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US billionaire and conservative activist David Koch dies at age 79

Ben Riley-Smith
Koch and his older brother Charles built a vast political network in support of conservative causes - FR121174 AP

David Koch, the American billionaire and libertarian whose donations with his brother Charles helped reshape US politics, has died at the age of 79. 

Mr Koch had stepped down from executive vice president of Koch Industries, a conglomerate which has an annual revenue of more than $100 billion, last year. 

Charles Koch released a statement confirming his brother’s passing on Friday, not specifying the cause but referencing his long struggle with cancer. 

“Twenty-seven years ago, David was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and given a grim prognosis of a few years to live,” the statement read. 

“David liked to say that a combination of brilliant doctors, state of the art medications and his own stubbornness kept the cancer at bay. We can all be grateful that it did, because he was able to touch so many more lives as a result.”

Mr Koch had followed his brother Charles, five years older, into the family business handed down from their father which was then transformed into America’s second-largest private company, employing more than 100,000 people.  

He ran as the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate in 1980, a ticket that received close to a million votes, but later broke with it and swung to the Republicans. 

The Koch brothers helped reshape Republican politics by financing a network of conservative organisations, such as the influential Americans for Prosperity, which lobbied for issues like lower taxes and deregulation. 

They are estimated to have spent at least $100 million since the 1970s on politics and are credited with fueling the rise of the Tea Party, a libertarian force within the Republican Party which emerged during Barack Obama’s presidency. 

Critics have accused the brothers of using their political machine to manipulate elections and secure government policies they desired – effectively buying influence in Washington. 

The Kochs financially backed US vice president Mike Pence’s past campaigns for Indiana governor and can count around half a dozen allies in Mr Trump’s cabinet, according to The New York Times. 

But their relationship with Mr Trump himself was more brittle, with the president calling their network “overrated” in 2018 as Charles criticised his restrictive trade and immigration policies. 

Mr Koch, who was socially liberal despite his conservative economics and lived mainly in New York, was a financial contributor to cultural organisations and medical research.

Charles Koch said in his statement: "We wish for all to celebrate the life and impact of this most generous and kind man. He believed he had a responsibility to a world that had given him so many opportunities to succeed."