David Koch (Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg)

David Koch Steps Down From Family Business, Political Work

(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire David Koch is stepping down from leadership positions in his family’s business and conservative political empire because of deteriorating health, his older brother told company employees in a letter Tuesday.

"We are deeply saddened by this, and will miss David’s insightful questions and his many contributions to Koch Industries," Charles Koch wrote about his 78-year-old brother.

Charles Koch, 82, has been the primary leader in recent years for the Koch political operation, a vast network of organizations that’s rivaled by only the Republican Party in terms of influence in conservative politics and policy.

David Koch had served as an executive vice president and a board member of Koch Industries, a Wichita, Kansas-based conglomerate with interests ranging from oil and ranching to farming and the manufacturing of electrical components that is the nation’s second-largest privately held company.

A resident of New York’s Upper East Side, David Koch also has been chairman and chief executive officer of Koch Chemical Technology Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. The elder brother will remain chairman and chief executive of the conglomerate.

“After 48 years at Koch Industries, Mr. Koch has retired due to declining health to enjoy time with his family and the many cultural and arts institutions he has so generously supported over the years," David Koch’s personal spokeswoman, Cristyne Nicholas, said in a statement. "His retirement will go into effect on July 1, when he will become director emeritus of Koch Industries.”

Medical Issues

The letter from Charles Koch didn’t provide details about David Koch’s medical issues. The elder brother noted that David Koch announced in October 2016 that he’d been hospitalized the previous summer.

"Unfortunately, these issues have not been resolved and his health has continued to deteriorate," the letter says. "As a result, he is unable to be involved in business and other organizational activities."

David Koch was diagnosed with prostate cancer more than two decades ago and he’s given major donations to cancer research since then.

Charitable Contributions

Through personal donations and contributions from the David H. Koch Foundation, he has pledged or contributed more than $1.3 billion to cancer research, medical centers, educational institutions, arts and cultural institutions, and to assist public policy organizations, his official biography says. Through Koch Industries and its subsidiary companies, he has also provided more than $300 million in additional charitable support for other worthy causes, including relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Democrats have vilified the Koch brothers for their massive role in national politics, which has helped shape state and federal policy over the past decade. On Monday, their network announced a multiyear, multimillion-dollar campaign to promote free trade and oppose President Donald Trump’s moves to impose tariffs.

The network has clashed with Trump before, especially on trade and immigration, and the Koch brothers didn’t support him in the 2016 campaign. The two men, who each have a net worth of about $47 billion in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, have since praised his efforts to cut taxes and regulations.

Donors Happy

Keeping the network’s donors happy is important for Republicans, especially as Democrats show signs of momentum as they campaign to win the 23 seats they need to gain control of the House in November elections.

The network, which could make a difference in some of the states that could tip the balance of power on Capitol Hill, says it plans to spend roughly $400 million on state and federal policy and politics during the two-year election cycle that culminates with the November balloting. That marks about a 60 percent increase over 2015-16, although leaders have said more than a third of the 2017-18 total has already been spent.

Although David Koch’s involvement had been reduced in recent years, he still held several top positions within the Koch network, including as chairman of a foundation that supports Americans for Prosperity. That group, the network’s primary political vehicle, has been one of the most active television advertisers so far in this year’s midterm congressional campaign.

"We greatly appreciate his vital role on the board and all that he has done to help us build a strong foundation for our future success," Mark Holden, general counsel of Koch Industries and co-chairman of the semi-annual donor summits the political network hosts, said in a statement. The gatherings for top donors are used to discuss policy goals and to hear from elected officials and other speakers.

Libertarian Leaning

Many network donors lean libertarian and David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s 1980 nominee for vice president.

Frayda Levin, a Koch network donor and former book distributor in New Jersey who serves on the national board of Americans for Prosperity, said David Koch has had "immense influence" in national politics.

"What was most amazing to me was that David could spend so much energy on AFP, given all his other boards and management responsibilities at Koch," she said. "His presence will be sorely missed."

Born and raised in Wichita, David Koch received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to his official biography. He and his wife have been married more than 20 years and they have three children.

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