Charles Koch vows to hold Republicans accountable

Charles Koch vows to hold Republicans accountable
© Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Billionaire activist Charles Koch said Sunday that his network of big-spending political groups would be more aggressive in going after Republicans who have failed to adhere to fiscally conservative principles.

Speaking to a small group of reporters in a rare interview at a five-star resort in the Rocky Mountains, Koch vowed to hold GOP lawmakers accountable for their votes when they break with the network’s free-market views on issues like spending and tariffs.

“I regret some of the [lawmakers] we have supported … we’re gonna more directly deal with that and hold people accountable,” Koch said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Koch network will spend about $400 million this election cycle on politics and policy, with much of it aimed at electing Republicans or promoting conservative causes.

But they’ve also spent money to hold GOP lawmakers accountable, particularly on spending. 

So far this cycle, groups affiliated with the Koch network have run ads calling out 10 GOP House members and two Republican senators for supporting the $1.3 trillion spending bill that passed in March or for refusing to back spending clawbacks.

The network has also spent money on ads this cycle thanking Democrats who have supported some of their initiatives, like Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (D-N.D.), who voted in favor of bank reform. Heitkamp is one of 10 Senate Democrats running for reelection in states Trump carried in 2016.

“I know this is uncomfortable, it’s uncomfortable for me too,” said Emily Seidel, the CEO of Americans for Prosperity, the network’s primary political arm.

“But if you’re a Democrat and you stand up to [Sen.] Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders endorses Oakland teachers strike On The Money: Dems set Tuesday vote on Trump's emergency declaration | Most Republicans expected to back Trump | Senate plots to avoid fall shutdown drama | Powell heading before Congress News media has sought to 'delegitimize' Tulsi Gabbard, says liberal journalist MORE [D-Mass.] and corral enough votes for financial reform … you’re darn right we’ll work with you,” Seidel said.

Koch said he’s hopeful his network can support more Democrats going forward.

“I’m looking for policies that will move forward a society of mutual benefit, where everybody has the opportunity to realize their objectives, so I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name,” Koch said. “I’d like there to be many more politicians who would embrace and have the courage to run on a platform like this.”

“I’m happy and our organization is happy to support anyone and we’d love there to be more Democrats that support these values and these issues,” he added.

Koch network officials see an opening to work with Democrats on some of their top initiatives, like criminal justice and immigration reform.

Senior officials and top donors from the network, who have gathered in Colorado Springs this weekend for their biannual seminar, have been expressing deep frustration with President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE and the Republican-controlled Congress for passing the $1.3 trillion spending package.

“If you’re a Republican who sits on the committee who wrote the worst spending bill in the history of our country, and you voted for it, you’re darn right we’ll hold you accountable,” Seidel said to thunderous applause. “The fact that we’re willing to do this during an election year shows we’re dead serious.”

They’re also apoplectic over Trump’s tariffs.

Republicans will be touting economic growth ahead of the midterm elections, but Koch on Sunday warned that the president’s trade disputes could send the economy into a recession.

“I have no idea, it depends on the degree [of the trade war], yeah, if it’s severe enough, it would,” Koch said.

Koch did not back Trump’s presidential bid in 2016 and officials in his network have at times been withering in their criticism of the president.

“The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage,” said Brian Hooks, president of The Charles Koch Foundation. “When in order to win on an issue, someone else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite and solve the problems of this country.”

In a video shown to donors on Sunday, Koch warned against “a rise in protectionism” — a swipe at Trump’s immigration and trade policies.

But he also noted in the interview on Sunday that the network has successfully worked with the administration on several of their top priorities, including experimental drug reform, the tax-cuts bill and criminal justice reform.

“We agree with some things and we disagree with others,” Koch said.

This weekend’s Koch network gathering at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs comes just 100 days before the midterm elections. Still, the network this weekend has largely eschewed politics, focusing instead on their philanthropic initiatives, like Stand Together.

Stand Together is one of its fastest growing groups, with a budget that has gone from $8 million only two years ago to $40 million this year. Stand Together works with 86 nonprofit groups developing programs aimed to lift people out of poverty.