Koch Pollution on Campus

Academic Freedom Under Assault from Charles Koch's $50 Million Campaign to Infiltrate Higher Education

Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries, have sent tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny climate change science, undermine policy solutions to the problem, and attack subsidies for clean energy competition while preserving handouts to fossil fuel companies.

INTERACTIVE DATABASE: Koch Foundation Funding to Colleges and Universities

Key findings:

  • The number of universities funded by Koch skyrocketed from just seven in 2005 to about 250 in 2014
  • Koch compensated a Florida State University Ph.D student over $500,000 while Koch and the FSU Economics Department negotiated a contract together
  • Professors in Koch-funded departments are involved in climate science denial despite lack of scientific credentials
  • Political groups hosted by Koch-funded universities are used to attack clean energy policies and pollution regulations

Lindsey Berger contributed research for this report. Authored by Connor Gibson.

Over the last several years, Greenpeace has exposed how foundations controlled by Kansas billionaires Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries, have sent tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny climate change science, undermine policy solutions to the problem, and attack subsidies for clean energy competition while preserving handouts to fossil fuel companies.

Koch Industries itself has a sordid history of environmental problems, from toxic gas leaks to pipeline ruptures and explosions to contamination of U.S. waterways from petroleum coke and industrial chemicals.

Koch’s pollution isn’t limited to the physical world. Koch pollutes our democracy by raising and coordinating hundreds of millions of dollars to funnel through the “Kochtopus” network of front groups, bankrolling political campaigns to advance the business interests of Koch Industries and the ideologies that have made Charles Koch rich.

Now Greenpeace is tracking Koch’s intellectual pollution of college campuses. Charles Koch has rapidly expanded giving to universities, sending $50 million to 254 U.S. and Canadian institutions of higher education from 2005-2012. Koch’s investments in universities has skyrocketed in recent years, from just seven schools in 2005 to about 250 today.

This massive shift in investment comes at the supervision of Koch Industries executive Richard Fink. Fink’s political strategy, the “Structure of Social Change,” is built around universities, which provide ideas for Koch political groups to manufacture into policies they later advocate for.

Greenpeace’s interest comes from a years-long backlash against Koch’s attempts to control academic discourse by students, faculty and alumni. We have mounting evidence that Koch-funded departments are helping wage Koch Industries ongoing campaign to undermine the climate change science and policy solutions, all of which is detailed below.

Evidence at schools like George Mason University, Florida State University, Clemson University and Suffolk University fits a familiar pattern: Charles Koch expects a specific return on his large investments.

Charles Koch’s University Contracts: Strings Attached

As detailed by reporters like Lee Fang, Dan Berrett, and Dave Levinthal, Koch-funded university programs tend to promote a specific agenda, at the expense of independence and academic freedom. Few grant agreements are publicly available, leaving students at most universities in the dark about the influence of Koch and other corporate donors. The following schools offer a window into that world:

Florida State University

New internal emails from FSU published by the Center for Public Integrity show how Koch worked with FSU’s Economics chair, Bruce Benson, who was offered another $105,000 from Koch to stay at FSU and see the Koch contract through to completion (though Benson says he didn’t end out taking the money). In a lengthy memo, Benson clearly described to his staff the “ethical/moral issues” they were committing to in signing a deal with the Charles Koch Foundation:

“some will object to having any group trying to use our department (or any other department) as a means of furthering their political agenda. I have considerable sympathy for these normative arguments. Indeed, I wish that universities were free of political manipulation. Unfortunately, the reality is that we live and work in an environment that is subject to all sorts of political manipulations”

Benson wasn’t the only FSU official Koch offered money to during negotiation with FSU. While working on his economics dissertation under FSU’s Bruce Benson and James Gwartney, a graduate student named Matt Brown was compensated $549,931 over a three-year period as he helped FSU negotiate its contract with Koch, according to IRS 990 tax filings from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and whistleblower information shared with Greenpeace.

The first FSU Koch Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2008, but was later critiqued in a FSU Faculty Senate report in 2011. The faculty Senate’s review resulted in an Amended FSU/Koch Memorandum of Understanding in 2013. FSU students and faculty still report that provides inappropriate influence to Charles Koch.

