From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Of the dozens of billionaires who have homes in Aspen and its suburbs, perhaps none have had such a large national presence as David Koch.
The death last week of Koch at the age of 79 and with a wealth estimated by Forbes of $50.5 billion was given front-page attention by the New York Times: “Mogul Whose Fortune Steered American Politics to the Right.” In a two-page interior spread, the newspaper also pointed to Koch’s steady philanthropy, especially for the arts.
The Wall Street Journal had the news on page 2, but the editorial page, a reliable supporter of all things capitalistic, heralded his life. “Certainly he used his money to support causes he deemed worthy, and this included promoting liberty-loving think tanks and political groups,” the Journal said.
“But the bulk of the $1.295 billon he gave away went to medicine and the arts.” The defining aspect of Koch’s life,” the editorial went on to say, “is that he was a businessman…He helped his company make money, and he left the country richer and freer because he did.”
“Good riddance,” was the theme of progressives in the echo chamber of Facebook when I posed the question about Koch’s interplay with Aspen. None were from Aspen, although I do count two ex-Aspen mayors among my Facebook acquaintances. But at least one Trump supporter from the Vail area had equally wilting words: “One down, one to go.”
David Koch and his brother Charles were painted with acidy strokes by Jane Mayer in her 2016 book: “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.” In this view, the Kochs embraced libertarian views to further their chemical and fossil fuel businesses. “Lowering taxes and rolling back regulations, slashing the welfare state and obliterating the limits on campaign spending might or might not have helped others, but they most certainly strengthened the hand of extreme donors with extreme wealth,” she wrote.
The Times noted that the influence of the Koch brothers peaked in 2015 when multiple Republicans presidential candidates flew to Los Angeles to seek support from the two men at a luxury hotel. They did not include Donald Trump, who jumped on the dark view of government but whose efforts to sharply reduce immigration and diminish free trade were antithetical to those of Koch Industries. They did not support Trump’s candidacy.
David Koch lived primarily in New York City but had a house in Aspen that, according to The Aspen Times, he purchased in 1989 for $1.9 million. The property is now worth $16.1 million, according to county tax records, and has 8,100 square feet. He also owned an adjoining house worth $7.4 million.
Both homes overlook Aspen Meadows, home of the Aspen Institute, which holds a conference each June called the Ideas Festival. It’s a direct descendant of a conference held in 1949 in honor of the 200th birthday of the humanist Goethe. Albert Schweitzer journeyed from his humanitarian work in Africa to speak at the conference. Many sessions of this conference occur in the David H. Koch Building.
Even a skimpy Google search reveals that Koch and his wife, Julia, donated more than $1 million to the institute in just a few years in the late 1990s. The Aspen Institute lists the couple as being in the Paepcke Society, which “honors philanthropic leaders who have made exceptional, long-term contributions in support of the Aspen Institute’s mission.”
Koch sat during an assembly several years ago at the Ideas Festival, the 6-foot-5 frame that made him a basketball star at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (with a scoring record that stood for 46 years) taking up a couple seats, as Valerie Jarrett, the advisor to President Barack Obama, and Paul Ryan, then the speaker of the House, spoke. Earlier, he had been in the front row when another billionaire, Tom Steyer (this year a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination), spoke about the risks of climate change.
The Aspen Times also detailed Koch’s community engagement in Aspen. John Bennett, the mayor for much of the 1990s, said that Koch “clearly cared about this community and wanted to support local nonprofits he believed in.”
Among his projects was an ice rink that he wanted to install seasonally in Aspen’s largest park. The city council nixed the idea for logistical reasons, but Bennett said he was fascinated by it.
Many accused Koch of wanting to kill winter, because of his efforts to block government efforts to address the root cause of global warming, the combustion of fossil fuels.
“Koch Industries realized early on that it would be a financial disaster for the firm if the American government regulated carbon emission or made companies pay a price for releasing carbon into the air,” wrote Christopher Leonard, author of “Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America,” in an essay published by the New York Times on Sunday. With billions and potentially trillions of dollars at stake, the Koch brothers “built a political influence machine that is arguably unrivaled by any in corporate America,” Leonard wrote under a headline: “The Ultimate Climate Change Denier.”
While warming the planet, David Koch wanted to celebrate winter in Aspen.
About Allen Best
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.