David H. Koch at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Columbus, Ohio, in 2015.

David H. Koch (1940–2019)

Billionaire right-wing arts philanthropist David H. Koch, who leveraged his business empire to wield enormous influence on American politics and has been credited with bankrolling libertarian causes and far-right contingencies of the Republican party, has died at age seventy-nine.

Koch—who as of this year had assets worth $42.2 billion and, together with his brother Charles, helmed Koch Industries, the US’s second-largest private business conglomerate that spans oil and gas, chemicals, and consumer goods—was a generous funder of the arts. Among the institutions to receive his $1.2 billion in donations were Lincoln Center, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was a trustee of both the Met and Lincoln Center.

David Hamilton Koch was born in Wichita, Kansas, on May 3, 1940, the son of self-made millionaire industrialist Fred Koch, who built major oil refineries in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II. He later founded the company that would become Koch Industries, which now employs more than 100,000 people and brings in an annual revenue of over $100 billion.

After graduating from Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and studying chemical engineering at MIT, Koch joined the family business. In 1980, he ran for president on the Libertarian ticket, on a campaign to the far right of Ronald Reagan that opposed minimum wage, Social Security, civil-rights laws, and workers’ rights.

Over the course of the last forty years since losing that race, Koch had channeled the profits of his empire not only into arts and medical research institutions—including the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the New York Presbyterian Hospital—but also into a far-right libertarian movement that pushed through anti-union, anti-abortion, anti-workers, and anti–public services agendas, while helping to deregulate the fossil fuel industry and deny climate change, and that gave rise to the Tea Party.

In 2008, Koch pledged $100 million to renovate the ballet theater at Lincoln Center, and in 2014, he gifted the Met $65 million to redesign its plaza along Fifth Avenue—the theater and plaza were renamed for him, which sparked outrage and protests from activists and which Koch called a “great honor.”

“The museum has created a truly welcoming point of entry,” Met director Thomas Campbell said at the time, “a cityscape that is environmentally friendly and that will please our visitors as they come to experience the unparalleled breadth of masterpieces on display inside.”