Where Koch Cash is Doing Some Good

Owners of America's second-largest private company, brothers Charles and David Koch are each worth more than $40 billion. They are best known as backers of conservative causes. The attack ads they funded helped wrest control of the senate from Democrats in 2014, and for the upcoming 2016 elections, the Koch brothers plan to increase their spending to $889 million.

Scary stuff, right?

But as we've reported often, there’s another side to the Koches and where their money goes. David Koch in particular has engaged in major philanthropy that has nothing to do with politics or libertarian ideology. He's given heavily to arts institutions in New York City and even more generously for health care causes.

In the early 1990s, Koch was involved in a plane crash. And while he survived, a doctor discovered that he had prostate cancer. His experience of battling cancer galvanized him to engage in medical issues more broadly, a story we see again and again with health care philanthropy, one of the most personal areas of giving. As Koch put it, “Once you get that disease... you become a crusader to try to cure the disease not only for yourself but for other people.”

Related: This Koch Brother Is Also a Crusader Against Cancer

In 2007, Koch gave $100 million donation to establish the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. Other gifts include $20 million to Johns Hopkins University to establish the David H. Koch Cancer Research Center, $75 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York City, where he's been a member of the board of trustees for 25 years, and at least $1 million to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas in 2013, where Koch has received much of his own cancer treatment. 

This week, Koch announced another big gift to MSK for $150 million, the largest charitable donation in his and the center’s history, to build a state-of-the-art outpatient medical facility to be known as the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care. (Think of all the New York liberals who'll shudder at the thought of being treated there, just as they cringe when they walk into the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center—so named in 2008 after Koch put up $100 million to renovate the place.)

Related: David H. Koch Charitable Foundation: Grants for Disease

Planning for the cancer center was underway before receiving Koch’s commitment. The 23-story building is now under construction on the Upper East Side between East 73rd and 74th Streets overlooking the East River, which the waiting rooms will face, offering patients a welcome distraction during a trying time. The facility will provide the most advanced cancer treatment available, including interventional radiology, bone marrow transplants and treatment for lung, head, neck and hematologic cancers. The center will offer novel clinical trials giving patients access to treatment they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.

The need is pressing. The World Health Organization anticipates cancer surging by 70 percent over the next 20 years. The American Cancer Society estimates a total of 1.6 million new cancer cases and 589,430 cancer deaths in the United States in 2015. New York City, with its aging population, is particularly vulnerable. The number of city residents over the age of 65 is expected to increase by 45 percent to 1.35 million by 2030.

The Koch gift is in addition to that $75 million he has previously given MSK, which went to found the David H. Koch Center for the Immunologic Control of Cancer, endow two David H. Koch Chairs, and provide ongoing support for research into prostate cancer, which causes the biggest number of cancer cases in American men. 

“We are deeply grateful,” said Douglas A. Warner III, Chairman of the MSK Boards of Overseers and Managers. “The David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care will accommodate the most sophisticated therapies and constantly evolving technologies in a setting that enhances the experience of our patients and their families.”

“It is my ardent hope now that the new Center for Cancer Care will transform cancer treatment worldwide,” said Koch.

MSK cares for more cancer patients with than any other hospital in the Northeast, an average of 4,700 patients a day at all of MSK’s locations. Because of recent medical advances, fewer patients require hospitalization, increasing the demand for outpatient care. “The creation of this outstanding facility will be a real game changer for Memorial Sloan Kettering,” said Craig B. Thompson, MSK’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

Now, to the obvious question: Does the timing of this gift have anything to do with recent Koch efforts to improve the brothers' public image, even as they plot their biggest plutocratic power grab yet? We think not, given David Koch's long history with cancer and MSK. We'd also note that Koch isn't the only political mega-donor with separate interests beyond ideology and elections. Sheldon Adelson, for example, also gives big for healthcare and medical research.