Koch eventually won a default judgment against the wine broker, although a judge dismissed a separate case against Christie's Auction House. Last year, he made headlines again for suing an interior designer who didn't follow his request to decorate his Colorado ranch in appropriate Western style. He and the designer settled their dispute before the case went to trial.

Through all these spats and scandals, Koch's more prosperous brothers retained a low public profile. Unless they were suing one another, the media had little interest in the oil, coal, and gas barons from Kansas.

Until last August. As the Tea Party movement gained steam, gearing up to send a wave of right-wing, antigovernment candidates to Congress, a few muckraking reporters finally noticed the Kochs. The New Yorker published a scathing exposé calling Charles and David "the billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama." They founded the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which educates and trains Tea Party activists. In Washington, D.C., their support of conservative causes is so widespread that their web of influence is known as the "Kochtopus."

Bill Koch.
Kim Sargent
Bill Koch.

Suddenly, Charles and David Koch were vilified by Democrats as the Big Oil moneybags behind the Tea Party. By contrast, Bill Koch's business and political activities seemed tame. But he was quietly making an impact.

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, Bill Koch bundled at least $100,000 in campaign contributions for John McCain, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Since last year, with Republicans preparing for big wins in Congress, Koch has personally given at least $165,400 to GOP candidates throughout the country. The largest chunk of cash — $126,200 — went to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Koch is now on the Florida fundraising team for Mitt Romney, the Republican former Massachusetts governor who is running for president.

"He does not agree with the president's economic policies," Goldstein says. "This administration has made it extremely difficult for businesses to operate."

Specifically, Koch doesn't appreciate the way Obama officials treat coal mining and calls the Environmental Protection Agency "hyperaggressive."

"It's far easier to get permits to mine for natural resources outside the United States than inside," Goldstein says. "He thinks Mitt Romney would be much more pro-business than Barack Obama."

Still, Goldstein insists Koch's political allegiances are "hard to pin down." He's given money to Al Gore and to Democrats in Colorado. And politics certainly have nothing to do with the private high school he's starting in West Palm Beach next month, Goldstein says.


Neen Hunt's voice is weathered, and she has the severe, lined face of a veteran Upper West Side New Yorker. Short, with curly brown hair and a floral print dress, she stands at a podium speaking gravely to the audience of roughly 65 parents and preteens sitting on folding chairs.

"We're looking for deep understanding, not just broad coverage of the issues," she says. "Think deeply. Probe. Don't be afraid to take risks."

Behind Hunt is an elevated stage and an enormous projector screen for PowerPoint presentations. The auditorium at the former Jewish Community Center in West Palm Beach is carpeted in a sedate blue. Outside this room are empty, echoing hallways and linoleum floors. There's an outdoor pool, six tennis courts, a large indoor basketball court, a dance studio, and spacious playing fields.

It's early June. As academic chief of the Oxbridge Academy, it's Hunt's job to convince the parents at this open house that a new high school, built on the grounds of a former JCC, is worth $15,000 in annual tuition.

According to 2009 tax documents, the Oxbridge Academy Foundation's board is composed entirely of high-ranking employees from Oxbow. Bill Koch is the school's founder and provider of $50 million in startup funds.

In 2008, Charles Koch gave $1.5 million to the Florida State University economics program — but it came with major strings attached. In exchange for the money, Koch got the power to screen and approve all faculty hired. FSU faced a storm of criticism for accepting that deal.

Goldstein insists things are different at Oxbridge. The school has hired accomplished teachers with a variety of political views — including Dennis Yuzenas, a former Bak Middle School social studies teacher who was punished for wearing a pro-Obama T-shirt to school.

"There was no political litmus test given to any of them. We wanted the best," Goldstein says. "We're not out to start a revolution."

Koch now has six children — Wyatt, from his first marriage; Robin and William from his second marriage; Charlotte, the child of a girlfriend he met in the '90s; Rooney's son Liam; and a daughter Koch fathered with Rooney in 2006. Two of the kids are about to start high school. With Oxbridge Academy down the road, Koch won't have to send them away to boarding school.

Koch has long been worried about the quality of education in Florida, Goldstein says, particularly the teachers who are forced to concentrate on test scores instead of deeper analysis. He says the poor reputation of Florida's schools — even in an "A" district such as Palm Beach County — has hindered efforts to recruit employees to Oxbow's West Palm Beach headquarters, because parents do not want to send their kids to Florida classrooms. Oxbridge Academy will give those employees and other local parents another option.

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