Utah State University

As reported by Dan Berrett for Inside Higher Ed in 2011: “In at least one case besides that of Florida State, Utah State University, the grant agreements give the foundation a role in reviewing candidates for positions.” Berrett notes that USU’s “hiring processes are spelled out more explicitly” than at other schools. The Utah State University Koch grant contract mandates Koch-funded, tenure-track professors follow specific “Objectives and Purposes” that vaguely describe Charles Koch’s ideological preferences, which are described in more tangible ways in contracts with West Virginia University and Clemson (see below).

USU’s contract makes it clear that Koch can pull funding at any time, despite requiring professors to be tenured or on track to tenure, potentially leaving the university on the hook after ceasing a relationship. Koch also includes a legally-shaky “Confidentiality” clause that requests Utah State hide public records “subject to disclosure requirements of public Universities under Utah law,” in order to avoid FOIA requests for communications and documents relating to Koch’s partnership with Utah State.

USU now has a “Koch Scholars” program that pays students $1,000 to join study groups. The Koch Scholars reading list includes Charles Koch’s The Science of Success.

West Virginia University

West Virginia University’s Koch contract makes “human freedom” and “free market economics” the central objective of WVU professors hired on Koch’s dime. The Charles Koch Foundation explicitly required supervision from Professor Russell Sobel (now at Citadel College), and gave Koch preferential power over which professors to hire at WVU, naming Donald J. Lamcombe and Andrew Young as prospects for tenure-track professor hires, threatening to revoke money if those men were not hired on. Both Lamcombe and Young currently work at WVU. Koch made the hiring process clear, contracting WVU to follow specific protocol:

“Prior to the extension of any offer for the Donor Supported Professorship Positions [professors hired with Koch grants], the Dean of the College of Business and Economics, in consultation with professor Russell Sobel or his successor, shall present the candidate’s credentials to CGK Foundation.”

As with Utah State University and Clemson, WVU’s contract explicitly leaves the school responsible for continuing to fund professors hired on by Koch grants if the Koch foundation pulls out.

Clemson University

Clemson’s Koch contract includes similar hiring control and “Objectives” as Utah State University and West Virginia University, with explicit language ensuring that Koch-funded professors would “support the research into the causes, measurements, impact, and appreciation of economic freedom.”

It’s a red flag for Koch to narrow its programs at Clemson to promote “economic freedom,” a concept that’s actually created by Koch itself through the Fraser Institute in Canada, working in conjunction with professors in Florida State University’s Koch-funded economics department, like James Gwartney (see Charles Koch Institute’s Economic Freedom website and Fraser Institute‘s 2013 Economic Freedom of the World report, supported by Charles Koch Foundation, p. 251, written by by James Gwartney Charles G. Koch Doctoral Scholarship recipient Alice M. Crisp, p.250).

The other major index of “economic freedom” comes from the Heritage Foundation, another organization funded by Koch foundations. Heritage Foundation’s metrics prioritize privatization, lower wages, weaker labor protection laws, and less regulation – i.e. more potential to pollute for free and harm people without suffering any consequences, one of many examples where Charles Koch’s ideological campaigns match his business interests.

In large text, the Americans for Prosperity’s website is currently displaying: Americans for Prosperity is…ECONOMIC FREEDOM IN ACTION.

Charles Koch: Violating Academic Freedom

When Charles Koch finances the very idea of “economic freedom” and then bankrolls university departments to teach the concept to its students, he is doing so at the expense of another crucial freedom: academic freedom.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has made it clear that Koch contracts at schools like FSU, Clemson and Utah State violate the principles of academic freedom by narrowing professors duties to serve what Koch prescribes, rather than offering grants free of strings for schools to make independent choices about how to explore subjects with their students. Former AAUP president Cary Nelson told Inside Higher Ed:

“Although the Koch Foundation’s objectives are written so as to sound upbeat and cheerful, they amount to code words calling for the dismantling of the welfare state. ‘Economic freedom,’ sounds like mom and apple pie until you realize it means the government shouldn’t collect taxes, and ‘free voluntary processes’ means buy health care on your own if you can afford it. “It is wholly inappropriate for an outside foundation to use a university to promote its ideological biases in this way. The Kochs can fund positions to hire faculty members who study these issues, but not control what stand the faculty members hired take on them. That distinction is part of the firewall protecting academic freedom.”

Koch’s influence-driven approach to university-level academic philanthropy is consistent with documented reports of Charles Koch’s direct approval of high school curricula with very specific ideological goals, including dismissing ideas that the “Rich get richer at the expense of the poor” or that “Minimum wage, ‘living wage,’ laws are good for people/society.” This high school program was created by Youth Entrepreneurs, an organization founded by Charles Koch in 1993, supported by the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, which Mr. Koch has chaired and funded for decades.

