New documents reveal same-old Koch extortion-as-education scheme

September 16, 2014

Across the country, up and down the Republican ticket, the Koch brothers’ exorbitant campaign spending has helped the billionaire brothers ensure that GOP candidates support the self-serving Koch policy agenda on issues like environmental protections, the minimum wage and tax breaks for the wealthy. Whether it’s through the Young Entrepreneurs program for high schoolers, or the college-level Edvantage curriculum, the Kochs have used charitable donations to education in much the same way, wielding their influence to create programs that indoctrinate students with their extreme libertarian views. It’s therefore disappointing — but not surprising — that higher education institutions, once thought sacrosanct, have also been subject to the Kochs’ attempts to purchase influence.

New documents released by the Center for Public Integrity detail the negotiations that took place in 2007 between the Charles G. Koch Foundation and Florida State University’s economics department over a proposed Koch donation worth millions. The emails and memos read like business contracts — not exactly out of character for the charitable arm of a Koch Industries executive — with numerous “strings attached” in the form of ideological requirements of the professors and graduate students the grant would support. According to a Guardian summary, in a memo to this colleagues, the then-department chair — who apparently fashions himself a “libertarian anarchist” according to CPI — outlines the Koch Foundation’s specifications:

A section of the memo headlined “Constrained hiring” says: “As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs. In this case, the money for faculty lines and graduate students is coming from a group of funding organisations with strong libertarian views. These organisations have an explicit agenda.

“They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide exposure and mentoring. If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”

The newly-released documents from FSU provide a small window into the machinations of the Kochs’ far-reaching efforts to provide financial backing to like-minded think tanks and academics who espouse their preferred radical free market mindset. But as Paul Krugman noted yesterday, the documents and negotiations we haven’t seen are equal cause for concern: “And you have to wonder how much this sort of thing goes on — usually, one suspects, more subtly and implicitly, without as clear a paper trail.” The FSU revelations are just one example of the Koch brothers attempting to buy influence in service of their extreme self-serving agenda, candidate by candidate, institution by institution.

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation