It’s Unlikely Koch Brothers Asked for Meeting With Trump as He Contends
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that he had “turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch,” but staff for the two billionaire political activists delicately suggested that wasn't quite true.
“I know a meeting didn’t happen. You'll have to talk to him about what his facts are,” Mark Holden, senior vice president and legal counsel for Koch Industries, told reporters who'd been invited to attend the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners summer summit in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on condition they didn't approach donors or report on their presence without permission. The Koch team met last month with the Trump team at Trump aides’ request. There have been no follow-up meetings, Holden said.
Politico reported on Friday that top Trump donors tried to set up a meeting between Trump and Charles Koch while the candidate was in Colorado Springs on Friday for a rally, but that Koch aides had declined. Politico cited unnamed Republicans with knowledge of the outreach.
Koch staff repeatedly told reporters Saturday that they’re not focused on the outcome of the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. “We’re focusing on the Senate,” said spokesman James Davis.
When reporters pressed on why the Kochs would have asked to meet with Trump if they’re not getting involved in the presidential race, Davis repeated that the Koch network is focused only on the Senate. Republicans are looking to maintain their majority in the 100-seat chamber but incumbents are thought to be vulnerable in states such as Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.
Trump tweeted earlier Saturday, “I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!”
Asked if there had been any contact between the Koch network and the Trump campaign while Trump was in town, Holden said, “None that I’m aware of. I don’t know of any.”
The billionaire donors hold seminars twice each year to talk about strategies for conservative change. The meetings always take place amid heavy security at luxury resorts, and this summer's version is at the Broadmoor, an historic property on the banks of the man-made Cheyenne Lake in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Elected officials at the meeting—all Republicans—included House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, as well as Representatives Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Mike Coffman of Colorado, and Mike Pompeo of Kansas. Governors Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, as well as Jose Oliva, a member of the Florida legislature, were also on hand. Ryan was set to speak at the event, attended by about 400 Freedom Partners members, staff said.
The weekend's theme is “A Brighter Future: Reversing America’s Decline, Opening Opportunity for All,” staff said. The focus will be on “a free and open economy, accountable leadership, laws that treat everyone equally, and a marketplace of ideas to debate.”
The Koch staff praised Trump’s choice of running mate, Mike Pence, but said the Indiana governor hadn't made any personal appeal for the Koch brothers to support the ticket. “Mike Pence is a great guy. Good friend of ours,” Holden said.
Freedom Partners members, many of whom are owners of private companies, pay a minimum of $100,000 to join the network.
Some donors, including businessmen Doug Deason and Stanley Hubbard, have publicly said they want the network to back Trump. Staff said it was unlikely they would survey the meeting attendees in Colorado, even with a quick show of hands, about how many support Trump or want the network to support him.
Davis, an executive vice president for Freedom Partners, said the network is only involved with candidates “aligned with our issues and thinking” in races where they think they can make a difference. In this year's case that's six Senate races—Nevada, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.
The Kochs’ super-PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund, has already spent $14.4 million in five of those states, almost all of it attacking Democratic candidates, according the Federal Election Commission records. It also spent $36,000 on direct mail attacking Clinton last January and February.
The Koch network will essentially be indifferent about the outcome of the presidential race. “We have no intention to go after Donald Trump,” said Holden, who's also chairman of Freedom Partners. Nor do they plan to run anti-Clinton advertisements, he said.
The Koch network's budget for electoral politics will be about $250 million in the 2016 cycle, as well as another $500 million for academic think tanks and community programs. It's been reported that the group would spend $889 million between last year and this one, but that was “a wish-list number,” Holden said.
—With assistance from Bill Allison.