The secretive network of dark money groups and Super PACs controlled by conservative billionaire industrialist megadonors Charles and David Koch plan to spend $889 million on the 2016 elections, the Washington Post announced on Monday afternoon.
This is more than double what the Koch groups raised to spend on the 2012 presidential election. With the erosion of important campaign finance protections and U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United, the very wealthy and large corporations now have a larger say in our political system than ever before.
Here is the full story from the Washington Post:
Koch-backed network aims to spend nearly $1 billion on 2016 elections
By Matea Gold January 26 at 4:00 PM
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.
The massive financial goal was revealed to donors during an annual winter meeting here hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and cements the network’s role as one of the country’s most potent political forces.
The $889 million goal reflects the budget goals of all the allied groups that the network funds. Those resources will go into field operations, new technology and policy work, among other projects.
The group — which is supported by hundreds of wealthy donors on the right, along with the Kochs — is still debating whether it will spend some of that money in the GOP primaries. Such a move could have a major impact in winnowing the field of contenders but could also undercut the network’s standing if it engaged in intraparty politics and was not successful.
The three-day conference was held at a luxury resort perched on a rocky hillside near Palm Springs, Calif., with stunning views of the palm-tree-speckled desert floor below. The event drew 450 attendees, a record number, as well as the largest number of first-time contributors to the network.
Saturday’s opening dinner — held on the resort’s wide lawn under strings of twinkling lights — celebrated a crop of new U.S. senators whose victories helped put the Senate back in GOP control. Their bids were lifted by the Freedom Partners network, which had pledged to spend close to $300 million in the run-up to the November elections.
Sens. Steve Daines of Montana, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, David Perdue of Georgia and Cory Gardner of Colorado were on hand to thank donors, according to people familiar with the event.
But much of the weekend was spent looking ahead to 2016.
Freedom Partners President Marc Short said in an interview that “2014 was nice, but there’s a long way to go,” noting that the group’s ultimate goal is to make free-market ideals central in American society. “Politics is a necessary means to that end,” he said, but not the only one.
Much of the conclave served as an information-gathering exercise for network officials, who are assessing whether financiers would coalesce around a single candidate in the GOP presidential contest. At this point, some contributors said they have little interest in putting money into a bloody internal fight, and many others are not yet set on a candidate.
Few here suggested they would support 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who is considering another run in 2016. But among the favorites are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“It’s not as if there’s one perfect champion and five bad individuals,” said one person familiar with donor views, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations.
The Kochs’ moves are being carefully watched by operatives throughout the party, who are well-aware of how they could alter the trajectory of the race if they took sides in the primary.
“It’s not like a Chicago political boss where Charles would say, ‘We’re all for this guy,’ ” said conservative activist Grover Norquist, who has attended past Koch donor seminars. “But if he said, ‘I really like this guy’ and did an op-ed, it would matter.”
The network’s influence was underlined by the number of prospective 2016 contenders who flocked to Rancho Mirage to mingle with the deep-pocketed crowd. Walker arrived there Saturday from Iowa, after addressing conservative activists at a forum in Des Moines. That night, over an al fresco dinner of filet mignon, the Wisconsin governor thanked the Freedom Partners donors for their past support and touted his efforts to curb state spending.
On Sunday night, Paul, Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were on hand to participate in a panel about the economy and foreign policy moderated by ABC’s Jonathan Karl.
The three senators aimed some of their comments at the business leaders in the audience, touting their support for cutting taxes and regulations, and dismissed a question about whether wealthy donors have too much influence on politics.
“There are a bunch of Democrats who have taken as their talking points that the Koch brothers are the nexus of all evil in the world,” said Cruz, calling that thinking “grotesque and offensive.”
“I don’t know a single person in this room who has ever been to my office . . . asking from government any special access,” Rubio added. “By and large what they want is to be left alone.”
The panel was available to news organizations via a live Web stream, part of a new posture of openness embraced by the usually private organization. For the first time, Freedom Partners shared details about the donor conclave, including excerpts of Charles Koch’s welcoming remarks.
Still, some critics scoffed at the idea that the group was being transparent. On Saturday, a handful of protesters stood at the base of the curving driveway that led up to the resort, waving a large American flag and holding up signs denouncing the Kochs.
“They claim they’re being more open,” said Tracy Turner, a 49-year-old retiree from Palm Springs, noting that the news media was barred from the event. “Clearly, that’s not the case. They’re scripting it very carefully.”
Started by Charles Koch in 2003 and originally hosted by Koch Industries, the twice-a-year donor seminars are now sponsored by Freedom Partners.
The network has evolved into a sophisticated political operation that mirrors those of the official political parties. Along with its main political advocacy arm, Americans for Prosperity, the network finances groups such as Concerned Veterans for America, the Libre Initiative and Generation Opportunity. Last year, it added a super PAC to its arsenal, but most of the allied groups are nonprofits that do not disclose their donors.
Network officials used the conference to lay out ambitious goals to promote free-market principles in government, business and the media. There were also frank assessments of what they need to do to refine their tactics.
One area viewed as a major improvement over 2012 was how the network uses data to improve its voter outreach. Another major 2014 investment — expanding a national field organization — was also viewed as promising, but officials believe it will take time to make it more effective.
In the coming year, allied groups in the network will put a renewed focus on the issue of “crony capitalism” and will pressure Democrats and Republicans alike on issues such as tax code reform and the Export-Import Bank, according to people familiar with the plans.
Denver investor John Saeman, a veteran cable executive who has been a longtime supporter of the network, described the mood as “measured.”
“It’s very much of staying the course,” he said during a break between sessions. “This is a battle for hearts and minds.”
In his speech Saturday night, Charles Koch exhorted his fellow donors to deepen their commitment.
“It is up to us,” he said. “Making this vision a reality will require more than a financial commitment. It requires making it a central part of our lives.”
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics