Skip to main content

The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism


Presidential election years attract attention to the rhetoric, personalities, and agendas of contending White House aspirants, but these headlines do not reflect the ongoing political shifts that will confront whoever moves into the White House in 2017. Earthquakes and erosions have remade the U.S. political terrain, reconfiguring the ground on which politicians and social groups must maneuver, and it is important to make sure that narrow and short-term analyses do not blind us to this shifting terrain. We draw from research on changes since 2000 in the organizational universes surrounding the Republican and Democratic parties to highlight a major emergent force in U.S. politics: the recently expanded “Koch network” that coordinates big money funders, idea producers, issue advocates, and innovative constituency-building efforts in an ongoing effort to pull the Republican Party and agendas of U.S. politics sharply to the right. We review the major components and evolution of the Koch network and explore how it has reshaped American politics and policy agendas, focusing especially on implications for right-tilted partisan polarization and rising economic inequality.

Hide All
Allen Mike and Vandehei Jim. 2013. “The Koch Brothers’ Secret Bank.” Politico, September 11.
Allen Mike and Vogel Kenneth P.. 2014. “Inside the Koch Data Mine.” Politico, December 8.
Americans for Prosperity. 2013. “Americans for Prosperity 2012 Annual Report.” Arlington, VA: Americans for Prosperity.
Americans for Prosperity. 2015. “Partner Prospectus.” Arlington, VA: Americans for Prosperity.
Bai Matt. 2003. “Fight Club.” New York Times Magazine, August 10.
Barker Kim and Meyer Theodoric. 2014. “Who Controls the Kochs’ Political Network? ASMI, SLAH, and TOHE.” ProPublica, March 17. Available at
Bartels Larry. 2008. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bautista-Chavez Angie and Meyer Sarah. 2015. “The Libre Initiative—An Innovative Conservative Effort to Recruit Latio Support.” Cambridge, MA: Scholars Strategy Network.
Berry Jeffrey M. and Sobieraj Sarah. 2014. The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion, Media and the New Incivility. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bonica Adam and Rosenthal Howard. 2015. “The Wealth Elasticity of Political Contributions by the Forbes 400.” Unpublished working paper. Available at
Bump Philip. 2014. “Americans for Prosperity May Be America’s Third-Biggest Political Party.” Washington Post, June 19.
Burghart Devin. 2015. “Americans for Prosperity Abandons Oregon.”, May 20.
Burman Len. 2016. “The GOP Proposed Tax Cuts Would be Unprecedented.” Tax Policy Center: Washington, DC.
Calmes Jackie. 2015. “‘They Don’t Give A Damn About Governing’: Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party.” Cambridge, MA: Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University.
Fang Lee. 2013. The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right. New York: New Press.
Fish Sandra. 2014. “Americans for Prosperity Colorado: Koch Brothers’ Advocacy Gets Local in Colorado.” Al-Jazeera America, August 12.
Geman Ben. 2012. “House GOP Leaders Pledge to Oppose Climate Change ‘Tax.’” The Hill, November 15.
Gilens Martin. 2012. Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gilens Martin and Page Benjamin I.. 2014. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Perspectives on Politics 12(3): 564–81.
Gold Matea. 2014a. “Koch-backed Political Network, Built to Shield Donors, raised $400 Million in 2012 Elections.” Washington Post, January 5.
Gold Matea. 2014b. “The Players in the Koch-Backed $400 Million Political Donor Network.” Washington Post, January 5.
Gold Matea and Hamburger Tom. 2015. “Inside the big GOP fight over the influential Export-Import Bank.” Washington Post, March 27.
Greenhouse Steven. 2016. “Can Labor Still Turn Out the Vote?” New York Times, March 4.
Hacker Jacob S. and Pierson Paul. 2006. Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Hacker Jacob S. and Pierson Paul. 2010. Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Hacker Jacob S. and Pierson Paul. 2014. “After the “Master Theory”: Downs, Schattschneider, and the Rebirth of Policy-Focused Analysis.” Perspectives on Politics 12(3): 643–62.
Hacker Jacob S. and Pierson Paul. 2016. American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Hersh Eitan D. 2015. Hacking the Electorate. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hertel-Fernandez Alexander. 2015. “New Conservative Strategies to Weaken America’s Public Sector Unions.” Cambridge, MA: Scholars Strategy Network Basic Facts.
Hertel-Fernandez Alexander. 2016. “How Employers Recruit Their Workers into Politics—And Why Political Scientists Should Care.” Perspectives on Politics 14(2): 410–21.
Hertel-Fernandez Alexander and Skocpol Theda. 2016a. “How the Right Trounced Liberals in the States.” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas Winter (39). Available at
Hertel-Fernandez Alexander and Skocpol Theda. 2016b. “Billionaires Against Big Business.” Presented at the 2016 Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago IL.
Hertel-Fernandez Alexander, Skocpol Theda, and Lynch Daniel. 2016. “Business Associations, Conservative Networks, and the Ongoing Republican War over Medicaid Expansion.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 41(2): 239–86.
Howe Peter D., Mildenberger Matto, Marlon Jennifer R., and Leiserowitz Anthony. 2015. “Geographic Variation in Opinions on Climate Change at State and Local Scales in the USA.” Nature Climate Change 5: 596603.
Israel Josh. 2015. “The Restrictions Journalists Agreed to in Order To Attend the Koch Brothers’ Conference.” ThinkProgress, August 3.
