SEATTLE — If a billionaire’s approach to philanthropy is a reflection of himself, Charles Koch’s latest initiative tackling poverty embodies both the wealthy industrialist’s business acumen and his distaste for big government.
The 3-year-old Stand Together Foundation has lately taken center stage in the Koch empire, which has been recalibrating some of its wide-ranging operation that is both villainized and revered by the American public. The shifting strategy comes as the GOP icon’s sprawling network of rich donors, powerful political groups and various tax-exempted advocacy organizations continues to downplay its more well-known but controversial political agenda, which has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into shaping U.S. elections and policy debates.
In 2018, for example, most of the Stand Together’s $30 million budget went to pay for nonprofit grants. Meanwhile, Koch pledged to spend $400 million on politics and policy last year, with much of his network’s midterm elections spending focused on helping conservative candidates. Koch’s political arm, Americans for Prosperity as the most prominent affiliate, also is widely known for supporting the Tea Party movement and fighting to overturn President Barack Obama’s health care expansion.
Cast by Democrats as a dark-money force in GOP politics, Koch is redirecting his public focus on innocuous charity work and leaning deeper into the traditional philanthropy model of giving grants to benefit local community organizations. A key part of this foray is infusing the work of private nonprofits with corporate principles and business management training. Koch also gives the charities grant money and extends his influence to help them expand.
The 140 private groups that Koch supports in Stand Together generally share a central mission to help the needy with a path toward self-sufficiency, rather than charitable handouts.
Many focus on job training. Dallas-based Café Momentum, for instance, preps formerly jailed teens and young people for culinary and hospitality jobs.