Conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch and their wealthy allies are planning to spend close to $900 million benefiting their preferred candidates in the upcoming elections — likely more than either major U.S. political party. The billionaire brothers' network has reportedly already spent $400 million with the general election nine months away.
We now have new details about who's contributing to the Kochs' election-year political efforts — and seven Southern businessmen are among the $100,000-plus mega-donors.
While the Koch network's numerous social welfare nonprofits, think tanks, and limited liability corporations are not required to disclose their donors, the Kochs launched the Freedom Partners Action Fund (FPAF) in June 2014 as an extension of their Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit trade organization that raises money and disperses it throughout the network. FPAF was set up as a super PAC, an expressly political operation that under law is not allowed to coordinate with candidates and is required to disclose its donors.
Because of that disclosure requirement, we know that in 2014 FPAF spent over $23 million on independent expenditures benefiting conservative U.S. House and Senate candidates. The bulk of those funds came from a relatively small number of wealthy donors, including 15 Southerners who gave $100,000 or more.
The latest reports are in, and they show that in 2015 only 20 individuals or corporations provided most of the $11.3 million FPAF took in. The top donor was Charles Koch, whose "1997 Trust" gave $3 million. The next two largest contributors were Chicago hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and Wisconsin roofing supply billionaire Diane Hendricks, each chipping in $2 million. Other major contributors were Amway founder Richard Devos of Michigan and his wife, Helen, and broadcasting magnate Stanley Hubbard of Minnesota.
FPAF also took in over $3.3 million last year from seven Southern mega-donors, three of whom made their fortunes in fossil fuels:
* Paul L. Foster is the billionaire chairman of the oil refining company Western Refining of El Paso, Texas. He gave $1 million to FPAF last October, adding to the $1 million he donated a year earlier. Foster has attended secretive Koch donor gatherings, including one in January 2014 when he met personally with Charles Koch.
* Richard B. Gilliam, founder of Virginia-based coal mining company Cumberland Resources, also gave $1 million to FPAF last October. He contributed another $500,000 to the group in 2014 and previously gave over $1 million to the Koch network.
* Wayne Laufer is the co-founder and retired CEO of Houston-based Bois d'Arc Energy, an oil and natural gas production company. He donated $500,000 to FPAF last year and gave $600,000 the previous year. Laufer now lives in Sanibel, Florida.
* Tom D. Chambers, of Fort Worth, Texas, is partner and co-founder of IMin Partners, a private equity firm that invests in minerals and chemicals, and chairman of Chambers Interests, a firm that invests in industrial minerals and building products. He gave nearly $384,000 last year to FPAF.
* Darwin Deason of Dallas, the billionaire founder of Affiliated Computer Services, contributed $200,000 to FPAF last year.
* John W. Childs, the billionaire founder and CEO of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates, gave $125,000 to FPAF in 2015. He gave $700,000 in 2014. While Childs' firm is based in Boston, he lists his residence as Vero Beach, Florida.
* Art Pope, CEO and chairman of the North Carolina retail store chain Variety Wholesalers, gave $100,000 to FPAF in 2015 through his company's wholly-owned subsidiary, Variety Stores. Pope gave $400,000, also through Variety Stores, to FPAF in 2014, days after stepping down as state budget director for Gov. Pat McCrory (R). A close ally of the Kochs, Pope helped found their prominent social welfare nonprofit Americans for Prosperity and his family foundation has given millions to AFP's charitable nonprofit arm.
FPAF didn't make any independent political expenditures in 2015. Its first spending of the current election cycle came in late January and early February, when it shelled out $36,000 for direct mail opposing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Alex is an investigative journalist based in Brooklyn, New York, and a reporter for the money-in-politics website Sludge. He was on staff at the Institute for Southern Studies from 2014 to 2016. Additional stories of Alex's have appeared in the International Business Times, The Nation and Vice.com.
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