New York State

David Koch’s influence in New York politics

The local impact from one of the state Republicans’ top funders.

David Koch, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries at The Economic Club of New York, in 2012.

David Koch, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries at The Economic Club of New York, in 2012. Mark Lennihan/AP/Shutterstock

For decades, the billionaire Koch brothers have shaped the course of American conservatism. When one half of the duo, David Koch, died, he left behind a legacy of “dark money” funding and questionable business practices. He was a philanthropist and former libertarian vice presidential candidate who advocated for lower taxes and small government and opposed environmental regulation that hurt the family’s chemical and fossil fuel businesses.

But while Koch’s political interests have mostly been scrutinized in the national sphere, he had invested significant money and time into New York’s state politics. He was the state Republican Party’s second largest donor in 2015, according to Politico New York, and in the past nine years, he donated a whopping $1.6 million to the Republican state committee’s housekeeping account, which is allowed to accept unlimited donations for the party. Half a million of that amount was given in 2017, his last state-level political donation in New York, according to a review of state Board of Elections filings. 

The contributions to the state GOP housekeeping account fits Koch’s reputation as someone who wields political influence discreetly. Housekeeping accounts are officially only used to support administrative costs for the party, such as salaries and utilities, or general advocacy and activities that aren’t directed in favor of specific candidates. However, the since-disbanded Moreland Commission on Public Corruption scrutinized their vague reporting requirements, while good government groups have argued that the money could still be used to trade political favors. Since 2000, Koch also donated $174,500 to other state GOP accounts, which allow for capped contributions that vary year-by-year according to inflation.

The Koch brothers’ largest political organization, Americans for Prosperity, appears to have had a minimal presence in New York. But the 2013 Moreland Commission briefly investigated another Koch-connected group in New York, Common Sense Principles, describing it as “daisy chain of out-of-state corporations and ‘ghost companies.’”

Unsurprisingly, most of Koch’s donations were directed at Republicans. But he did support Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his first gubernatorial election in 2010, donating $87,000 in combination with his wife. He was hardly the first Republican to support the governor, who appealed to business-friendly interests. 

“In 2010, I can see how Cuomo’s campaign appealed to David,” Ed Cox, the former New York Republican Party chairman, told City & State in an interview on Friday.

Cox himself considered Koch “a personal and family friend” who was supportive of New York state Republicans. A New Yorker investigation into the Koch brothers also described former Gov. George Pataki as a friend, quoting him calling Koch “a patriot who cares deeply about his country.” Pataki even consulted him while he was considering a 2016 presidential run

Among the other New York Republicans that Koch has supported were John Faso and Jeanine Pirro, for their respective failed gubernatorial and attorney general races in 2006. A liberal on social issues, he also actually donated to three out of four Republican state senators – James Alesi, Mark Grisanti and Stephen Saland – who had crossed the aisle in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage months after the vote in 2011. Most of New York’s Republican congressional delegation has gotten help from Koch Industries last congressional cycle as well.