March 4, 2011; Source: New York Times | Who knew that billionaire David Koch, bankroller of "public policy and citizen action groups that helped cultivate the Tea Party" and campaigns to bust unions, is much more interested in curing cancer than championing right wing causes? According to the New York Times, Koch says most of his contributions go to cancer research, and cultural and educational institutions.

Just last week, Koch was in Cambridge for the opening of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His $100 million gift makes him one of MIT's largest donors. Still, more people are likely to associate Koch, and his brother Charles, for their contributions from Koch Industries that helped elect Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the man now leading an effort to bust the state's public employees' unions.

Clearly Koch's charitable pursuits, business dealings, and political interests make for a strange mix. For instance, as the Times notes, his $100 million gift – a sizable chunk of the $200 million he has given or pledged to cancer research – "means that one of the biggest donors to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, home to some of the top climate scientists in the nation, is an owner of a company that Greenpeace called 'a kingpin of climate change denial.'" In addition, Koch Industries' holdings include oil refineries, pipelines, and Georgia Pacific, a company that produces, formaldehyde, a chemical it is lobbying to prevent the government from listing as a human carcinogen.

None of Koch's conservative leanings is likely to cause a stir on MIT's campus, says, Tyler Jacks, director of the new cancer institute. “I think there’s an awareness of David’s interests, but frankly there’s tremendous gratitude for David’s generosity and an appreciation that cancer is an apolitical problem,” he said. “It affects Republicans, it affects Democrats, it affects conservatives, it affects liberals. And so we focus on that problem."

And how does Koch feel about attracting both scorn and love? “I read stuff about me and I say, ‘God, I’m a terrible guy,’” he said. “And then I come here and everybody treats me like I’m a wonderful fellow, and I say, ‘Well, maybe I’m not so bad after all.’” –Bruce Trachtenberg