In his ongoing capacity as the IHS chairman, Koch has described in clear terms how he believes universities should to serve as an extension of business interests if they are to accept corporate money. Here is Charles Koch in his own words, speaking to the IHS Board of Directors in 1974:

[W]e have supported the very institutions from which the attack on free markets emanate. Although much of our support has been involuntary through taxes, we have also contributed voluntarily to colleges and universities on the erroneous assumption that this assistance benefits businesses and the free enterprise system, even though these institutions encourage extreme hostility to American business. We should cease financing our own destruction and follow the counsel of David Packard, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, by supporting only those programs, departments or schools that ‘contribute in some way to our individual companies or to the general welfare of our free enterprise system.'”

In the speech, Koch cited the Lewis Powell memo, penned by the Supreme Court Justice who previously served on the board of major corporations like Phillip Morris. Powell’s 1971 memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce demanded aggressive involvement of business leaders in the realms of politics, media, courts and education. Charles Koch appears to have taken Powell’s call to action more seriously than any other business executive in modern American history.

But in pursuit of his goals, Charles Koch not only threatens academic freedom but shoots holes in his own ideological convictions. Through groups controlled by Koch and his “grand strategist” Richard Fink like the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Koch attacks regulations that he doesn’t find favorable, an ironic exercise of the very “corporate cronyism” that Koch decries his public opining.

Now it is time for politicians, pundits, professors and legal professionals alike to questions if they are serving their various constituencies, or if they are being used to deploy the decades-long mission of Charles Koch.

We Sold Our Souls for Koch Control

Covering a deal struck between Koch and Arizona State University, LA Times reporter Michael Hiltzik asked, “When universities sell their souls, why do they have to sell so cheaply?” Koch’s sudden invasion of higher education has been widely protested and continues to escalate.

Brooklyn City University of New York (CUNY) flat-out rejected Koch’s offer for a multi-million dollar grant this year, to the ire of a professor negotiating with the Koch foundation.

At Florida State University (FSU), students and professors have exposed Koch influence since 2011, protesting how Charles Koch’s staff hold undue control over professor hires. The conversation at FSU remains heated, with students declaring that FSU’s revised contract with Koch is no better than its old contract, still conceding informal hiring control and other functions to Koch.

As FSU searches for a new president, one nominee in particular has drawn criticism from students and faculty for his lack of academic background, connections to Koch-funded groups and politicians, and his role as a Florida Senator in passing new legislation exempting university donor communications from public record requests.

At Suffolk University, an alumna has petitioned the university to address concerns over Koch money on campus. Suffolk University’s administration has been under fire for continuing allow Koch to run political campaigns out of the Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) in Suffolk’s name, on Suffolk’s campus.

George Mason University students have recently called upon their administration to make transparent their financial arrangements with Koch and other corporate interests (p. 12). GMU president Ángel Cabrera put up a response that didn’t address transparency concerns outlined by a student group calling itself “Transparent GMU.” On a recent Reddit AMA with President Cabrera, students cited a Politico Magazine article that implicated GMU as a major part of Koch’s political apparatus and pushed for answers. President Cabrera agreed to meet with students, though there is no indication that has yet happened.

The United Negro College Fund has become central in the Koch university debate after UNCF took $25 million from Charles Koch. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) withdrew its partnership with UNCF after learning UNCF president Michael Lomax personally attended Koch’s political strategy & fundraising meeting in June, 2014. Michael Lomax mocked his critics at the Koch donor summit, according to audio leaked to the press.

Students, faculty, alumni and activists alike have also spoken out at Catholic University, George Washington University, and University of Arizona.

Climate Science Denial on Koch-Funded Campuses

Of primary concern to Greenpeace is evidence of professors in Koch-funded university departments denying the science of climate change. Some universities that are threatened to be staffed or controlled by known financiers of climate “skepticism” or play roles in Koch’s political campaigns against climate policies.

FSU – Climate Denial Econ 101

Professor James Gwartney at Florida State University co-authored a textbook called Economics: Private and Public Choice. This “widely used” textbook has been criticized for six years straight by Ph.D economist Yoram Bauman for misrepresenting the science of climate change – a field well outside of the authors’ credentialed experience. Since 2010, when Dr. Bauman began ranking economics textbooks that include climate change back, Gwartney et al. have not only ranked dead-last every time, but have made little progress in updating the inaccurate and false assertions made in their widely-used textbook.

