Rich people using charities as a way to whitewash their crimes

The effort to salvage David Koch’s reputation is underway — usually by praising him for his donations to charity. Jeet Heer is having none of that.

Such encomiums are premised on the idea that Koch’s charitable giving was so commendable that questions about where his money came from or the general impact of the super-rich on society would be impertinent. This willful lack of curiosity was sharply critiqued as long ago as 1909 by then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who wasn’t impressed by John D. Rockefeller’s setting up a foundation to help disperse his mountain of money. “No amount of charities in spending such fortunes can compensate in any way for the misconduct in acquiring them,” Roosevelt curtly but accurately noted. In the case of the Koch family, there’s plenty of misconduct to investigate.

Then he explains how the Koch money was earned by their father, a fanatical John Bircher, who built oil refineries for Nazi Germany, and how they were despicable in their treatment of their employees. How much would they have to give away in order to compensate for the evil they’ve done? More than they have.

Must we celebrate David Koch’s bountiful donations to public institutions, even if we dislike how the duo have pushed the Republican Party (and America as a whole) to the right? Not at all. The Koch brothers’ bad deeds outweigh their public service. Besides, plutocratic philanthropy is a wretched social model.

I would also add that even their good donations were tainted by an agenda. They funded a major exhibit on human evolution at the Smithsonian, but one of their goals was to play up how climate change affected human evolution. Why, we wouldn’t be here if not for climate change! Therefore, it’s all good for you.

At least that was one step beyond outright denial.

Charles Pierce is also piling on.

Fair warning. I am about to speak very ill of the dead. David Koch went to his eternal barbecue spit on Friday. Except for his surviving brother, Charles, no man had a worse effect on American politics since the death of John C. Calhoun. Every malignancy currently afflicting us can be traced in one way or another into their wallets, and that’s not even to mention the lasting damage they’ve done to the planet as a whole. Sorry, Morning Joe gang, I wouldn’t care if they opened branches of the National Museum of Puppies and Rainbows in every congressional district in the United States. The Koch brothers financed the wrecking ball that is still doing damage, and now one of them is dead, and, if I am not rejoicing, I am breathing deep sighs of relief and praying deep prayers of thanksgiving.

Well, I’m rejoicing, at least. Let the whole family rot.


  1. cartomancer says

    I consider it a harsh indictment of US society that he was allowed to die peacefully of the sorts of things that take most people his age in due course. At the very least he deserved an ironic Marcus Licinius Crassus sendoff – either the real one or one of the fictionalised ones.

    Still, you’ve got one Koch brother left, so there’s still time to get creative and make up for your society’s collective lack of imagination on the first.

  2. numerobis says

    “Yes, he fought to concentrate wealth in his hands and that of a small gang of plutocrats at the added cost of destroying the planet, but he gave a few percent of his wealth to nice things!”

    You could also tax people. His total givings cant be as much as an effective 5% increase in his tax rate.

  3. doubtthat says

    I find this all very frustrating. The two major “charities” I see referenced to celebrate this asshole are donations to colleges and universities and donations to medical research.
    His donations to colleges were not charity, they were propaganda efforts. They wanted to promote the study of their malign and vapid libertarian economic and political concepts. Ergo, George Mason economics department.
    Further, if you read their announcement that they would spend $900 MILLION on the 2016 election alone, they include donations to schools and NAACP as part of that election effort – they wanted to sway the opinion of people in those groups.
    As for the medical end of things, one of the Kochs suffered from cancer so, lo and behold, they donate to cancer research. $130 million. Pretty nice.
    First, they spend many times that much money destroying environmental regulations that kept cancer causing agents away from humans – like formaldehyde.
    And second, they spent many times as much money elevating politicians and promoting organizations that would limit the average person’s access to those treatments.
    So no, not only does the charity not compensate for the evil, but most of the charity was, itself, part of the evil.

  4. mikehuben says

    Few people seem to understand the incredible breadth of Koch ambition: they literally want to remake society at every level to transfer power from government to corporations and the rich. They do not simply want to control the Republican Party for this goal: they want to change every aspect of society to support it. Starting with the levers of control: the political parties, the media, the corporations, academia, the judiciary, the law, the Constitution and every other institution you can name.

    They have been working at this goal for almost 50 years with almost unlimited funding, both from their personal fortunes and by coordinating funding from large numbers of other wealthy people and corporations. They have been smarter than many conservatives: instead of using wing nut welfare, they have built a market for the production of wingnut ideas so that most of their hundreds or thousands of wing nut organizations must competitively self-fund. That leverages their spending much more effectively.

    They have spread their efforts among multiple, competing channels: the Libertarian Party, many other strands of libertarianism, the Tea Party, neoliberalism, neoconservatism, the Federalist Society, the Legislative Exchange Council and many others. These cat’s paws are all united by what I’d call “Plutocratic Economics”: economic ideology that favors plutocracy. Chicago School economics, Austrian economics, etc.

    They have been training cadres for well over 60 years, starting with the Foundation For Economic Education. There are now 3rd generation Koch wing nuts.

