David Koch of Koch Industries Inc., one of the largest private businesses in the United States, passed away on Friday, Aug. 23. Although a cause was not offered for his death, it has been speculated that Koch was battling an ongoing health issue. He was 79 years old.
“Twenty-seven years ago, David was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and given a grim prognosis of a few years to live. David liked to say that a combination of brilliant doctors, state-of-the-art medications and his own stubbornness kept the cancer at bay,” said brother Charles Koch in a statement to NPR. “We can all be grateful that it did, because he was able to touch so many more lives as a result.”
Koch Industries is responsible for founding an empire that encompasses companies producing plywood, military uniforms and equipment, ethanol and more. Aside from their sphere of influence on modern industry, David Koch and his brother Charles funneled a large amount of money into conservative political groups and campaigns. They are widely regarded as having reshaped American politics.
Although Charles Koch ran Koch Industries, David stayed involved in the company and its donation projects, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. He also maintained a large political presence.
Americans for Prosperity, the Koch’s political network, was founded on the brothers’ funding and funding from other wealthy donors that they recruited. The group has built a framework for negative political advertising, which primarily targeted former president Barack Obama and other Democrats. While David Koch has denied giving money to conservative candidates, Americans for Prosperity created a funding system that gained 63 seats for the Republican party in 2010.
During his career, Koch also founded a number of groups aimed at women, veterans, Latinos, and the elderly; although allegedly unaffiliated with a political ideology, these groups purportedly exploited the loopholes created by the United States Supreme Court regarding financial transparency as well as lacking IRS enforcement of the few existing regulations. The network has long drawn critics for its stream of “dark money.”
Regardless of their support of conservative candidates and groups, the Koch brothers refused support to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. This lead to issues within the conservative donor community, and Trump responded with an attack on the pair, who he called “globalists,” as well as a promise to implement the strict immigration policies and trade tariffs that the brothers have long been opponents of.
“I’m a social liberal,” David Koch told Barbara Walters of ABC News in 2014. Although the conservative candidates that Koch backed stood against LGBT rights and abortion access, he spoke in favor of these things.
Despite his liberal stances on social issues, Koch was a doctrinaire conservative when it came to fiscal policy. In the same interview with Walters, he explained, “I’m very worried that if the budget is not balanced, that inflation could occur and the economy of our country could suffer terribly.”
Koch survived an incident in 1991 in which a plane collided with another aircraft, and only a year later began his battle with prostate cancer. Shortly after, Koch embarked on his journey as a philanthropist. He began donating to medical research organizations, artistic endeavors and museum exhibits.
One of his most famous projects to date is the prostate cancer research center at his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“With tears running down my face, I begged the MIT corporation to commit to this essential project,” said Koch. “I was treated to a standing ovation.”