America’s Favorite Billionaires

The Koch Brothers Exposed

Robert Greenwald (2014)

Film Review

The Koch Brothers Exposed examines the myriad of ways America’s favorite billionaires are using their inherited wealth to make themselves the dominant players in the US political system.

Their father Fred Koch made his fortune in the 1920s by helping Stalin establish the Soviet oil industry. On his death, Charles and David Koch used their inheritance to found Koch industries, the second largest privately* held corporation in the US. It has holdings in oil and gas, coal, paper products, plastic and consumer goods.

Koch Industries is notorious for breaking environmental laws (and other crimes, such as stealing 2 million barrels of oil from Indian reservations**). They have paid millions in fines in seven states for criminal pollution. Thanks to their generous campaign donation, George W Bush reduced the 97 counts in one federal indictment to one count – lowering their fine from $370 to $20 million.

Their Georgia Pacific plant in Crossett Louisiana, which discharges toxic chemicals to natural streams (illegal under the Clean Water Act), is responsible for more than a dozen cancer deaths. Yet instead of stopping the toxic discharges and cleaning up the streams, the Koch brothers bribe Republican politicians (through campaign donations and other perks) to weaken and discredit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the entity responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act.

Determined to roll back the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the minimum wage, labor rights, electoral financing reform, environmental protection laws and federal and state workplace safety laws, the brothers have spent more than $80 million creating and funding conservative and libertarian think tanks and Astroturf organizations – such as Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party. They are also the primary funders, along with Exxon, of the climate denial movement.

They provided the financial backing in the Citizens United case***, in addition to sponsoring the attendance of two Supreme Court justices at an Americans for Prosperity conference. The prior involvement of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in this Koch brothers group posed a clear conflict of interest. Both had an ethical and legal obligation to recuse themselves. Obviously they didn’t.

The Koch brothers are also major funders and backers of Canada’s tar sands industry and the Keystone pipeline, as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The latter writes model legislation for state legislators to use in creating vote suppression, labor rights and workplace safety legislation, as well as laws promoting anti-immigrant campaigns and prison privatization.

Meanwhile the Koch Foundation uses educational grants to over 150 cash-strapped colleges and universities to influence their educational policies. The grants are always conditional, ie dependent on hiring professors who share the Koch brothers conservative philosophy.


*A privately owned corporation is one in which partners provide the capital and share the profits, as opposed to publicly owned corporations in which shareholders provide the capital and share in the profits.
**Charles and David’s younger brother Bill blew the whistle on this operation in 1999.
***Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a constitutional law case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations and labor unions. According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, a major agenda behind the decision was to retroactively decriminalize extensive past donations the Koch brothers had already made to Republican campaigns – in other words to keep them out of jail.