The Koch Brothers' Secret Bank: How What You Buy Affects Our Politics

Men secretively passing money
Getty Images
The notion of voting with your wallet is nothing new -- for decades, people have boycotted companies because of worker treatment, political stances, or a host of other issues. In the last few years, however, increasingly byzantine campaign finance laws have made it easier for companies to hide their political contributions -- and made it harder for consumers to know which causes their purchases support.

On Tuesday, news website Politico made tracking the impact of your purchases a little bit easier with its report on Freedom Partners, a group founded by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers. Freedom Partners, which distributed $236 million in 2012 -- making it the largest single conservative donor -- is designed as a clearinghouse that the Koch brothers can use to raise money and distribute it to a variety of political causes. Based on an IRS report, the Politico article -- which referred to Freedom Partners as the Koch's "bank," shows where the group's money goes.

The organizations that benefited from the Koch's largesse are not surprising: Many are political action groups like the State Tea Party Express, Tea Party Patriots, and Heritage Action for America. Some are conservative outreach groups, like Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee and The LIBRE Initiative, which reach out to female and Hispanic voters, respectively -- groups that often feel alienated by contemporary Republicanism.

Some of Freedom Partners' groups are even more specific: for example, the "bank" gave $3.5 million to the National Rifle Association, and another $130.7 million to two groups that directly target Obamacare.

While the IRS report was very clear about where the money goes, it wasn't so clear about where the money comes from. Freedom Partners claims to have over 200 donors, each of whom contributes at least $100,000 per year, and none of whom seems eager to stand up and be counted. Even the Kochs, who are closely connected to all of Freedom Partners' directors -- and who provide a big chunk of its funding -- were quick to point out that the group "operates independently of Koch Industries."

So, a variety of political action groups get money from Freedom Partners, and Freedom Partners gets a lot of its money from the Kochs. The Kochs, in turn, get their money from Koch Industries. But where does Koch Industries get its money from?

Well, like any successful businessmen, the Kochs are widely diversified, with investments in dozens of industries -- many of which don't have a clear consumer-facing business. In fact, The Daily Beast recently reported that one of Koch's subsidiary companies is now providing components for a host of Apple products.

But some of its companies, like Georgia-Pacific, Invista, and the Matador Cattle Company, directly interact with the public. Chances are that you're not going to go on one of Matador's high-priced hunting weekends. But if you buy Stainmaster carpet, Lycra fabric or any of Invista's dozens of products, you're sending money to the Kochs. The same thing goes if you use Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Angel Soft toilet tissue or any of several dozen Georgia-Pacific paper products.

Given the tangled web of corporations and subsidiaries, not to mention the twists and turns of campaign financing, it's not always easy to see which pockets end up being lined with the money you spend at the grocery store. Even so, Buycott and similar apps are making it easier to see how your weekly shopping affects your nation's politics. And, if that fails, you could always just poke around the Koch Industries website.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How much house can I afford

Home buying 101, evaluating one of your most important financial decisions.

View Course »

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

Of course liberals hate the Tea Party. They are honest, hard working patriots. All Commie libs hate that.

September 16 2013 at 8:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Evan has been all over this board. He loves the Koch bros.

September 16 2013 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here come the liberals, mad that they aren't rich and have no real influence on anything. Koch, meet Kaiser, the group that has been buying into healthcare while being one of the biggest contributors to the Obama campaign. What? You mean for every Koch there is an opposite like Kaiser, that bought and paid for Obama and Obamacare to fatten their own wallets and gain more control over its mindless liberal socialist drones.

September 15 2013 at 9:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Hey Brucie, I'm waiting for that article telling how Soros bought the election for Obama.

September 14 2013 at 11:04 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Liberals are such hypocrites. They love Dems for the same things they hate Repubs for. Must be the drugs.

September 14 2013 at 9:58 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I see Evan is stupid in more screen names than ever.

September 14 2013 at 7:25 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Now that I failed to win in the 2012 presidential elections I now realize the tea party will never win in a national election. I almost lost my seat in the 2012 elections. We need another tea party queen to take over.

To apply for tea party queen go to:......tea party queen. org

September 14 2013 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm glad now that I've seen this..It is a way for me to know who to do business with and who not to..Motley Fool you are an unethical fool for any business you do to enhance the stockpiles of money that the Koch brothers make..I am glad now that I know to stay away from anything that you are connected with....So glad to know about your connection to the Koch's...that automatically disqualifies my doing business with YOU The Kochs would like to own this country and are trying very hard to do so...They don't like Democracy and I DO! They don't LIKE the middle class and I DOOOOOOOOO! They love Stalin because that's where their original fortune began when their father contracted with Joseph Stalin...WHAT fine company you keep Motley Fool....The Fool part of Your name is an apt description for you...Your name is the honest reality of WHO YOU ARE! At least Your name belies honesty!

September 14 2013 at 6:55 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to paintrdel's comment

Better than Soros owning it.

September 14 2013 at 9:39 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

koch brothers great patriots... thank you for the info --now i will do business with all that i can. i wonder if yur next story would be about george soros..

September 14 2013 at 6:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great comments! This article is sooo lame!

September 14 2013 at 5:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply