Billionaire philanthropist Charles Koch is often demonized by liberal politicos and painted as a robber-baron type figure, despite his unflinching support for liberal-friendly issues like marriage equality, drug legalization, and defense cuts. George Soros typically funds progressive causes with his titanic wealth, drawing the ire of conservatives. As 2015 approaches tomorrow morning, The Wichita Eagle is reporting on some comments by Charles Koch that indicate that his New Year’s plans include spending even more of his so-called disproportionate wealth promoting criminal justice reform on behalf of those too poor to defend themselves from excessive sentences and wrongful arrests. What’s more, his push for fairness in the criminal justice system has placed him in an unusual position as the tag team partner to left-leaning billionaire George Soros, who is also funding the same cause.
Charles Koch has been funding efforts to reform the criminal justice system for a decade. He was first inspired to take on the issue when one of his companies, Koch Petroleum Group, was charged with 97 felonies in 1995, 96 of which were later dropped by prosecutors, but only after draining millions of dollars in fines and legal fees. The ordeal barely put a dent in the Koch fortune, but it did cause Charles Koch to reflect on what might have happened had he fallen victim to overzealous felony prosecutions without having sufficient wealth to afford top-notch legal representation.
Ten years ago, Koch dollars were first injected into the fight against the zero-tolerance, tough-on-crime War on Drugs policies that caused America to have the world’s highest incarceration rate when Charles Koch began pumping funds into the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in an effort to support their push-back against the rise of draconian criminal sentencing policies. Though his efforts have continued to this day, Koch plans to increase his spending on the issue in 2015. Said Koch to The Wichita Eagle, “Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country… And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.” He said that he intends to promote changes to the criminal justice system in hopes of “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”
Charles Koch’s attorney Mark Holden said, “We have more of America now in prison than they ever did [in South Africa] in apartheid. Let that swirl around in your head for a while.” Holden pointed out that legislative efforts to criminalize more and more activities with tougher and tougher penalties have disproportionately affected minority communities that are often subjected to racial profiling by law enforcement. “It definitely appears to have a racial angle, intended or not,” said Holden.
Koch’s reform efforts will be aimed at resolving some of the key issues caused by overzealous prosecutions in the wake of America’s zero tolerance society, including lack of funding for legal defense for the poor and the inability of once-incarcerated, non-violent individuals to move on with their lives by obtaining jobs and regaining their voting rights after being released.
As Americans debate the issue with chaotic scenes in Ferguson, MO and New York City as a backdrop, Charles Koch now finds himself on the side of George Soros and most American progressives, a fact which flabbergasted left-leaning commentators at The Huffington Post. With two financial titans from opposing political poles doubling down on criminal justice reform, major changes to the justice system may be around the corner in 2015.