Froma Harrop: David Koch loves Manhattan

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop

One may start the day at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. On the way in, you’ll pass through the new David H. Koch Plaza — the result of a $65 million gift from David H. Koch.

After lunch, cross Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History, and marvel at the giant stegosaurus of the tiny brain. You will find him and other prehistoric remains in the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing, funded with a $20 million check penned by David H. Koch.

Yes, that’s the same David H. Koch who, with his famous brothers, finances right-wing campaigns against environmental laws, taxes and really any public obligation that might inconvenience the heirs to the Koch Industries fortune. David does sprinkle a few million on think tanks that spread the word. And he pays for parties in red states to train the tea party troops to curse government and quietly submit to being polluted upon by the various subsidiaries of Kansas-based Koch Industries.

But personally, he’ll take Manhattan, where he lives in the grand style surrounded by liberals. There he talks up his fairly progressive views on social matters that don’t impact his bottom line. Neighbors running the cultural and scientific institutions are delighted to have him on their boards and thank him profusely for his contributions.

Some humorless New York liberals may grumble at Koch’s ubiquity while basking in his munificence. About which, the night is still young.

Cocktails and then off to the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Home of the New York City Ballet, the building ceased to be called the New York State Theater after a fix-up funded with $100 million from David H. Koch.

Should you slip on the theater’s magnificent inlaid marble floor and fracture bones, you may be rushed to the David H. Koch Pavilion at the Hospital for Special Surgery, overlooking the East River. The billionaire gave the hospital $25 million.

Soon you won’t have to leave Manhattan’s Upper East Side for superb outpatient care. The future David H. Koch Center is being built by New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Koch’s gift of $100 million is the largest in the hospital’s history.

Nearby, at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, state-of-the-art treatments are being supported by a $67 million gift from David H. Koch.

Not all the charity stays in Manhattan, though. For example, the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the fruit of a $100 million gift from you-know-who.

You have to appreciate this: Not far from MIT, brother Bill Koch owns a 26-acre waterfront estate in plush Osterville, on Cape Cod. (David prefers to summer in the Hamptons.) Bill has fought with money and legal brass knuckles against a wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound.

Now, Koch Industries’ oil-coal-chemical empire is considered one of the nation’s worst polluters, its leaks, spills and chemical explosions visited mostly in the red states. But when wind turbines were proposed for his yachting grounds off Massachusetts, Bill complained they would cause “visual pollution.”

The conservative crusade to shrink government has already slashed federal spending on science and culture, with interesting results. Federal funding traditionally spreads to all regions. The more these budgets are cut the more nonprofit organizations must depend on the generosity of billionaires.

Billionaire giving tends to favor elite institutions, which are concentrated in New York, California, Massachusetts and a few other progressive states. That’s also where the billionaires are concentrated and where they receive invitations to party and give.

So in the end, the strangle-government movement enhances the competitive advantage of the liberal powerhouses. Another irony of red-state politics to throw on the pile.


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