CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Brothers Charles and David Koch have spent tens of millions of dollars financing right-wing political organizations including Tea Party groups. Last week, Forbes ranked them fourth and fifth on its list of the richest Americans.
Based in Wichita, Kan., Koch Industries has annual revenues estimated at $100 billion, according to a recent New Yorker article by Jane Mayer.
In West Virginia, the brothers help fund a conservative Morgantown think tank and several positions at the West Virginia University economics department through the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
Economics professor Russell Sobel recently told the West Virginia Public News Service that his department would lose two faculty members and two graduate fellowships without money from the Kochs.
Sobel also works closely with the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia, the Morgantown think tank which published his book, "Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It," in 2007.
The Sobel book is a collection of 12 essays, arguing that government regulations hurt West Virginia's economy.
One essay questions the value of "mandated" mine safety laws, stating government regulations may increase accident rates.
The foundation also published "An Economic Examination of West Virginia's Prevailing Wage Law," a research report by Andrea M. Dean, a Charles G. Koch Doctoral Fellow at WVU's Economics Department, in 2009.
West Virginia's "prevailing wage law" requires that contractors doing public construction work receive wages similar to contractors in the private sector, especially to prevent government agencies from hiring cheap out-of-state labor. This law, Dean argues, "significantly lowers job prospects in West Virginia," costing at least 1,500 jobs "for the lowest skilled workers."
John A. Dove, a Charles G. Koch Doctoral Fellow at WVU, is also an associate fellow with the Public Policy Foundation.
But Sobel told the Public News Service that the Koch brothers have no influence over research by his department's faculty and students.
The Foundation also created "The West Virginia Examiner," an online news site operated by Steven Allen Adams beginning in June 2009, which was replaced by the "West Virginia Watchdog" in September 2009.
Adams describes himself as an investigative reporter for the Public Policy Foundation and managing editor for "West Virginia Watchdog," part of a nationwide network of "sister sites" in other states.
The Public Policy Foundation is part of the State Policy Network, a group of conservative organizations around the country.
Jim Shaffer, president of the foundation and a member of the state Republican Party Executive Committee, did not return a telephone message left at the group's Morgantown offices.
"West Virginia Watchdog" sparked a recent controversy on Aug. 6 by reporting Gov. Joe Manchin had been issued a subpoena as part of a federal grand jury investigation into bidding on state contracts, citing an anonymous source.
"The target may be Manchin himself, according to a source who asked to remain anonymous," the story stated.
Manchin immediately said neither he, nor anyone in the governor's office, has been served with subpoenas.
The following day, "West Virginia Watchdog" reported its "source was ultimately wrong about the purpose of the subpoenas."
But on Aug. 9, Adams wrote his reporting "allowed 'West Virginia Watchdog' to be a resource for other media outlets. We loosened the lid on the jar."
Recent news reports indicate the subpoenas might be related to the construction of a new exit off Interstate 79 into downtown Fairmont.
"West Virginia Watchdog"
Some media industry followers express concerns about hidden agendas and political biases in these new organizations often funded by anonymous donors.
A recent "Media Matters for America" column stated: "Cutbacks in staffing for newsrooms, mostly at the state capital level, have sparked a new wave of news outlets, many funded by conservative and 'free market' organizations.
"These non-profit groups -- political/news hybrids -- many of which decline to reveal their funding sources, represent a new level of news coverage."
"West Virginia Watchdog" describes itself as "a nonpartisan organization that does not promote a political party or agenda."
Adams refuses to identify donors who contribute to "West Virginia Watchdog."
"As is the case with most non-profits inside and outside of the news media, 'West Virginia Watchdog' allows donations to be given anonymously. Some of our donors choose to be identified, others do not," Adams wrote on his website (http://westvirginia.watchdog.org).