David Koch, the billionaire conservative activist who helped shape modern American politics, has died. He was 79.
“It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother David,” David’s brother Charles Koch wrote in a statement Friday morning. “Anyone who worked with David surely experienced his giant personality and passion for life.”
Together, Charles and David Koch, popularly known as the Koch brothers, helmed one of the world’s biggest companies, the industrial conglomerate Koch Industries. The company brings in an estimated $110 billion per year in revenue, and Forbes estimated both of their net worths to be well over $40 billion, putting them among the richest people in the world. Though Charles Koch is the company’s CEO, David was heavily involved and served as executive vice president until he retired for health reasons in June 2018.
But the Koch brothers are more well known for the way they used their fortunes to advance conservative political causes. In 1980, David was a candidate for vice president of the United States, running as a libertarian, and the brothers have since dumped untold millions into various conservative think tanks, foundations, and advocacy groups. Americans for Prosperity, which they founded in 2004, was widely credited with amplifying the libertarian Tea Party during its nascent stages.
Also notable is how the Koch brothers worked to sow distrust of climate science. “You can trace something like $25 million from the Koch family and their foundations, just over a three-year period, to organizations that deny the reality of global warming,” Jane Mayer told Rolling Stone in 2016. “And you can see that they’ve managed to change public opinion on the subject.”
In 2014, Rolling Stone unpacked how the Koch brothers built their “toxic” empire, and the ways in which they used their wealth to play puppet master over America’s political system. “The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery,” wrote Tim Dickinson. “Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they’ve cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today’s GOP.”
Though both Koch brothers were politically active, David was also known for donating to philanthropic causes, from cancer research to the New York City ballet. “We wish for all to celebrate the life and impact of this most generous and kind man,” Charles Koch wrote on Friday.