Koch's Political Strategy and the Role of Academia

Click to read Koch's true motivation for academic giving, "policy change."

Click to read Koch's true motivation for academic giving, "policy change."

Charles Koch’s political activities, now largely referred to as the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, utilizes what they call an “integrated strategy” for privately funded policy change.

It involves the targeted funding of universities, think tanks, front groups, and politicians for the “implementation of policy change.”  

Since 2003, this strategy has been utilized at Koch's highly secretive bi-annual donor summits. 

The Center for Public Integrity published (Lauren Windsor's) recordings of a 2014 Koch summit, in particular, a session entitled “Leveraging Science and Universities." 

At the 2014 summit, Kevin Gentry of Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation bragged to a roomful of donors:

Listen to Koch's donor summit above, and click here for the full transcript 

students that graduate out of these higher education programs also populate the state-based think tanks and the national think-tanks…they become the major staffing for the state chapters on the grassroots innovation around the country….

So the network is fully integrated. So it’s not just work at the universities with the students, but it’s also building state-based capabilities and election capabilities, and integrating this talent pipeline. I hope that those of you [who] are excited about the electoral process, you’ll invest there. Those of you who are excited about universities, invest there. (full transcript)

Fundraising simultaneously for academic and political projects, Gentry reminds donors of a 32-state strategy for a “culture of freedom that will not just change the policies of those states, but also have a significant impact on the federal government.”

Florida State University’s Bruce Benson described in 2007 how potential university grant recipients may attend Koch Foundation summits:

Koch has organized a group of Foundations with similar agendas that meet twice a year to discuss funding strategies, etc. If some version of this proposal is agreed to, Koch will invite representatives from FSU to these meetings, introduce us, allow us to make our pitch, and encourage others to join them in funding the program…. [T]hey also want FSU to demonstrate a commitment to the program (e.g., make a sincere effort to raise other money from their network of foundations). (Benson memo, 2007)

free market programs funded by Koch's network of donors are political, not educational.

Additional documents from Koch's summits, as well as recordings from a conference of Koch funded academics, suffice to show that Koch's academic programs are being executed in bad faith, and that they should be rejected outright.

The objectives of the Charles Koch Foundation’s academic programming can be traced back as far as a 1974 speech given by Charles Koch as chairman of the Institute for Humane Studies to a room of business men: 

We should cease financing our own destruction and follow the counsel of David Packard, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, by supporting only those programs, departments or schools that “contribute in some way to our individual companies or to the general welfare of our free enterprise system.” [...] We must recognize that a direct political approach contains certain inherent dangers. [...] Thus, political activity is less cost­ effective than the other approaches, and businessmen should allocate resources accordingly. The important strategic consideration to keep in mind is that any program adopted should be highly leveraged so that we reach those whose influence on others produces a multiplier effect. That is why educational programs are superior to political action, and support of talented free­ market scholars is preferable to mass advertizing. The development of a well financed cadre of sound proponents of the free enterprise philosophy is the most critical need facing us at the moment. As the Powell Memorandum points out, “business and the enterprise system are in deep trouble, and the hour is late.” But the system can be restored if business will re­examine itself and undertake radical new efforts to overcome the prevalent anti­capitalist mentality. (Charles Koch, 1974, Anti­capitalism and Business, pg 6­7) 

As Jane Mayer’s recent book Dark Money documented, Koch’s JBS colleagues influenced his early thought and strategy for leveraging universities for political change. In 1976 the Koch sponsored and presented at the Center for Libertarian Studies at New York University, where: 

George Pearson, a former member of the John Birch Society in Wichita, who served as Charles Koch’s political lieutenant during these years, expanded on this strategy in his own eye- opening paper. He suggested that libertarians needed to mobilize youthful cadres by influencing academia in new ways. Traditional gifts to universities, he warned, didn’t guarantee enough ideological control. Instead, he advocated funding private institutes within prestigious universities, where influence over hiring decisions and other forms of control could be exerted by donors while hiding the radicalism of their aims. As Coppin summarized Pearson’s arguments, “It would be necessary to use ambiguous and misleading names, obscure the true agenda, and conceal the means of control. This is the method that Charles Koch would soon practice in his charitable giving, and later in his political actions.” [Dark Money, pg 56.]

