Koch brothers: First they bought their way into politics, but now they're in March Madness

Who's ready for a dark money office pool?

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Your bracket is finalized. You’ve got enough beer and frozen chicken wings to last you through the round of 32. And if you’re feeling particularly festive for this year’s March Madness, you might have invited friends over to share in the festivities. But, party or not, this year’s guest list has some ostensible and unlikely crashers – the Koch brothers.

First, just a little reminder, in case you were more focused on three-point shots than on Charles and David Koch. They are the siblings behind one of the largest privately owned companies in the U.S., and are well-known in conservative political spheres for their big – really big – campaign donations. They already have promised $889 million to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Anyway, their company, Koch Industries, teamed up with collegiate marketing company Learfield Sports for a national sponsorship program of men’s and women’s basketball and football programs at 15 big conference universities - mostly in the Big 10 and Big 12 - plus the entirety of the Missouri Valley Conference.  The partnership actually kicked off during the 2014-2015 basketball season, hence their buy-in to March Madness, and is set to last through the 2017-2018 athletic season.

So what, exactly are the brothers Koch doing dabbling in the sports world? This partnership will allow them to tap into game signage, digital and social media campaigns, game sponsorships and radio. In a statement, Learfield Sports said Koch Industries looks to the company to help Koch “tell its story to the dedicated college sports fan base and university communities.”

It’s hard to say what story Chuck and Dave want to tell through sportsball that they couldn’t through $1 billion of political spending. Maybe a halftime show comparing right-to-work campaigns to some teams’ pushes to unionize? That’s probably a little drier than a dance team performance. Come to think of it, a show about dark money might be a downer, too. But they might come up with something.

Because absolutely nothing is sacred, the Kochs now have some stake in your college basketball binge. They are sponsoring eight teams in March Madness’ initial round of 64 – Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, SMU, Wisconsin, Arkansas and, of course, their hometown hero Kansas. You might be a big OU fan, but the further they advance in the bracket, the more exposure Koch Industries gets, either through employee appearances on the floor or logos splashed across venues.

Think about this – the Koch brothers now play some role in your office pool. Your hard-earned money you put down on the 1 in 1,610,543,296 chance (literally) that you will have a perfect bracket is now riding on the teams carrying the Koch banner. If you’ve participated in any kind of pool, you’re inadvertently a part of the Koch machine.

Happy March Madness, everyone.

[Also by Abby Johnston: Why are we still talking about Obamacare?]

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