activity of Koch Foundation Academics

As expressed clearly by the Koch foundation, academic programming is essential to their "integrated strategy" for the "implementation of policy change." Many of these academics engage in overtly political activities in ways that benefit the policy agenda of Koch's political network.



At West Virginia University, the Charles Koch Foundation's donation of $965,000 to create the Center for Free Enterprise came with some strings attached. The foundation required the school to give the foundation a say over the professors it funded, in violation of traditional standards of academic independence. The Kochs' investment had an outsized impact in the small, poor state where coal, in which the Kochs had a financial interest, ruled. One of the WVU professors approved for funding, Russell Sobel, edited a 2007 book called Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It, arguing that mine safety and clean water regulations only hurt workers. "Are workers really better off being safer but making less income?" it asked. Soon, Sobel was briefing West Virginia's governor and cabinet, as well as a joint session of the Senate and the House Finance Committees. The state Republican Party chairman declared Sobel's a deregulatory book the blueprint for its party platform. [Dark Money, pp.154-155]

At the University of Kansas, various foundations controlled by Charles Koch, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, have provided at least $1.2 million to the University of Kansas (KU) School of Business, including the creation of the Center for Applied Economics (CAE) in 2004. The director, Art Hall, describes the Center as “a self-funding economic research organization staffed by an executive director.” CAE is inside the School of Business, but entirely independent of the KU Department of Economics. (KU records request, pg 9)

From 1997 to 2004, Hall was chief economist of Koch Industries’ lobbying subsidiary, Koch Companies Public Sector. In his capacity with CAE, Hall has worked in collaboration with other Koch affiliates to advance state policy change that reflect Kochs’ agenda, while assuming the academic credentials of KU. In fact, several reports Hall has published under the CAE are co-authored by Koch-funded economists.

Public records released by the University of Kansas show include only a few emails between Hall and Koch officials between 2007 and 2013. In one document, Art Hall describes the CAE’s overtly political goal of influencing public policy in favor of “free-enterprise”:

In a 2007 letter to the Charles Koch Foundation, Art Hall states that “[t]he research team’s goal is to create intellectual products that will enlighten public policy debates in a way that helps promote smaller government and a more robust free-enterprise policy platform.” (KU records, pg 4). Hall describes the Center’s model of delivering policy-products for money:

The Center has focused on targeted, high-quality research projects that hold the promise of major structural reform across different policy areas, and has adopted a policy of paying scholars only upon delivery of work product ready for final publication. (KU records, pg 2)

Additional records show at least one example of how Art Hall failed to disclose his funding from the Koch Foundation with the sole purpose of lobbying against clean energy incentives. Koch Industries holds significant interests in fossil fuels, it was actively lobbying against these incentives. In a November 2013 email to Koch officials, Hall describes the Center’s use of funding from the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation (FMK) in 2013:

A substantial portion of that sum financed [1] background research on Renewable Portfolio Standard and (2) work on a survey project related to the local "business environment" in Lawrence.
I suppose this might be an appropriate time to ask if the fund can be used in 2014 to support another $40,000 of payroll—primary the summer portion of the Center's payroll?

On Dec 11 2013, a FMK official, Laura Hands, responds “Yes, FMK would like to authorize an additional $40k for 2014 payroll” (KU records request, pg 15).

During the 2014 Kansas legislative session, Art Hall provided testimony in opposition to SB 433, Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standards. Hall not only failed to disclose his funding from the Koch foundation, but Hall provided written bullet points as part of his testimony which read:

The viewpoints expressed by Art Hall are his alone, based on his research and independent judgement; they should in no way be interpreted as representing the viewpoints of the University of Kansas (or any sub-unit thereof) or the Kansas Board of Regents. (Hall’s Written Testimony)

In 2015, journalists reporting on the revelations revealed that this testimony was the sole product of the funding:

Hall testified in favor of repeal at a Senate hearing in March 2014, after his center had produced Koch-funded research on the standards.

Hall said in an email to a reporter that the testimony was the only published work that came from his investigation into the standards.

At Suffolk University the administration were first alerted to the Beacon Hill Institute’s activities in 2013 when the Guardian revealed grant proposals where BHI “appeared to have already arrived at its conclusions in advance, admitting from the outset that the aim of the research was to arm opponents of cap-and-trade with data for their arguments, and to weaken or destroy the initiative.” The proposal read, "Success will take the form of media recognition, dissemination to stakeholders, and legislative activity that will pare back or repeal [Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative]."

Suffolk officials told the Guardian that it had not been consulted about Beacon Hill's research, “and would not have authorised the grant proposal if it had been.” In an email from Suffolk’s vice-president for marketing and communications, Greg Gatlin, clarified "The stated research goals, as written, were inconsistent with Suffolk University's mission."

Suffolk University announced late in 2015 that it will cut ties with the Koch funded Beacon Hill Institute. The center has received over $800,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2008 and has been criticized by economists and scientists for its inaccurate and faulty research, especially around energy policy. The center director cited newly enforced academic protections for the closure, “I think the entire administration made up their mind that they were troubled by what we were doing in some way, where we were getting money, how we were using the money, what we were saying, and they wanted things to change. [...] I couldn’t raise money under the guidelines that were being issued.”

At George Mason University, academic research predominantly underwritten by Koch has resulted in  professors lobbying on topics related to Koch’s financial interests, including energy issues and state-level politics. George Mason University's Mercatus Center has been cited repeatedly in the Congressional record, as reported by the Center for Public Integrity:

Congress is also paying more attention to the Mercatus Center, which from 1999 to 2008 was mentioned by name 32 times in either the Congressional Record or congressional committee reports. Since 2009, it's been mentioned 93 times, often in reference to Mercatus Center faculty who were testifying before Congress. This year, Congress even cited Mercatus Center research in the text of budget bills. House Concurrent Resolution 27 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 11 note that a Mercatus Center study "estimates that Obamacare will reduce employment by up to 3 percent, or about 4 million full-time equivalent workers." In North Carolina, the Mercatus Center published a report cited by Koch's flagship lobbying group, Americans for Prosperity, in a push against health care expansion.

At Arizona State University a Koch-funded campus center has advanced the priorities of Governor Doug Ducey. The Koch-funded Center for the Study of Economic Liberty appears to have laid the groundwork for Governor Ducey's plan to raid his state's education trust and prematurely spend $2 billion in savings. Ducey, a regular attendee of the Koch brothers Freedom Partners political summits, has ignored the warnings of defunded future education from Arizona state treasurer.