Even casual followers of politics are likely familiar with the name of David Koch. After all, he and his brother Charles, with whom he ran the behemoth Koch Industries business, essentially reshaped American politics by steering huge amounts of money to conservative candidates and causes, reports NPR. David Koch's death at age 79 has prompted no shortage of analyses about his influence on politics (more on that later), but the obituaries also are highlighting other aspects of what was by all accounts an eventful, and controversial, life:
- Plane scare: David Koch was living as a "freewheeling bachelor" in New York City in 1991 when a plane tragedy changed his life, reports the Washington Post. The airliner he was on collided with another aircraft on a runway at Los Angeles International Airport and caught fire. Koch escaped with burns to his lungs, and more than 30 others died. He later called the experience "spiritual" and life-altering. He soon settled down, "and since then I've been busy doing all the good works I can think of." Koch would go on to become a major US philanthropist.
- His own run: Koch is famous now through his bankrolling of candidates, but he ran as vice president on a Libertarian presidential ticket in 1980, notes the Wall Street Journal. Ed Clark was his fellow candidate. Koch continued to embrace limited-government conservative views since then, though he also backed abortion rights and gay rights.
- Family feud: Koch and brother Charles were entangled for years in nasty legal proceedings against brothers William and Frederick, reports the New York Times. The latter two brothers felt their siblings cheated them out of money in the family business, which had been founded by their father.
- The politics: David and Charles "created the Koch political network, famous and infamous for its secret funding and fiercely negative advertising—which often aimed at former President Barack Obama and other Democrats," per NPR. Their Americans For Prosperity group, funded by them and donors they recruited, was pivotal. Among other things, the Kochs are credited with the rise of the Tea Party movement, though David says he never directly gave to a Tea Party candidate. Critics say the Kochs mastered the art of using "dark money," meaning it was difficult to figure out where money bankrolling various causes came from.
- Telling quotes: The Washington Post obituary has two quotes that hit two common themes in coverage. “It’s hard to think of another set of individuals who have had such an impact on our political system who haven’t been elected officials,” says Columbia political scientist Alexander Hertel-Fernandez. And this from Harry Reid in 2014, voicing a common view among Democrats: “These two brothers are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine."
- Odds and ends: David Koch was 6-5 and a star basketball player at MIT. He survived a bout with prostate cancer in the 1990s, one reason he later donated hundreds of millions to medical research. He is survived by his wife, Julia; three children; and brothers Charles, William, and Frederick. William is his twin. Forbes has now pegged his wealth at $50.5 billion, good for 11th place on the list of the world's wealthiest people.
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