Koch Political Donors Split over Refusal to Support Trump

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August 1, 2016; The Washington Post

At the recent semiannual meeting of donors to billionaire Charles and David Koch’s network of political nonprofit organizations, the 700 attendees expressed widely varying opinions on how the hundreds of millions raised for 2016 election activity should be spent. The position of the conservative-libertarian Kochs is that the money should be targeted to Senate races and selected gubernatorial elections, while some of the donors strongly question that stance and advocate support for Donald Trump’s election. 

Some donors have even gone so far as to claim that, by not supporting Trump, the Kochs are working to elect Hillary Clinton. Charles Koch denounced any such claim as “blood libel.” Such a move would run counter to the well-known Midwestern small government, free enterprise brand of what was once called “main street” (as opposed to “Wall Street”) Republican thought embraced by the Kochs. 

The Post reports that Charles Koch “reiterated that he would not get behind Trump, whose rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims has appalled the 80-year-old chief executive of Koch Industries.” Trump did not attend Koch-sponsored events during the primaries, though several other of the 17 GOP presidential candidates were invited and did attend. The Koch donors were, and still are, split in their presidential preferences and loyalties, making it more difficult to choose and easier to focus on other races.

The Koch network, which includes nonprofits such as Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners Action Fund, Concerned Veterans for America, the Libre Initiative, and Generation Opportunity, will receive $250 million in support this year, while political campaigns and candidate PACs are estimated to receive about $500 million. This $750 million in total expenditures is less than the publicized $900 million goal, but still a huge investment, made even more significant by the exclusion of the most expensive race—the presidency—from the list of Koch priorities.

Focusing on U.S. Senate races makes sense for reasons other than avoiding the Trump-Never Trump debate. This year’s election is the best opportunity the Democrats have to retake the majority in the Senate, especially if Trump’s high unfavorability ratings suppress GOP voter turnout in key states. Republicans need to outperform both expectations and history to hold the majority. 

Elections in 2018 are at least equally uncertain for Democrats as 2016 is for Republicans, when the electoral map inverts and many more Democratic than Republican seats are up for election. There’s both a short-term and longer-term rationale for a GOP donor to focus on the Senate; a Republican presidential nominee repugnant to the Kochs provides additional incentive to do precisely that.—Michael Wyland