Mercatus's rise owes much to the oil-and-gas company Koch Industries Inc., (pronounced "coke"), a privately owned company in Wichita, Kan., that contributes heavily to Republican causes and candidates. A Koch family foundation has given Mercatus and George Mason University a total of $14.4 million since 1998, according to public documents analyzed by the Public Education Center, a Washington group that tracks environmental issues. A Koch spokesman says about half of the money went to Mercatus. In addition, the company's chief executive, Charles Koch, donated interests in limited partnerships to Mercatus that the think tank sold last year for $6.1 million. Mr. Koch is a Mercatus director.
A predecessor to Mercatus was founded at Rutgers University by a former economics professor, Richard Fink, who also started an antitax group. Mr. Fink later moved the think tank to George Mason, a Virginia state university that has become a center for free-market economics. In 1990, Mr. Fink joined Koch Industries, where he is now an executive vice president overseeing lobbying and communications. He remains a Mercatus director.