This is a tale of two Kochs — the one who weeps for lab researchers in need of day care, but not for Americans in need of health care.
David Koch, the philanthropist, was so moved by the pleas of MIT lab workers who said they needed day care that he ponied up $20 million for a child-care center at MIT.
Then, there is also the David Koch who, with brother Charles, helped to bankroll what President Obama described as a “cynical ad campaign” to discourage Americans from signing up for Obamacare. “These are billionaires several times over” said Obama, in what was reported to be a presidential reference to the politically active, conservative siblings and their effort to derail the Affordable Care Act.
David Koch is also the current target of environmental activists, who want WGBH to kick him off its board because of his climate change views. Koch helps fund Nova, the acclaimed PBS science show — but, according to the activists, has also worked to defund PBS.
In Commonwealth Magazine, Bruce Mohl described the recent spate of Koch-related headlines as a case of “pariah and patron.” Because of his ideological beliefs, Koch is “a pariah to the left,” writes Mohl; yet, at the same time, he is also “a big player in Boston philanthropy.”
But it’s even more complicated than that, as illustrated over at MIT. The new David H. Koch Childcare Center is an example of extreme philanthropy — and extreme cognitive dissonance.
Koch is a hugely generous donor. Just at MIT, his alma mater, he has given $150 million for research and faculty positions. Now comes an extra $20 million for the child care facility. “I got a tear in my eye,” he said, when he heard biology researchers at MIT say that child care would improve their work lives.
But there are no tears when it comes to citizens and causes that don’t make it to the Koch priority list. Indeed, with very dry eyes, David Koch and his brother have long been pouring their fortunes into efforts to reduce government — which often translates into reducing government-sponsored programs that help the most vulnerable.
Back in 1980, when David Koch ran as the vice-presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket, he embraced a platform that called for abolishing Social Security, welfare, and minimum-wage laws. Now, he simply puts his money where his ideology is.
A decade ago, according to The National Journal, David Koch provided start-up money for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that played a key role in helping to organize the Tea Party movement. More recently, The New York Times reported, a group linked to the Koch brothers — Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce — disbursed $200 million to nonprofit organizations devoted to defunding Obamacare. According to the Times, $5 million of that was given to Generation Opportunity, producers of an Internet ad showing a creepy Uncle Sam springing up during a gynecological exam. The ad’s mission was to instill fear of government intrusion in private health matters, with an ultimate goal to discourage people from signing up for health care.
Media reports linking the Koch brothers’ opposition to Obamacare to a government shutdown hit a nerve. Koch Industries — which David and Charles Koch co-own — sent a letter to Senate members disavowing any such connection.
But, as Obama pointed out about the brothers Koch, “You know they’ve got good health care . . . Are they going to pay for your health care?” Through his charitable foundation, David Koch has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to cancer research and medical centers. But all that generosity doesn’t help Americans who can’t access treatment.
In the same giving spirit, a wealthy Houston couple just donated $10 million to the National Head Start Association, which is having trouble funding meals and medical and pre-school services for children of low-income families. While praising the gift-givers, a Head Start official pointed out that “angel investors” don’t present “a sustainable solution to the funding crises threatening thousands of our poorest citizens.”
The generosity of individuals is a blessing, but it’s no substitute for national policy. The Koch-funded movement to shrink government shrinks services to the neediest — and that is something to cry about.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.