PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. — Charles Koch, the 81-year-old billionaire libertarian philanthropist and American industrialist, has no intention of retiring, he told an audience of top conservative and libertarian donors gathered at a conference in Palm Springs. The fight for opportunity, he said Sunday afternoon, is “eternal,” adding, “we can never rest.”
“I’ve invested all these years, all this money, a good part of my life, and I’m gonna slow down when we’re right on the verge of breakthroughs, of drastically helping people improve their lives?” Koch asked incredulously. “The answer is no!”
His response, on a panel with TV’s Mike Rowe, was to a question from moderator John Hardin of the Charles G. Koch Foundation, who had asked if Koch was entertaining any thoughts on taking a break from his work or activism. Those three were joined by Thurgood Marshall College Fund President Johnny Taylor Jr., and they were speaking in front of around 550 wealthy individuals included in the “principals” network, which requires at least $100,000 donation to the Seminar Network.
Koch’s comments were made on day two of the Seminar Network. Held twice a year, the seminars are a gathering place for a large group of wealthy donors interested in libertarian causes. This weekend’s seminar, held in the temperate desert outside of Los Angeles, is the first since Trump’s election and inauguration. (RELATED: Kochs Come Out Against Trump Travel Ban)
“To be effective, in my experience, and the reason we’ve developed the capabilities we have and the support we have, is because it’s based on principles, and those are the principles that will open opportunity for people and give everyone the opportunity to have a brighter future,” Koch said.
Koch, who has been involved in libertarian politics for decades and has been a thorn in the side of Republicans and Democrats alike, also signaled a willingness to be bipartisan, citing an abolitionist quote he is fond of repeating.
“And one of those principals is the one that Frederick Douglas followed: ‘I would unite, with anybody to do right and nobody to do wrong.'”
“We need to do it with passion and courage,” Koch concluded. “We have seen, throughout history, a few people with passion and courage can accomplish more than multitudes who are half-hearted or lukewarm.” (RELATED: Charles Koch Calls For Action: ‘We Might Not Have An Opportunity Again Like We Have Today’)
All of the 11 elected officials attending the seminar are Republicans.
Koch and the network have expressed enthusiasm for the White House’s plan to cut regulations, but have come out against the administration’s travel ban and proposed border-adjustment tax, as well as the threat of a big-spending infrastructure project.
Republican Sens. Mike Lee, Pat Toomey and James Lankford all spoke at a Saturday night dinner kicking off the conference. Of the three senators, Lankford was the only tepid backer of Trump. Sen. Ben Sasse, who did not speak Saturday night but was at Koch’s talk Sunday, has been Trump’s most vocal critic in the legislature. (RELATED: Mike Lee Is Certain The Senate Will Confirm Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee)
Sen. David Perdue, who is also attending the conference, was supportive of Trump and was at one point floated for an administration position. Other elected officials at the seminar include Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Marsha Blackburn, Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bruce Rauner of Illinois, and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.
The network spent hundreds of millions on advertising and advocacy for limited-government politicians — namely, Republicans — running for the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, but notably stayed out of the presidential primaries and race. (RELATED: As Trump Presidency Dawns, Kochs Plan To Bring Hundreds Of Millions To Bear On Next Two Years)
And after scaling back early projections on their spending during the 2015-2016 cycle, the Seminar Network intends to ramp up spending on work to build grassroots networks and impact U.S. policy. That spending is expected to rise from the $250 million in the 2015-2016 cycle, to an estimated $300-400 million in the 2017-2018 cycle.
No one from the Trump administration is in attendance, but the new White House is more colored by Koch friends and lieutenants than any in American history. Vice President Mike Pence enjoyed network support as Indiana governor, and one of his former top advisers and the Koch’s top operatives, Marc Short, is now the legislative director for the White House. Short has used his knowledge of the Koch’s key personnel to help staff the executive. In contrast, in the most famous conservative administration, President Ronald Reagan’s, the Kochs were on the outside. Charles’s brother, David Koch, ran against Reagan on the Libertarian ticket in 1980.
The network is co-chaired by Charles Koch Institute President Brian Hooks and Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries. Called “A Time to Lead,” the meeting is hosted at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa, and is focused on local, grassroots initiatives Americans can take in what Hooks called “the key institutions of society”– “education, community, business and government.” (RELATED: Charles Koch Calls For Action: ‘We Might Not Have An Opportunity Again Like We Have Today’)
In addition to the donors, there are approximately 150 staff and speakers in attendance, Seminar Network spokesman James Davis told reporters. There is also a larger press presence than any previous conference has allowed.
Editor’s Note: Christopher Bedford was a fellow at the Charles Koch Institute in 2010.