Three authors of Economics: Private and Public Choice have overlapping connections to Koch-funded universities and political groups.

  • Richard Stroup teaches at North Carolina State University, which helps the Charles Koch Institute place “summer fellows” into paid internships at Koch-funded political groups. Stroup is a director of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), itself founded by Charles Koch, and is a fellow at the Cato Institute, also founded by Charles Koch. Along with Charles Koch, Dr. Stroup is a member of the Mont Pelerin Society. Stroup authored “Free Market Environmentalism” for the anti-environmental Property and Environment Research Council (PERC), yet another organization financed by Koch foundations, which created a Free Market Environmentalism college course syllabus.
  • Russell Sobel now teaches at Citadel College Military College of South Carolina, after abruptly leaving West Virginia University in 2012, a top Koch-Funded school where Sobel was hand-chosen by the Charles Koch Foundation to direct the programs it funds. Sobel earned his economics Ph.D at FSU under Randy Holocombe. Sobel is a visiting fellow at the South Carolina Policy Council, part of the Koch-funded State Policy Network, and is affiliated with the Mercatus Center, the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, Tax Foundation, and Koch-funded hubs at Troy University in Alabama and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Sobel served on the executive board of the Koch-funded consortium of professors, the Association of Private Enterprise Education, and received an award from APEE in 2007. Sobel has argued that mine safety regulations make coal miners less safe.

Ironically, the 2008 and 2013 contracts between Koch and FSU were signed by former president Eric Barron, a climate scientist who is now president of Penn State University, which has received $74,500 from Charles Koch since 2008.

Climate Disbelief Ground Zero – George Mason University Economics

Perhaps most prominently, George Mason University’s involvement in undermining environmental priorities is well-known, undermining other GMU divisions, like the respected Center for Climate Change Communication.

GMU Professor Walter Williams has publicly rejected the science of climate change. After employing some popular disproved remarks to encourage doubt over scientists’ findings, Williams stated in June, 2014, “Only idiocy would conclude that mankind’s capacity to change the climate is more powerful than the forces of nature.” Williams is a Rush Limbaugh stand-in host and charter board member of Americans for Prosperity. Williams mentored longtime Koch political operative Nancy Pfotenhauer, herself a former Koch Industries lobbyist her served as AFP’s first president, who until recently served as treasurer on GMU’s Board of Visitors.

The Mercatus Center at GMU was founded by Charles Koch and its ongoing president Richard Fink. Fink established Mercatus from a predecessor organization at Rutgers University, and was followed by GMU economics professor Tyler Cowen. Mercatus has history of opposing attempts to control greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming, an inherent consequence of Koch Industries’ oil and gas business divisions. Mercatus has continued this work into 2014, opposing attempts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon pollution at coal plants.

The Institute for Humane Studies, also at GMU and chaired by Charles Koch, was called “a haven for climate change deniers,” by Mother Jones, recruiting students to work for Koch-funded organizations that have battled climate change policy, clean energy development incentives and laws & regulations in the crosshairs of Koch Industries.

Suffolk University – The Backbone of Attacks on Clean Energy & Climate Policy

The Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) at Suffolk University serves as a factory of economic policy studies for the Koch-funded State Policy Network. BHI’s research methodology (STAMP model) has been widely dismissed by economists and journalists citing BHI’s liberal use of “mathematical adjustment.” BHI has published anti renewable energy studies in states across the country, a tactic to interfere with addressing climate change, not to mention competition with fossil fuel companies like Koch.

The Suffolk Journal confirmed that over $750,000 in Koch donations have gone to BHI. The Journal interviewed BHI director David Tuerck, who admitted to Koch funding but denied any influence over research.

But shortly after, The Guardian published a grant proposal from BHI to undermine the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program practiced by 10 northeast states that the Koch brothers actively oppose. The grant proposal proved that the BHI study’s outcome preceded the research: “Success will take the form of media recognition, dissemination to stakeholders, and legislative activity that will pare back or repeal RGGI.” BHI’s grant request was sent to the Searle Freedom Trust, one of several corporate foundations that bundles grants in coordination with Koch.