Koch Charles. 2010. “Understanding and Addressing Threats to American Free Enterprise and Prosperity.” Cover letter and enclosed program from Spring 2010 Seminar on held at St. Regis Resort. For background information, see Zernike, Kate. 2010. “Secretive Republican Donors Are Planning Ahead.” New York Times, October 19.
Kroll Andy and Schulman Daniel. 2014. “The Koch Brothers Left a Confidential Document at Their Donor Conference.” Mother Jones, February 5.
Leiserowitz Anthony, Maibach Edward, Roser-Renouf Connie, Feinberg Geoff, and Rosenthal Seth. 2014. “Politics and Global Warming, Spring 2014.” New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Levinthal Dave. 2015. “Koch Brothers Supersize Higher-Ed Spending.” Center for Public Integrity, December 15. Available at
Maibach Edward, Roser-Renouf Connie, Vraga Emily, Bloodhart Brittany, Anderson Ashley, Stenhouse Neil, and Leiserowitz Anthony. 2013. “A National Survey of Republicans and Republican-Leaning Independents on Energy and Climate Change.” George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Mann Thomas E. and Ornstein Norman J.. 2012. It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism New York: Basic Books.
Mayer Jane. 2010. “Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging a War against Obama.” New Yorker, August 30.
Mayer Jane. 2013. “Koch Pledge Tied to Congressional Climate Inaction.” New Yorker, June 30.
Mayer Jane. 2016. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. New York: Doubleday Press.
Mishak Michael J. and Elliott Phillip. 2014. “Americans for Prosperity Builds Political Machine.” Associated Press, October 11.
Moore Stephen. 2006. “‘Private Enterprise’: Weekend Interview with Charles Koch.” Wall Street Journal, May 6.
Mundy Alicia. 2016. “The VA Isn’t Broken, Yet.” Washington Monthly, March/April/May.
New Hampshire Business Review. 2012. “Q & A with AFP-NH Director Corey Lewandowski.” New Hampshire Business Review, August 10.
Novak Viveca. 2014. “GenOpp, Too: Another Group Almost Wholly Funded by Koch Network.” OpenSecrets Blog, May 13. Available at
O’Brien Matt. 2016. “Why the Republican Establishment Is Actually Winning.” Washington Post, March 10.
Overby Peter. 2015. “Koch Political Network Expanding ‘Grass-Roots’ Organizing.” National Public Radio, October 14.
ProgressNow NM. 2014. “Koch Brothers to Shut Down NM Operations Ahead of 2014 Election.”, January 13. Available at
Public Opinion Strategies. 2015. “Republicans, Clean Energy, and Climate Change: Poll of 1200 Registered Voters Nationwide With An Ovesample to Reach 500 Republicans.” Available at
Roberts David. 2015a. “The GOP Is the World’s Only Major Climate-Denialist Party. But Why?” Vox, December 2.
Roberts David. 2015b. “Republican Climate Denial: It’s the Donors, Stupid.” Vox, December 16.
Rutenberg Jim. 2014. “How Billionaire Oligarchs Are Becoming Their Own Political Parties.” New York Times Magazine, October 17.
Ryssdal Kai. 2015. “Charles Koch: ‘I Don’t Like Politics’.” Marketplace, October 22.
Schlozman Daniel. 2015. When Movements Anchor Parties. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Schouten Fredreka. 2015. “Koch Group Flexes Conservative Muscle in State Fights.” USA Today, February 25.
Schulman Daniel. 2014. Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. New York: Hachette Book Group.
Sclar Jason, Hertel-Fernandez Alexander, Skocpol Theda, and Williamson Vanessa. “Donor Consortia on the Left and Right: Compariing the Membership, Activities, and Impact of the Democracy Alliance and the Koch Seminars.” Presented at the 2016 Meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago IL.
Sher Andy. 2015. “Americans for Prosperity Aims for Tennessee Influence.” Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 5.
Skocpol Theda, Ganz Marshall, and Munson Ziad. 2000. “A Nation of Organizers: The Institutional Origins of Civic Voluntarism in the United States.” American Political Science Review 94(3): 527–46.
Skocpol Theda and Hertel-Fernandez Alexander. 2016. “The Koch Effect: The Impact of a Cadre-Led Network on American Politics.” Presented at the Annual Southwest Political Science Association Meetings, San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 8.
Skocpol Theda and Williamson Vanessa. 2012. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sonmez Felicia. 2010. “Who Is ‘Americans for Prosperity’?” Washington Post: The Fix Blog, August 26. Available at
SourceWatch. 2015. “The Koch Network.” Madison, WI: Center for Media and Democracy.
Stan Adele M. 2011. “How Workers Learned to Fear Unions in Wisconsin.” Investigative Fund, June 2.
Stein Sam. “At Koch Retreat, Top GOP Senate Candidates Credited the Network for Their Rise.” Huffpost Politics, August 27. Available at
Vogel David. 1989. Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America. Washington: Beard Books.
Vogel Kenneth P. 2014a. Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp: On the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics. New York: Public Affairs.
Vogel Kenneth P. 2014b. “Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Plans $125 Million Spending Spree.” Politico, May 9.
Vogel Kenneth P. 2015a. “How the Koch Network Rivals the GOP.” Politico, December 30.
Vogel Kenneth P. 2015b. “How the Kochs Launched Joni Ernst.” Politico, November 12.
Walker Alexis N. 2014. “Labor’s Enduring Divide: The Distinct Path of Public Sector Unions in the United States.” Studies in American Political Development 28(2): 175200.
Waterhouse Benjamin C. 2013. Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
West Darrell M. 2014. Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.
Windsor Lauren. 2014. “Exclusive: Inside the Koch Brothers’ Secret Billionaire Summit.” The Nation, June 17.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Skocpol supplementary material
Appendix A-C

 Word (134 KB)
134 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 90
Total number of PDF views: 719 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 2371 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.