Top Republican officials are gathered at a Koch brothers donor conference
The Koch brothers are sitting out the presidential race
The powerful political network helmed by Charles and David Koch is ruling out running advertisements intended to hurt Hillary Clinton, another sign of their insistence on avoiding the presidential race.
The Koch network has previously said they will not back Republican candidate Donald Trump, but on Saturday officials told reporters that they would not run negative Clinton spots, a position taken by some Republican groups that are uneasy with the controversial GOP standard-bearer. The group is laser-focused on maintaining and expanding the Senate majority – in the midst of a $42 million television advertising campaign focused on a half-dozen states – and would only use Clinton to bash Senate Democratic hopefuls.
Network officials outlined their plans here as 400 of their donors prepared to hear from a roster of Republican leaders. House Speaker Paul Ryan is among the politicians who scored invites to one of the nation’s most sought-after political retreats at a lavish campus nestled in the Rocky Mountains.
Ryan will be joined here at the summit hosted by the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce alongside up-and-coming Republicans like Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Mike Lee of Utah, Koch spokesman James Davis said Saturday. Other speakers will include Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado.
The Koch network is sitting out of the presidential campaign entirely, a blow to Trump’s presidential ambitions. Trump claimed in a tweet Saturday that he declined a meeting request from Charles and David Koch this weekend, though Koch officials say that they were not aware of any contact with him on Friday when both the Kochs and Trump coincidentally were in Colorado Springs at the same time.
“Our perspective is the same: We’re focused on the Senate,” Mark Holden, a top Koch network official, told reporters. “We have no intention to go after Donald Trump.”
The Kochs are effectively indifferent between Trump and Clinton, though several Trump allies within the network have encouraged the billionaire donors to at least meet with the billionaire candidate. Donors who contribute at least $100,000 to the network are invited to hear from Charles Koch and Republican leaders both about the Kochs’ political work along with their philanthropic and policy-focused spending.
Some Koch donors, upset by the leadership’s unwillingness to back the Republican nominee, have called for the Freedom Partners retreat to feature a poll to decide whether to marshal their resources toward his White House bid. But Holden said unequivocally that a decisive survey of that kind would not happen.
The Kochs have assembled a political operation some consider to be on par with the Republican National Committee, using a constellation of nonprofit organizations to drive elections and policy fights in recent years. They today have 1,200 paid staff members in 38 states.
Yet their refusal to back Trump – whose language on immigration and trade is found to be too incendiary by the libertarian-inspired Kochs – is a leading reason why Trump is expected to be massively outgunned by Clinton and her allies in the advertising wars.
The Koch network initially said they would spend $889 million in the lead-up to 2016, with about one-third of that figure dedicated to political activity. Yet Koch officials have scaled back their ambitions, with Holden saying Saturday that the sum was merely a “wish list number.”
They are now on pace to spend about $750 million, including about $250 million on politics.
About $20 million in television has already aired, network officials said, with another $20 million still planned for the fall. The network is currently active in five Senate races, and is currently weighing how to get involved in one more: Marco Rubio’s reelection fight in Florida.