© Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The Koch brothers’ donor network spent close to $400 million last year, and is on its way to spending an unprecedented $889 million supporting right-wing politics and causes during the 2016 cycle.
On Saturday afternoon, the Koch network assembled 500 wealthy conservatives — its largest gathering ever — at a luxury resort near the foothills of Palm Springs’ Coachella Valley.
About 150 of the donors are first-time attendees, and the rest are paid-up members of the conservative donor network, which requires a minimum annual membership fee of $100,000.
“Everybody, come out and identify yourself because this isn’t some secret cabal,” Charles Koch said in his opening address to the donors on the lawns of the luxury Renaissance Resort and Spa.
“I’ve been identified lately,” Koch said, referring to his recent media appearances to improve the Kochs' public image, “and it’s not so bad, I’m still here. … I’m going stronger than ever.”
While billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have historically kept their political and ideological activities secret, they made a strategic decision last year to “open up” the donor network, which had been portrayed by Democrats including President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, as a sinister force in American politics.
The strategy involved Charles doing a series of media interviews to promote his new book, "Good Profit," and also allowing a small number of journalists into their exclusive retreats.
This Palm Springs retreat is the second time journalists have been allowed to attend. They had to agree not to name any donors in attendance who do not consent to being interviewed.
The Koch network hired out the entire Renaissance Resort and Spa. Koch staff and security guards are stationed throughout the resort and screened cars at the front gate to prevent infiltration. The hotel has a championship golf course, a sand-beach pool, and 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Hung in the hotel lobby is a giant banner announcing the theme of the event, “A Vision to Unleash America’s Potential.”
The donors gather over three days in breakout sessions and larger group settings to discuss their various policy initiatives, which include slashing taxes, government spending and regulations, and other less expected initiatives such as criminal justice reform. They also discuss politics; the rise of billionaire Donald Trump in the 2016 cycle has many Koch donors concerned, given his unreliability on conservative issues.
The network is now the most powerful force in right-wing politics, with a budget and technological infrastructure that rivals that of the Republican Party.
Many of the Koch network members – which include some of the biggest-spending conservative families in America, such as Michigan’s DeVoses and the Adelsons from Las Vegas – spend tens of millions each year advancing their favored politicians and causes.
In his introductory speech, Charles Koch told the donors he had four goals to change the trajectory of American government and society.
The first is to “reverse the policies that are moving us toward a two-tiered society," which include corporate welfare.
The second is to end “irresponsible government spending."
The third is to get governments at all levels to focus on what he sees as government’s “primary responsibility to people,” which is to “keep Americans safe.”
And fourth, protecting free speech, which is “under attack everywhere.”
“Now the tragedy is,” Koch said, “in my view, America is moving further and further away from this type of society. And we’re moving more toward of control, dependency, cronyism and poverty.”