As the longtime Director of Public Affairs at Koch Industries, Pearson spent decades laying the groundwork for Charles Koch’s academic-political strategy. In addition to heading up Koch’s charitable foundations, he was an officer Koch’s Institute for Humane Studies and co-founded the Cato Institute with Charles Koch himself.

Pearson’s remarks were made in the late 70’s at a meeting of the Koch funded Center for Libertarian Studies in New York City, where: 

Charles [Koch] cautioned his fellow radicals that to win, they would need to cultivate credible leaders and a positive image, unlike the John Birch Society, requiring them to “work with, rather than combat, the people in the media and arts.” [...] As for gaining adherents, Charles suggested, their best bet was to focus on “attracting youth” because “this is the only group that is open to a radically different social philosophy.” He would act on this belief in years to come by funneling millions of dollars into educational indoctrination, with free-market curricula and even video games promoting his ideology pitched to prospects as young as grade school.

Longtime Koch strategist, Leonard Liggio at George Mason University’s Institute for Humane Studies, proposed basing their youth outreach on the Nazi’s Hitler Youth model: 

In support of building their own youth movement, another speaker, the libertarian historian Leonard Liggio, cited the success of the Nazi model. In his paper titled “National Socialist Political Strategy: Social Change in a Modern Industrial Society with an Authoritarian Tradition,” Liggio, who was affiliated with the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) from 1974 until 1998, described the Nazis’ successful creation of a youth movement as key to their capture of the state. Like the Nazis, he suggested, libertarians should organize university students to create group identity.

James Piereson, with the William Simon Foundation and Manhattan Institute, is quoted quite candidly regarding the network’s academic strategy: 

The key, Piereson explained, was to fund the conservative intelligentsia in such a way that it would not "raise questions about academic integrity." Instead of trying to earmark a chair or dictate a faculty appointment, both of which he noted were bound to "generate fierce controversy," he suggested that conservative donors look for like- minded faculty members whose influence could be enlarged by outside funding.

Piereson also described how to obscure the intention of programs: 

To overtly acknowledge "pre-ordained conclusions" would doom a program. Instead of saying the program was designed to "demonstrate the falsity of Marxism" or to promote "free- enterprise," he advised that it was better to "define programs in terms of fields of study, [like the] John M. Olin Fellowships in Military History." He wrote, "Often a program can be given a philosophical or principled identity by giving it the name of an important historical figure, such as the James Madison Program [in] American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University." [pp.103-104]

Pierson has been especially forthcoming about the overt political aims of the covert political intent behind their academic programing called “Law and Economics” funded by Koch and other foundations in the Koch’s donor network: 

"Piereson, however, admitted that the beauty of the [Law and Economics] program was that it was a stealth political attack and that the country's best law schools didn't grasp this and therefore didn't block the ideological punch it packed. 'I saw it as a way into the law schools--I probably shouldn't confess that,' he told The New York Times in 2005. 'Economic analysis tends to have conservatizing effects.' [...]
"'If you said to a dean that you wanted to fund conservative constitutional law, he would reject the idea out of hand. But if you said you wanted to support Law and Economics, he would be much more open to the idea,' he confided. 'Law and Economics is neutral, but it has a philosophical thrust in the direction of free markets and limited government. That is, like many disciplines, it seems neutral, but it isn't in fact.'" [p. 108]

This strategy, executed and meticulously fine-tuned for decades, has existed largely outside of the public knowledge. Only recently have researchers begun to piece together details of what has been in universities across the country. Documents and recordings from inside Koch’s donor summits have revealed the current state of their plan, the breadth of their infrastructure, and the efforts to obscure their intentions.