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November 03, 2015

Report: Kochs Step Up Campus Giving With Politics in Mind

Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have ratcheted up their higher-education giving in recent years to evangelize their free-market political agenda, according to a detailed review by the Center for Public Integrity. Two foundations led by Charles Koch donated more than $19.3 million to 210 colleges and universities across the country in 2013, up from $12.7 million in 2012 and "exponentially higher" than a decade ago, the center writes.

Unlike other politically active higher-ed donors, the Kochs focus their giving on a single discipline, financing courses and studies that reflect their economic philosophy. In some cases the foundations have sought academic influence, contact information for students participating in Koch-funded classes and activities, and prior approval of schools' media contacts regarding such programs, according to the center.

The article cites a speech last year in which Kevin Gentry, vice president of the Charles G. Koch Foundation and a fundraiser for the brothers' political network, touts how the Kochs' higher-ed spending girds their political goals. "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," Mr. Gentry said.

Some conservative and libertarian observers say the Kochs' campus giving helps balance a leftward tilt in U.S. higher education and that it reflects their core values rather than purely partisan motives. "Since the '60s, they've been imbued with the sense that the world would be a better place if the country instituted their libertarian values," said Brian Doherty, author of a book on the libertarian movement.