For A Billionaire, $2M Gets You Superdonor Status

In the world of high-dollar politics, the billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch are famous for their lavish funding of conservative politicians and causes. But there’s another Koch brother – William Koch who is passionate about many things but about politics, only recently.

Bill Koch is an avid yachtsman and he set out to win the 1992 America’s Cup.
It would take four boats, more than 260 team members and single-minded determination.

David Rosow was the team business manager. He and Koch are long-time friends in Palm Beach Florida.

Shortly before the final series of races, the team captain announced that he would delay the next day’s 6AM workout. Team members expected to be out late at the black-tie America’s Cup Ball.

“Bill looked up and he said, here’s the situation. We’re here to win the America’s Cup, not to dance at the ball, says Rosow who also remembers what Koch said next, “I will take you all, I’ll take the entire team anywhere in the entire world you want to go, when we win. But anybody who goes to the ball tonight is off the team.”

And after they did win, Rosow says, “He took all 260 plus people, plus their families, to Hawaii for three days. Everything was free. And everybody just could not believe the experience they had just had.”

Later on, Koch said the America’s Cup victory cost him $68 million dollars.

“Financially, I would say, win or lose, it’s not worth it. If you asked me if I’d ever do this a– If I knew what I know now, would I do it a– would I do it? The answer to that would be No,” said Koch on an ESPN documentary.

William Koch’s fortune is $4 billion according to Forbes magazine. His twin brother David, and older brother Charles, have about $25 Billion each.

It all started in Koch Industries, the energy conglomerate founded by their father. But in the 1980s, David and Charles bought out Bill and a fourth brother, Frederick. Bill sued igniting a bitter feud that ran nearly two decades.

David Rosow remembers the night that it was settled. Koch told him to come over for dinner. And the toll of the fight became evident.

“Bill was ebullient. He cried. And he passed out from exhaustion,” said Rosow.

Away from the family business Bill Koch built his own company, Oxbow Carbon.
Its main product is calcined petroleum coke, an essential ingredient in producing aluminum.

He later had Oxbow lobby against Cape Wind, a wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod where Koch has a home.

Brad Goldstein, a spokesman for Koch, says it’s not just that the off-shore wind turbines would be ugly.

“We did the economics on Cape Wind and we felt that it’s economically unfeasible. We still believe that today,” said Goldstein.

Mark Rodgers is a spokesman for the Cape Wind project.

“He certainly has placed himself, I think, in a higher visibility role in opposing the project than maybe some other big donors, who preferred to remain more secret,” said Rodgers.

But it’s Bill Koch’s collecting that keeps him in the news. He has a huge art collection and 40,000 bottles of wine.

A few years ago, he sued a dealer who sold him some wine that supposedly had belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Benjamin Wallace wrote a book about the ongoing dispute called, “The Billionaire’s Vinegar.”

“There are very few very wealthy wine collectors who are willing to ever stand up and admit that they were duped, and then spend millions of dollars of their own money to try to hold people accountable,” said Wallace.

But one thing Bill Koch hasn’t thrown himself into is politics. He’s given small amounts to many politicians and $300,000 to the Democratic National Committee a dozen or so years ago. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain’s campaign listed Koch as one of its big fundraisers.

Brad Goldstein says Koch’s involvement now is with Mitt Romney not with the Republican party.

“He has a personal relationship with Mitt, that goes back to when Bill Koch was in Massachusetts and that was back in the ’80s,” said Goldstein.

Goldstein says that Koch likes Romney’s policies on free trade.

“And he believes that Mitt supports individual liberties, & he feels that the current administration is encroaching on individual liberties by instituting too many regulations,” said Goldstein.

Koch is on the Romney campaign’s Florida fundraising team and he has given $2 million dollars to the pro-Romney superPAC, Restore Our Future.

Only 10 Americans have contributed 2 million dollars or more to superPACS in this election cycle. But that amount of money can look different in Bill Koch’s world.

A year ago, Koch was at an auction of Old West artifacts. That’s something else he collects with a passion and he was there to bring home the only known photograph of Billy the Kid.

For $2 million Koch got his Billy The Kid. The auction took all of 2 1/2 minutes.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.