Charles Koch

Charles Koch is chairman and chief executive of Koch Industries.

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As part of its larger push to reel in academic research grants, a pair of Montana State University economics professors have applied for an $8 million grant from Charles Koch’s private foundation.

If successful, the billionaire industrialist’s grant money would be used, over five years, to establish the Center for Regulation and Policy Analysis, funding faculty positions and research fellowships in Bozeman.

MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig said Koch’s foundation has not approved the application and that no discussion about naming rights for the center was taking place – only donations that create a permanent endowment qualify for naming, he said.

MSU economics professors Wendy Stock and Vincent Smith applied for the grant in December with help from the MSU Foundation. Ellig said it would be a “free market” research center. “A lot of it has to do with the sense that cutting edge technologies don’t have adequate regulatory oversight,” Ellig said, describing the research.

The grant application states “we recognize that regulations are important to our way of life and to protect citizenry, environment, businesses, and financial markets. At times, advancements in biotechnology, engineering, computer science, natural resource management and other fields outpace the government’s ability to effectively and efficiently regulate. This has resulted in a failure to bring new ideas to market because of outdated policies and regulations.”

That statement tracks closely with Koch’s analysis.

“The economy is so riddled with corporate welfare and anti-competitive regulations, anti-innovation regulations,” Koch said in an NPR interview. “Regulations that are destroying opportunities for the disadvantaged, which is creating this two-tiered system we’re headed for which is destroying opportunities for the disadvantaged and creating welfare for the wealthy.”

John Hardin, director of university relations at the Charles Koch Foundation, said the application is in the final phase of review but that no decision had been made. He added that there would not be an oversight board attached to the grant and that the foundation has been supporting undergraduate studies at MSU for several years.

Koch, 80, and his younger brother, David Koch, 76, are the co-owners of Koch Industries, an oil and gas conglomerate in Wichita, Kansas.

According to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of IRS tax records, the brothers gave more than $23.4 million to U.S. colleges and universities in 2014. The Charles Koch Foundation’s website says it supports scholars “interested in advancing an understanding of the link between free societies and well-being.”

Together, the brothers fund numerous political efforts earning criticism from Democrats and, less frequently, from Republicans. Charles Koch’s personal fortune is estimated at $43 billion, and he is the seventh wealthiest American, according to Forbes.

During the 2014 elections, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertising against Montana Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat. During the 2015 legislative session, Americans for Prosperity attempted to pressure Republican lawmakers into opposing expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.


Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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