George Mason University, a public college located in Fairfax, Virginia, has evolved into a low-profile conservative giant in law and economics, and a good part of its funding over the years has come from Republican billionaire Charles Koch. On Thursday, George Mason University declared a $10 million donation from Koch to change the college’s name in remembrance of the late Antonin Scalia, the conservative Supreme Court Justice.
Charles Koch earned a good deal of his wealth during the course of his careers as a businessman, political activist and philanthropist. He is currently the co-owner and CEO of Koch Industries. Initially involved solely with oil and chemicals, Koch’s company has expanded its interests to other industries like pollution management technology, textiles, minerals, fertilizers, commodity trading, and paper products. In 2010, Koch Industries was named as the second biggest privately owned business in the U.S. in terms of earnings by Forbes Magazine.
Tax filings for the three-year period between 2011 and 2014 alone show that Koch’s company donations totaled close to $48 million to George Mason University. Although Koch’s company splits over $20 million every year between a huge selection of U.S. colleges, none of them received more than $1 million each year during that time. In 2014, Koch’s company donated nearly $17 million to George Mason University and its Humane Studies Institute, which makes up over one-third of the funds GMU receives from private sources.
They also feel that the donations fill a void created by a lack of public interest, and that any public backlash against Koch for his generosity is due to his open support of conservative and libertarian politics. George Mason University president Angel Cabrera has stated that Koch’s conservative political ties are the only motives for some people to be suspicious of Koch’s donations.
The college’s growth since its launch in 1972 correlates to Koch’s increasing philanthropy. George Mason himself has had long-term connections with Richard Fink, the executive vice chairman of Koch Industries. Kimberly Dennis, the CEO of the Searle Freedom Trust (a grant-building company with tight connections to the Koch family) serves on the college board, and Charles Koch is a member of both the IHS and Mercatus boards.