Money and Democracy

Published — May 3, 2018 Updated — June 5, 2018 at 5:42 pm ET

Why the Koch brothers find higher education worth their money

Clockwise, from left: George Mason University's Arlington campus, where the the School of Law is located, David Koch and Charles Koch Sarah Whitmire/Center for Public Integrity, YouTube (David, Charles)

The power of the Koch brothers’ money in higher ed goes far and wide, and aims for impact


Newly released documents show that at George Mason University, the Charles Koch Foundation was given a say in hiring and firing professors, according to published reports.

The records were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by a group called “UnKoch My Campus,” which seeks to expose the influence of billionaire investors Charles and David Koch over colleges and universities.

What makes higher education a worthwhile investment for the Kochs, who are known for bankrolling conservative causes and Republican campaign vehicles?

Essentially, to inculcate the next generation with a philosophy like their own: As we’ve reported throughout this decade, education grants from the Koch brothers’ network of foundations routinely support academic programs or centers that teach theories and principles aligned with the Kochs’ convictions about economics and public policy.

READ MORE: Inside the Koch brothers’ campus crusade

At the annual Koch confab in Dana Point, California, in 2014, a top lieutenant of Charles and David Koch told a crowd of supporters that political success begins with reaching young minds in college lecture halls, thereby preparing bright, libertarian-leaning students to one day occupy the halls of political power.

“The [Koch] 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,” Kevin Gentry said at the event. “So you can see how this is useful to each other over time,” he continued. “No one else has this infrastructure. We’re very excited about doing it.”

READ MORE: Koch brothers’ higher-ed investments advance political goals

There are many examples of how their investments played out on campuses and universities, including at Florida State University, where, in 2007, the Charles Koch Foundation gave millions of dollars to the university’s economics department — if it complied with its conditions.

Florida State University ranked a distant second behind George Mason University of Virginia as a recipient of Charles Koch Foundation money. In a tax document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation described its Florida State University funding for 2012 as “general support.”

READ MORE: Koch foundation proposal to college: Teach our curriculum, get millions

The funding pattern isn’t limited to higher education, or even physical campuses. They’ve also invested in web-based curriculum featuring anti-government, pro-market philosophy pushed for use by college and high school teachers.

The EDvantage, a project of the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, bills itself as an online “curriculum hub for pioneering educators.”

Teachers using EDvantage could find economics videos explaining how the Environmental Protection Agency is bad for the environment, how sweatshops are good for third-world workers and how the minimum wage costs workers jobs. Content featuring opposing viewpoints, however, is sparse.

“The minimum wage is supposed to help the poorer, less-skilled and younger workers in the economy,” says the narrator in “The Truth About the Minimum Wage,” a video produced by the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education and featured on EDvantage. “But it doesn’t. It gets them fired.”

READ MORE: Koch-funded think tank offers schools course in libertarianism

As can be gleaned from the varying names where funding came from, the Koch brothers have a vast network through which they funnel contributions.

In all, six separate private foundations are tied to one or both Koch brothers.

READ MORE: The Koch brothers’ foundation network explained

Is there a Democratic equivalent to the network of Koch foundations? Liberal political bankroller George Soros spent slightly more money on a smaller number colleges and universities than the Koch foundations did during 2014.

The most notable difference: While some of Soros’ higher education grants go to programs aligning with his domestic policy priorities, the majority were focused overseas, tax records show.

After the Center for Public Integrity’s 2014 investigation, the Koch brothers supersized their already hefty investments into college students’ hearts and minds.

READ MORE: Koch brothers supersize higher-ed spending

Following the recent investigation, the president of George Mason University ordered an inquiry into whether big-money donors are being given undue influence over academic matters.

The Koch foundation released a statement saying that the hiring agreements in question had expired and were no longer used, and that in any case, they had allowed the foundation only to recommend candidates for positions, not to make final appointments.


Kochs key among small group quietly funding legal assault on campaign finance regulation

Koch-backed ‘dark money’ groups fined for failing to disclose donors

Koch brothers’ plight likened to that of civil rights workers in the 1950s

William Koch emerges from shadow of famous siblings

Read more in Money and Democracy

Share this article

Join the conversation

Show Comments

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments