Colorado Springs, Colo. — Republican political candidates take note: If you don’t stand with the Koch network’s libertarian values, don’t expect any money. Exhibit A: Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is locked in a close race with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, a state Trump won by more than 36 points.
Citing Cramer’s support for June’s farm bill, March’s $1.3 trillion omnibus, and the Export-Import Bank, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Philips told approximately 500 gathered donors Cramer is “an adversary.”
“We established that he’s an adversary on corporate welfare,” Philips said at the Colorado Springs’ historic Broadmoor Hotel, where Charles Koch is hosting the largest-yet summer meeting of his Seminar Network, adding that Cramer is “inconsistent on spending” and not aligned on trade.
“You add those three things together: adversary, inconsistent, not leading, and it makes it hard to support him … If this were 2016 or ’14, we likely would have just gone ahead and endorsed him, but we’re raising the bar.”
In June, the Koch-run political organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) ran ads thanking Heitkamp for co-sponsoring legislation to roll back Dodd-Frank regulations championed by the left. Heitkamp, however, voted for the $1.3 trillion budget deal and against tax reform the Koch network has lauded.
“Why would Cramer or any other Republican think they have to listen to this network if we’ll just support them anyways?” AFP CEO Emily Seidel challenged. “We can’t keep falling into the trap of just doing what we need to do to get through November. That’s short-term thinking … Would you run your business that way? Would you hire people who only focus on quarterly results?”
“People are taking us for granted,” Charles Koch Foundation President Brian Hooks said Sunday. “This network has got to lead.”
“Many of you watched in disgust,” Hooks said, as a record-breaking budget was passed “by a Republican government … We supported some of these guys!”
In May, the Koch-run Americans for Prosperity (AFP) activist group targeted Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, a close Trump ally who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania and voted for the spending bill. He was among 10 Republicans and seven Democrats targeted by AFP radio, television and internet ads for their vote on the budget.
“The fact that we’re willing to do this during an election shows we’re dead serious,” AFP CEO Emily Seidel told Sunday’s attendees. “This network will no longer follow anyone’s lead or be taken for granted.”
“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,” billionaire industrialist Charles Koch told reporters Sunday afternoon, lamenting past support for Republicans who had voted against his values on spending and trade, especially. “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].”
Senate races where the center-right network intends to engage include Wisconsin’s, Missouri’s, Florida’s and Tennessee’s, where Rep. Marsha Blackburn is running in an expensive and competitive Republican primary for outgoing Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s seat.
Blackburn, who touts President Donald Trump’s endorsement, attracted the attention of the Kochs through her opposition to the farm bill, record-breaking omnibus and Export-Import Bank.
“She opposed the majority of her party because she knew it was the right thing to do,” Philips said of the congresswoman, who was at the conference.
The Koch network also plans to be active in the governor races for Michigan, Nevada and Florida.
“We will support dozens of these champions,” Seidel said Monday morning.
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.
“I know this is uncomfortable,” Seidel said of the change in strategy, Sunday.
The shift represents a return to emphasising 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, who has since retired, 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 Trump rose in polls, however, these plans were scuttled.
“In the past, this network has done a lot,” Hooks said Sunday. “Perhaps more than anyone else to slow the decline of our country … But we’re not here to slow the decline, we’re here to change the trajectory of this country … The need for a new and different approach couldn’t be any clearer.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that AFP is engaged in the Nevada and Florida governors’ races. The network group in those states is Freedom Partners Action Fund.
Editor’s Note: Christopher Bedford was a fellow at the Charles Koch Institute in 2010.