Prairie Politics

Koch contributions to colleges scrutinized in new report

Charles Koch’s charitable foundations steered more than $19 million to universities in 46 states in 2013, according to a new report from the Center for Public Integrity.

The center, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, contended in the report released Friday that these donations by the Wichita industrialist are meant to further Koch’s economic and political views.

“The Kochs’ giving, however, has a laser-like focus on a specific, politically relevant discipline – free market economics – unmatched by other political mega-donors,” wrote the center’s Dave Levinthal. “Koch officials routinely cultivate relationships with professors and deans and fund specific courses of economic study pitched by them.”

The center described Koch’s university donations as going toward the creation of a “talent pipeline.”

The Charles Koch Foundation rejected the report’s findings in a statement Friday.

“The claims in this report are just wrong. Our philanthropy is now and has always been purely educational,” the statement said. “We support scholars and students who express an interest in exploring a wide range of ideas about what helps people improve their lives.”

The family makes donations through the Charles Koch Foundation and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation. In 2013, donations went to 210 different colleges, according to the center’s report.

George Mason University in Virginia received the most in 2013 – nearly $14.5 million. That university’s Mercatus Center has been a major proponent of free market economics.

Neither the University of Kansas nor Wichita State University was among the top 20 university recipients of Koch money in 2013, though both have received support from Koch.

Records released by the University of Kansas in September showed that Art Hall, director of KU’s Center for Applied Economics, testified against the state’s renewable energy standards at a legislative hearing after Koch had agreed to donate $40,000, much of that money going toward research of the renewable energy standards.

Koch Industries was one of the main supporters of repealing the standards, along with Americans For Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill this year that turned the requirement that utility companies receive 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 into a non-binding goal.

Last year, Koch Industries and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation pledged $11.3 million to WSU.

The money was to go toward five purposes: renovating Charles Koch Arena, where the university’s basketball team plays; providing scholarships for students through the $1 million Koch Innovation Challenge; supporting business and engineering programs at the Honors College; building a new facility for the Koch Global Trading Center at the Barton School of Business; and creating a “makerspace,” which Lou Heldman, WSU’s vice president for strategic communications described as “a cross between a business incubator, a manufacturing plant and a design studio.”

“Wichita and Kansas are fortunate to be the home of Koch Industries and thousands of Koch employees. We’re proud that many of those employees are our graduates,” Heldman said. “Today we celebrated the naming of the new community makerspace, GoCreate, that will be an important hub of innovation for our students, faculty, staff and the people of south central Kansas. It will be much better because of Koch’s support.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.