Colorado Springs, Colo. — Billionaire libertarian philanthropist Charles Koch has a message for Republican politicians: If you take our support, you’ll stand for our issues.
“We’re going to be much stricter on if [politicians] say they’re going to be for these principles we espouse and then they’re not,” Koch told reporters.
Disappointment with Republican support for tariffs, record deficit spending and strict immigration controls is on display this weekend at Colorado Springs’ historic Broadmoor Hotel, where Koch is hosting over 500 donors for the largest-yet summer meeting of his Seminar Network.
Themes include speaking out and spending against Republicans, as well as supporting Democrats on issues they agree with the Koch network on.
“I don’t care what initials are on the front or after somebody’s name,” the billionaire industrialist told reporters before a luncheon. “I’d like to find many more politicians who would embrace and have the courage to run on a platform like [ours].”
“So we work with the Trump administration when they are doing things that we think are in harmony with [our ideals] … and we oppose them when we don’t,” Koch added.
In May and June, the Koch-run Americans for Prosperity (AFP) activist group targeted 10 Republicans and seven Democrats with radio, television and internet ad campaigns for voting for a $1.3 trillion budget. The next month, AFP ran ads thanking Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for co-sponsoring legislation to roll back Dodd-Frank regulations championed by the left. Heitkamp, who voted for the $1.3 trillion budget deal and against tax reform, is in a very close race against a Republican challenger in a state Trump won by more than 36 points.
Asked if he regrets not backing Democratic politicians earlier, Charles Koch replied, “More of what I regret is some of the ones we have supported. And so we’re going to be much stricter on if they say they’re going to be for these principles we espouse and then they’re not. So we’re going to more directly deal with that and hold people responsible for their commitments. Our organization is happy to support anybody and we would love to see more Democrats who [align with our beliefs].”
“The fact that we’re willing to do this during an election shows we’re dead serious,” AFP CEO Emily Seidel told attendees. “This network will no longer follow anyone’s lead or be taken for granted.”
While the libertarian network has a long history of working in non-partisan areas, including education, criminal recidivism and poverty, it is made up of largely center-right, conservative and Republican donors. A theme emphasized by presenters was a quote by famed abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
“I know this is uncomfortable,” Seidel told attendees.
The move represents a return to emphasizing Charles Koch’s libertarian beliefs and a retreat from the partisan politics his network had emphasized since the tea party in 2010 and later Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run.
In 2015, Charles Koch and his brother, David, announced a planned $889 million in campaign spending– a figure that would put their network on par with the Republican and Democratic parties. As now-President Donald Trump rose in polls, however, these plans were scuttled.
Some bright spots on the national agenda the Kochs support include tax reform, deregulation, access to experimental medicine, and Department of Veterans Affairs accountability reform.
Editor’s Note: Christopher Bedford was a fellow at the Charles Koch Institute in 2010.