Depending on who you ask, the name Charles Koch means different things to different people, and can trigger a wide array of responses.
For decades, the billionaire who runs an expansive conservative donor network has been a lightning rod for controversy. Koch has become a scourge of political liberalism, his name invoked as an epithet among left-leaning politicians and advocacy groups—even as he declined to support President Donald Trump at the height of the general election last year.
For those reasons, the announcement on January 11 that Koch's charitable foundation would donate $26 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund came as a surprise to some, and drew its share of controversy. It was reminiscent of a stir he created in 2014, when he donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund, which has gone on to award more than 170 scholarships in Koch's name.
The gift to TMCF—named after the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice—is a five year gift that provides undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, and funds to faculty members involved in social sciences.
According to TMCF's CEO Johnny Taylor, Koch's involvement was largely the organization's idea, the outgrowth of hearing Koch's remark publicly on mass incarceration and over criminalization of certain offenses, which tend to affect minority communities overwhelmingly.
TMCF "reached out to them, and I never thought about there would be controversy about the source of the income because I was content that the subject matter…[was] what mattered," Taylor explained to CNBC in a recent interview.
He likened the Koch Foundation to "angel investors" and the donation "seed money" that would help stoke debate about expanding educational and socioeconomic opportunity in minority communities.
"America is graying and browning," Taylor added, speaking about the growing share of ethnic minorities in a U.S. population that's getting older. Koch is "an American and he wants America to be great. We have to figure out barriers and obstacles to success, it's why we need to figure this stuff," said Taylor.