Ever since Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker piece earlier this month, much of the media has risen to debate how much influence conservative and libertarian-leaning businessmen David and Charles Koch, the owners of Koch Industries, have in American politics.
Some critics of the article argue that the media cries foul over the Koch brothers, yet largely ignores liberal George Soros, the Hungarian-American currency speculator and stock investor, who has spent millions of dollars on liberal and nonpartisan causes (including the Center for Responsive Politics).
OpenSecrets Blog is here to investigate the numbers behind these bold-faced names in our new feature, Capital Rivals.
For starters, both Soros and the brothers Koch (pronounced "coke") are incredibly rich. And their political endeavors are numerous.
Koch Industries, an oil refiner, is the nation’s second largest private company with about $100 billion in annual revenue. Soros is chairman of Soros Fund Management, a highly successful hedge fund that has provided financial and investment strategies to a variety of funds. As of June 30, 2009, the hedge fund had holdings valued at $4.2 billion.
David and Charles Koch are tied at No. 24 on Forbes top billionaires list with a personal fortunes of $17.5 billion each. Soros is No. 35 on the list with a net worth of $14 billion.
The Koch brothers, Soros and their respective companies have spent millions of dollars on politics, ranging from federal lobbying to candidate support to bankrolling political committees, according to a Center for Responsive Politics review of their political activity.
The Kochs and Soros have also funded think tanks, foundations and political organizations -- money that is sometimes notoriously difficult to track.
These individuals aren’t exactly flying under the radar as the Kochs hold leadership positions and are featured on the websites for the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation and the Mercatus Center among others. Soros also runs the Open Society Institute --website Soros.org -- as well as the recently created Institute for New Economic Thinking.
Still these individuals have provided major funding to groups that aren't particularly transparent, such as Soros-backed Democracy Alliance, which doesn't provide information on the projects it funds.
David Koch's Americans for Prosperity Foundation has a more detailed website, but it is unclear why Koch is seemingly uninvolved in the similar organization, Americans for Prosperity. David Koch contends that no Koch foundations have provided funding to Americans for Prosperity, the citizen advocacy group organizing Tea Party events around the country. A Washington Post article from January of this year connects the Kochs with the Tea Party movement, citing records of their foundation giving $3.1 million to Americans for Prosperity, but according to the Kochs, this is false, as the money only went to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
Below is the Center for Responsive Politics' analysis federal political activity by Soros and the Kochs. Note that while direct political donations are relatively easily to track, it's difficult to create a full compilation of the political groups that these individuals are connected with due to secondary and indirect affiliations. Therefore, the groups listed at the end of the are the most well-known organizations linked to these three individuals.
Organization-Driven Political Activity
The Koch brothers’ company, Koch Industries, has been a big player in both campaign donations and lobbying. Koch Industries currently leads the oil and gas industry as the top contributor to federal candidates and parties, and is the fifth highest lobbying spender in the industry this year. Soros’ hedge fund, Soros Fund Management, has also lobbied at the federal level, but employees have not made campaign donations through a Soros-sponsored political action committee. Because of the notable lobbying involvement of a Soros-funded think tank, the Open Society Policy Center, this group's data is also included for the purpose of this comparison:
Political Action Committee Spending (1989 to 2010) Koch Industries: $5,938,993 (83 percent going to Republicans)
Soros Fund Management: $0
527 Group Contributions (2001 to 2010) Koch Industries: $574,998
$186,598 – Democratic Governors Association $150,000 – Republican State Leadership Committee $103,400 – Republican Governors Association
Soros Fund Management: $0
Lobbying Expenditures (1998 to 2010) Koch Industries: $50,972,700
Soros Fund Management: $860,000 Open Society Policy Center (Soros-Funded): $11,930,000
According to federal lobbying reports, Koch Industries’ top issues include energy, environmental, tax and homeland security policies. The Open Society Policy Center has mainly lobbied on issues relating to foreign relations, civil rights, and law enforcement policy. The graph below outlines these organizations lobbying history since 1998 (click on graph for full size):
VERDICT: When it comes to the combination of institutional lobbying, 527 group donations and PAC expenditures, Koch Industries far out-spends Soros’ hedge fund and think tank, $57.4 million to $12.8 million. Most of this money is attributable to lobbying expenditures.
Individual-Funded Political Activity
Soros and the Koch brothers have all donated to federal political campaigns and committees. While Soros has far out-spent the Koch brothers in donating to 527 groups, especially when considering his incredible $23.7 million in donations to the groups between 2003 and 2004, the Koch brothers have donated more money to federal candidates and committees.
The Koch brothers give almost exclusively to Republicans just as Soros donates predominately to Democrats and Democratic organizations. Overall, Soros has spent $34.24 million and the Kochs have spent $4.06 million. (Note: This study only covers donations to federal candidates - to see donations to state candidates, go to Followthemoney.org and search for Soros and Koch. For example, as Ben Smith of Politico wrote recently, David Koch and his wife have given $74,000 to a Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, New York's State Attorney General.)
Individual donations to federal candidates, parties and political action committees (1989 to 2010) Koch Brothers: $2.58 million George Soros: $1.74 million
on Jul. 10, 2012 at 12:45 AM