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  • David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries, attends an Economic Club of New York event in New York, December 10, 2012.

    David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries, attends an Economic Club of New York event in New York, December 10, 2012. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 August 2019

He and his brother Charles, both Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained engineers, spent hundreds of millions of dollars to back conservative causes and neoliberal ideology.

Billionaire industrialist David Koch, behind conglomerate Koch Industries who, as one of the world's richest people became a major financier of conservative causes and the Republican party, has died at age 79, his brother said Friday morning.

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Charles Koch, Koch Industries Inc.'s chairman, disclosed the death in a statement, saying the cause of his younger brother's death was prostate cancer.

Koch amassed his vast wealth by holding a large ownership stake in Koch Industries, the Wichita, Kansas-based company he ran with Charles, now 83.

With Charles as chairman and chief executive and David as executive vice president, Koch Industries—one of the world's largest privately held businesses—aggressively expanded beyond the oil refining business their father created and passed down to them into various ventures.

David Koch stepped down from the business and political activities in June 2018, citing declining health. Koch was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1992. The experience of therapy prompted him to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to medical institutions.

The brothers funded groups like Americans for Prosperity that spread their libertarian vision of conservatism advocating lower taxes and fewer regulations on businesses, and donated heavily to Republican candidates. They were known for using their riches to buy political influence and peddle positions that would benefit them financially.

The Kochs were no fans of businessman-turned-politican Donald Trump and backed rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Once Trump was nominated by the party, the brothers redirected their political donations toward congressional races rather than the presidential election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The Koch brothers strongly opposed Trump's protectionist trade policies, which abandoned free trade deals, aimed tariffs at close U.S. allies and picked fights with major trade partners like China.

David and Charles Koch each had a fortune estimated at US$58.7 billion, ranking 7th and 8th on the list of the world's richest people, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Their combined wealth exceeded that of the world's richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Their father, Fred Koch, founded Koch Industries and built gas plants in Josef Stalin's Soviet Union before becoming an ardent anti-communist and a founder of the archconservative John Birch Society. He was a close ally to the Nazi's, according to The Guardian. 

In 1980, David ran unsuccessfully for U.S. vice president for the Libertarian Party, right of conservative Ronald Reagan. The candidate proposed abolishing income taxes, minimum wage laws, government regulatory agencies, the Social Security retirement program, the FBI and the CIA.

Under the leadership of John and David, Koch Industries was involved in oil refining, chemicals, biofuels, pipelines, commodities trading, ranching, fertilizer and paper. 

David guided the chemical equipment side of his company from his home in New York while Charles remained in Wichita. The two brothers each owned 42 percent of Koch Industries.

The Koch brothers helped back the conservative Tea Party movement that arose after Obama took office and tenaciously fought his policies, including the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law that reduced the number of Americans without medical insurance by millions.

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