Marco Rubio courted New Hampshire voters allied with two powerful organizations at the center of the Koch Brothers’ sprawling political network during campaign events on Thursday.
Charles and David Koch, whose donor network has become the most powerful outside player in Republican politics, have pledged to direct about $900 million to help Republicans in 2016. And while the brothers themselves have said they are unlikely to make a single endorsement in the Republican field, many of their donors are. And Rubio, the 44-year-old senator from Florida, has had both public and private auditions in front of their well-heeled crowds.
Rubio spoke before the Concerned Veterans for America, a Koch-funded group aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Americans for Prosperity, the brothers’ flagship organization with an aggressive ground game and paid media operations in key states. As political nonprofit groups, neither is required to disclose their donors.
Rubio, defending his events on Thursday, insisted that big donors wouldn’t rule in a Rubio White House.
“People buy into my agenda, I don’t buy into theirs,” Rubio told reporters in Exeter after appearing at the Concerned Veterans for America event. “My stands are not influenced by my contributors, I hope my stands influences my contributors.”
Rubio is expected to be one of the Republican field’s top fundraisers, though all are expected to trail Jeb Bush.
As Rubio barnstormed the Granite State, a political nonprofit group set up to support him – the Conservative Solutions Project – unveiled a first-week $1 million advertising campaign highlighting Rubio’s leadership on Iran.
“Tell your senators to join Marco Rubio. Vote against Obama’s deal and stop Iran from getting the bomb,” the advertisement said.
Later in the day, Rubio spoke to the New Hampshire chapter of Americans for Prosperity about the Export-Import bank, which the Koch groups fiercely oppose. The bank, which uses federal money to incentivize U.S. companies to manufacture products in the U.S., is up for a re-authorization vote before Congress at the end of the month.
But outside of the Koch events, voters seemed to have a different view of the groups’ sway. At a town hall in Salem, a voter asked what he would do to stop corrupting influence of money in politics.
“When I run for office, I tell people what I stand for,” Rubio said. “And when you hear what I stand for, if you want to support me and donate to our campaign – assuming you’re not a really, really bad person or something like that – we accept that.”