Koch and George Mason University

Koch and George Mason University

Funding and Connections

Since 1985, George Mason University (GMU), and its associated institutes and centers, has received more funding from the Koch Family Charitable Foundations than any other organization–a total of $29,604,354.  The George Mason University Foundation has received the most funding, $20,297,143, while the Institute for Humane Studies has been directly given $3,111,457, the Mercatus Center $1,442,000, and George Mason University itself has received $4,753,754.

In addition to financial ties, Koch also has personnel involved with the university.  Richard Fink, the vice president of Koch Industries, Inc., and the former president of the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, serves on the board of directors of the Mercatus Center.  Fink's connection to George Mason University is strong.  Besides teaching at the university from 1980-1986, Fink has also served on a number of boards at the university including the Institute for Humane Studies and the Center for the Study of Public Choice, the Board of Visitors, and the Student Affairs Committee.

The Institute for Humane Studies

The Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) was founded by F.A. Harper in 1961 and has been associated with George Mason University since 1985.  The mission of the IHS is “to support the achievement of a free society by discovering and facilitating the development of talented, productive students, scholars and other intellectuals who share a commitment to liberty and who demonstrate the potential to change significantly the current climate of opinion to one more congenial to the principles and practices of freedom.”  The Institute for Humane Studies provides $600,000 in scholarships each year.

According to SourceWatch, the IHS acts as “a libertarian talent scout, identifying, developing, and supporting the brightest young libertarians it can find who are intent on a leveraged scholarly, or intellectual, career path.”  In addition to the funding it receives from the Koch Family Foundations, the Institute for Humane Studies also receives donations from conservative foundations such as the Carthage Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

IHS Internships

Charles Koch is the chairman of the Institute for Humane Studies.  Every year the IHS hosts the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program which offers an internship in public policy.  The internship is a ten-week program that includes an opening seminar, the internship, and a closing seminar.  The opening seminar involves lectures on public policy analysis, classical liberalism, and “persuasive communication.” 

The internship entails working at a public policy think tank, either at the state or national level.  Placement organizations include the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Mercatus Center, the National Center for Policy Analysis, and the Institute for Justice.  Policy interns may tackle a number of issues including environmental policy.

The Institute for Humane Studies also offers a journalism internship for which it seeks “writers for liberty.”  No formal training in journalism is required and the internship offers a choice of three program areas: investigative, print, and broadcast.

The internship starts with a week-long seminar on journalism and free society, followed by a placement at different locations.  Previous placements for print journalist interns have included the Pittsburgh-Tribune–owned by Richard Scaife, who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the conservative movement in the U.S.  Placements for interns in broadcast journalism have included FOX News.

The Institute for Humane Studies and Politopia

The Institute for Humane Studies also runs the website Politopia: The Land of Custom-Made Government.  The purpose of this website is to promote a new political model that is different from the “old” left/right political model.  In this model, politics are placed in the magical land of Politopia where, depending on where you live (north, west, east, or south), the politics of the land are different. 

Politopia is presented as an unbiased educational tool.  However, in its model, the role of the government in economic affairs decreases as one moves into the north, and increases as one moves farther south.  Similarly, the government's role in an individual's daily affairs decreases as one moves west and increases as one moves east. 

Historically, the geopolitical terms “west” and “north” have been identified with prosperity, freedom, affluence, industry, and development; whereas the terms “east” and “south” have been associated with poverty, oppression, communism, failure, disease, and insignificance.  Interestingly, Politopia places libertarian and conservative values in the more “ideal” regions of the world.

The Mercatus Center

The Mercatus Center is a conservative think tank located at George Mason University.  It is a sister organization to the Institute for Humane Studies.  The Mercatus Center was originally founded at Rutgers University by Richard Fink in the late 1970s, under the name the Center for Market Processes

Koch Industries began funding the organization when it moved to George Mason University in the 1980s, and still finances the centre today. In 1999, the organization was renamed the Mercatus Center.  Charles Koch and Richard Fink serve on its board of directors.

The Mercatus Center believes that a gap exists between economic understanding and real-world decision and policy making.  Its mission, therefore, is to bridge that gap and to “provide policy makers with the economic tools to make sense of today's most pressing issues.”

The Wall Street Journal has called the Mercatus Center “the most important think tank you've never heard of,” and SourceWatch identifies the Mercatus Center as “one of the best-funded think tanks in the United States at the moment.”  From 1999-2006, the Mercatus Center received a total of $2,670,662 in funding from conservative organizations, including $1.44 million from the Koch Family Charitable Foundations.  Furthermore, between the years 2003 and 2007 the Mercatus Center received $160,000 in funding from ExxonMobil.

The Mercatus Center and Lobbying

According to PublicIntegrity.com, the Mercatus Center regularly lobbies in the federal government, including providing lawmakers with “Capitol Hill breakfasts and luncheons hosted by deregulation scholars.”  Mercatus has been an effective machine for pushing Koch's conservative political and economic values.

The Mercatus Center explicitly states that it does not engage in lobbying, and definitely “does not employ nor retain any registered lobbyists.”  However, in 2005 Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, who has travelled on 19 occasions at the expense of the Mercatus Center, proposed a bill to amend the Clean Air Act.  Ney's bill called for the Secretary of Energy to build fifteen new oil refineries and sell them to private companies.  Ney's amendment not only fell in line with the position of the Mercatus Center, which had been trying to weaken the Clean Air Act, but it also seemed to benefit Koch Industries, Inc.–the largest private oil company in the United States and the Mercatus Center's largest beneficiary.

Lobbying rules stipulate that any organization that spends more than $24,500 within a six-month period trying to influence government representatives, must register itself as a lobbying group.  In both 2004 and 2005, the Mercatus Center spent over $55,000 on congressional travel.  Furthermore, between 2000 and 2005 Mercatus spent $227,000 on more than 400 trips by government officials and their aides.  The Mercatus Center has never registered itself as lobbying group.

The Mercatus Center and The Clean Air Act

In 2002 the Mercatus Center led a focused attack on the Clean Air Act.  This attack was led by Mercatus Center Distinguished Senior Scholar, Wendy Gramm.  Gramm, who is an ardently opposes regulation in the energy sectors, asked for the reassessment of 44 of the Clean Air Act's federal regulations.  Regulations included in the Mercatus Center's requests for review were:  national public health standards for smog and soot, and standards for tailpipe exhaust pollution from gasoline vehicles, diesel vehicles, and heavy diesel trucks.  As the non-profit group, Clean Air Trust highlighted, “Gramm would like to pull the plug on virtually every effective air pollution cleanup measure adopted in recent years.”