    “One cannot overstate the childishness of the ideas that feed and stir the masses. Real ideas must as a rule be simplified to the level of a child’s understanding if they are to arouse the masses to historic actions. A childish illusion, fixed in the minds of all children born in a certain decade and hammered home for four years, can easily reappear as a deadly serious political ideology twenty years later. ”

    Sebastian Haffner, “Defying Hitler” pg. 17

    They’ve been working for roughly 3 times that amount of time.

    I have a page about them at my Critiques of Libertarianism site.

  5. garnetstar says

    I love ballet, and apparently this monster did too. Every time I watched a televised performance by a ballet company based in New York City (he was a snob), I had to watch his name come up on the screen and hear them thanking him. It wasn’t pleasant.

    Really, for all my love of it, I would rather have had all American ballet destroyed by lack of funds than that this loathsome person do all the evil he did.

  6. unclefrogy says

    I hope that his death marks a change in the direction we have been heading on these long years
    he may be gone and good riddance hope his brother …………
    however the money remains and can still be used for ill.
    if there ever was a better example of the negative effects on society of a low inheritance tax I would like to know what it is.
    The US does not have a landed titled gentry who were granted their title by some long dead despot and took their family fortune by force of arms and other corruption, we are too young a country the rich are too close to the criminality that was used in acquiring the wealth and power to pretend otherwise.
    They and he just used the rules of the game to “win” which the point of the game as it is. They even tried to re-write the rules to favor themselves they will always do that it is the rules that we accept. can we change the rules as well to favor a different kind of out come different kinds of goals and maybe different ways to play that does not favor winner take all so much as we have now? maybe stop worshiping at the alter of the Vince Lombardy winning is the only thing?
    uncle frogy

  7. says

    Seems to me that there’s a certain point after which more money can’t make your life better. If you’ve already got everything you could possibly want to buy, in triplicate, getting more doesn’t do you any good. After that point, money is only good for controlling other people’s lives.

    I’m not convinced it should be legal for people to have that much wealth. I don’t see that there’s any legitimate purpose for it. All it does is allow them to fuck over the rest of us.

  8. wzrd1 says

    The wealthy have long purchased their indulgences to cover for their horrific practices.
    Enough so that Martin Luther protested, resulting in warfare that is still ongoing in various pockets around the world.

  9. says

    The exact dollar value of that point can be debated, of course, but I suspect even a fairly high limit would still do a world of good, just by setting the precedent.

  10. mikehuben says

    LykeX @ 10:

    The only good reason I can think of for any person/company to control so much wealth is if it is needed to effectively compete with the government/corporations/wealthy of other countries. For example, US auto manufacturers competing with Japanese auto manufacturers. And, of course, for governments to compete in protecting their territories.

  11. unclefrogy says

    @13 there is no reason I can see that could not be accomplished democratically. I see no need for some one guy a king or a boss of bosses or titan of industry to be in control, that much power is corrupting. and leads to where we are today clearly.
    uncle frogy

  12. jrkrideau says

    @ Pierce

    Fred Koch, an equal-opportunity tyrant enabler, also built refineries for Stalin’s USSR.
    Thanks . I was just tracking down references to point that out. IIRC he made more money in the USSR than Germany. Still, I think that, all told, Stalin, horrible as he was, was a better buy. Even if he targeted people on ethnic grounds he just had them deported to the Far East or wherever. AFAIK there was no genocidal massacre.

    The Ukrainian débâcle did not care what race or ethnic group you belonged to. And, even then, there is some hint that Stalin, a Georgian, may not have realised just what he was doing.

    He was still a murderous bastard but he may not have understood what he had done.

    In any case, US$ 280,000,000 ( From the Charlie Pierce account) in the last few years to buy the government is a lot of money.

  13. monad says

    @10 LykeX: I guess that’s one thing in case I ever need to say something positive about David Koch: his life was dedicated to making a great and unassailable case for the importance of limiting how much wealth people can hoard. Hopefully society can still learn from this example.

  14. jack16 says

    @6 mikehuben

    As I previously remarked . . . smart guys, they know what they’re doing to the planet. I think they view the extinction of the human race as a glorious finally to their own existence.

  15. stwriley says

    I must admit that I, like you PZ, am rejoicing at the death of David Koch. My initial reaction to the news was even more blunt than the Roosevelt’s quote above…”One down, one to go.”

  16. robro says

    Lets not forget that a lot of that charity goes to organizations engaged in activities that support Koch Industries business and political goals.

    For those counting the number of Koch bros left, don’t forget there’s William I. Koch (79), though he seems to have out of Koch Industries, and the oldest Frederick R. Koch (86) who spends most of his time collecting art work. Then there are the 10 children with Chase Koch (Charles’s son) already in the business. So, we may have a way to go before we can declare, “Then there were none.”

  17. says

    garnetstar @ #7:

    Really, for all my love of it, I would rather have had all American ballet destroyed by lack of funds than that this loathsome person do all the evil he did.

    Well said. Same.

  18. PaulBC says

    robro@19 The existence of family dynasties is offensive enough no matter what they do with their wealth. I would favor a confiscatory estate tax. It beats me how anyone reads “freedom” as the right to pass privilege from generation to generation. (Anyway, mostly dreaming here.)

  19. says

    I was happy to hear it was prostate cancer I hear that is painful. Rotten family for sure. Amy Goodman had an excellent show today about how horrible the family is I knew some of it but not all of it. They have been interfering with elections for a very long time.