In response, Suffolk denounced the actions of the Beacon Hill Institute, but has allowed BHI to use its campus office to continue attacks on state clean energy laws around the country and undermine the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

A Pope of Climate Denial Looms – UNC Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina schools Chapel Hill and Greensboro are on the Charles Koch payroll, and receive money from one of Koch’s closest political allies, Art Pope. Pope, himself a major funder of groups that deny climate change, has leveraged his political groups, his personal donations and his former position as North Carolina’s budget director to bring the university system to its knees.

Pope was a charter director of Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, which runs a pledge to commit politicians against addressing global warming. Pope previously served on the board of AFP’s predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, another group created by the Kochs. He attends Charles Koch’s regular donor summits and gives over $1 million to Koch’s political campaigns, as acknowledged by Charles Koch himself.

Groups founded by Art Pope, including the Civitas Institute and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy (named after Pope’s father, a former UNC Chapel Hill trustee), have been critical of the UNC system, lining up behind Pope’s consistent pressure to weaken UNC’s budget. The president of the Pope Center for Higher Education, Jane Shaw, is married to Richard Stroup, the NC State professor who co-authored the economics textbook misrepresenting climate science (see above).

Freshly departed from his appointed position as NC Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director, Art Pope is now rumored to be seeking presidency at the entire University of North Carolina system, composed of 17 schools.

Climate Denier Slips into University of Colorado, Boulder & Pepperdine University

In the spring of 2014, Steven F. Hayward taught “Free Market Environmentalism” at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Hayward has no credentials as a scientist nor economist, and has a long history of involvement anti-environmental campaigns for fossil fuel interests like Koch and ExxonMobil. “Free Market Environmentalism” is a concept promoted by the Koch-funded Property and Environment Research Center, of which Hayward is a board member.

Steven Hayward’s appointment as Boulder’s “Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought” was controversial after he published offensive commentary on the LGBTQ community that was protested by students and faculty.

The University of Colorado Foundation, located in Boulder, has received $58,000 from Charles Koch since 2009. Now, Hayward is teaching at Pepperdine University in Malibou, CA, which has received $49,650 from Koch since 2009.

Steven F. Hayward has been one of the most outspoken deniers of climate change science for over a decade. He wears numerous hats among Koch-funded groups opposing environmental policies, and oversees tens of millions of dollars as a board member of organizations that coordinate funding with Koch foundations or launder Koch money to front groups.

Hayward controls tens of millions of dollars flowing to SPN & climate denier groups every year:

  • On the board of Searle Freedom Trust as a grant adviser
  • On the board of Donors Capital Fund as a treasurer. Koch foundations have funneled $8.865 million to Donors Capital Fund and sister group Donors Trust since 2005, which in turn sends money to groups in the State Policy Network, including groups employing Steven Hayward. Searle Freedom Trust also gives money to Donors Trust. Searle president Kim Dennis is on the boards of Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, and is on George Mason University’s board of visitors.

Hayward’s various positions before U-Colorado and Pepperdine:

  • On the board of Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research
  • On the board of CFACT (Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow)
    • More than half of CFACT’s budget is through Donors Trust & Donors Capital Fund, where Hayward is the treasurer
  • Former fellow at Koch-funded Pacific Research Institute
  • Former senior fellow at Koch-funded Heritage Foundation
  • On the board of Koch-funded Property and Environment Research Center (PERC)
    • SYLLABUS: “Free Market Environmentalism,” written in 2002 by PERC‘s J. Bishop Grewell, containing readings from numerous people at Koch-funded organizations.

Other financial ties back to Koch:

  • Hayward is a former fellow of the Mont Pelerin Society, a secretive international society that pushes Austrian Economic perspective around the globe. Charles Koch is a member of Mont Pelerin and was a personal friend of MP’s Austrian co-founder, Friederich Hayek.
  • Contributes to Powerline Blog, run by a lawyer who has represented Koch Industries
  • Contributor to Reason Magazine.
    • David Koch as a trustee of the Reason Foundation, which regularly gets large Koch grants
  • Contributor to Koch-funded National Review
    • National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru has attended Koch meetings. NR contributors regularly publish misleading information on climate change for NR’s Planet Gore blog

Steven Hayward and climate science denial:

  • Author of Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World
  • Hayward created and starred in the climate denial documentary “An Inconvenient Truth….or Convenient Fiction?
  • He’s a guest in the other denier documentaries like Resisting The Green Dragon (by the Christian anti-environmental group the Cornwall Alliance, almost entirely funded by Donors Trust/Capital Fund through the James Partnership)

Database of Koch Funding to Colleges & Universities:

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