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Top Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an 'appendage' of the GOP

Top Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an 'appendage' of the GOP
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A senior official from the political network affiliated with billionaire conservative businessman Charles Koch sent a letter to donors on Friday saying the network stands by its decision not to support Republicans that break from their free market ideology on issues like spending and trade.

The letter, from Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden, says the network “has never been an appendage of the Republican Party” and is proud to hold elected officials accountable when they fall out of line, regardless of party identity.

Holden also accused the Republican National Committee (RNC) of “woefully” mischaracterizing Koch’s political activities after the network announced it would be more selective in choosing the GOP candidates it will support.

“What we have always been — and will continue being — is a network of business and philanthropic leaders that is focused on solving society’s biggest problems,” Holden writes in the letter, obtained by The Hill. “That includes issues where only long-term solutions will do, like getting our country’s spending and entitlement crisis under control, fixing our broken criminal justice system that is making communities more dangerous, reforming regulations that are crushing innovation, and more.”

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The letter comes after several days of brewing tension between President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE and the Koch network, an influential group of predominantly conservative and libertarian activists who are expected to spend $400 million on politics and policy this election cycle.

Most of that money will go toward electing Republican candidates or promoting conservative causes.

But the group sent a ripple through the GOP at the network’s biannual seminar in Colorado Springs, Colo., last weekend, when Koch and his top deputies expressed frustration with Trump’s trade policies and rhetoric, which they described as divisive.

The Koch network is also furious with the Republican Congress for passing a $1.3 trillion spending bill earlier this year.

In a presentation to about 500 donors gathered at a five-star resort in the Rocky Mountains, Tim Phillips, the network’s top political strategist, told donors that they’d no longer offer blanket support for Republicans.

If GOP candidates break from the network on spending or trade, they won’t get financial or grass-roots backing going forward, Phillips said. He made an example out of Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse, sexual assault victims Dems outraising Republicans in final stretch of midterms MORE (R-N.D.), who is challenging Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse, sexual assault victims Cinton knocks Trump while rallying Dems: 'The president degrades the rule of law' MORE (D-N.D.) in a state Trump carried easily in 2016.

Phillips cited Cramer’s support for the spending bill, the farm bill and the Export-Import Bank as reasons why the network would not back his candidacy against one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection this year.

“We have raised our bar, both for policy makers who seek our support and for ourselves,” Holden wrote in the letter to donors on Friday.

Those moves have infuriated the president and his allies at the RNC just three months out from midterm elections in which Republicans are at risk of losing control of the House.

Over Twitter, Trump lashed out at “the globalist Koch brothers,” calling them “a total joke” and claiming that he does not need their money or support.

The RNC, which is closely tied to the Trump administration, sent a letter to major GOP donors calling the network’s remarks “unacceptable.”

“Some groups who claim to support conservatives forgo their commitment when they decide their business interests are more important than those of the country or Party,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel wrote in a letter obtained by Politico.

McDaniel went on to warn donors not to use the Koch network’s data program for GOP candidates, essentially accusing them of gathering data to use against Republicans.

“From the beginning, the RNC had concerns about any outside entity building a data operation to compete with ours because we knew they could potentially weaponize that data against Republicans if their business interests conflicted with electing Republicans,” McDaniel wrote. “Sadly, our concerns were recently proven true.”

Those accusations infuriated some big-time conservative donors.

“RNC donors that know Charles Koch are taken aback that they RNC would question his integrity or that of the network,” said one adviser to Republican donors. “They may not always agree with strategy but they know Charles is in this for the country.”

In his letter to donors on Friday, Holden said the RNC email “woefully misstates our strategy.”

“We’ve been very happy to work alongside the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to advance comprehensive tax and regulatory reform, confirm Justice [Neil] Gorsuch, and overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said. “And we’re working alongside them now on major prison reform legislation, and to ensure Judge [Brett] Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court. We are bringing to the table a grassroots capability no others can and have already far surpassed our efforts to help confirm Justice Gorsuch."

“That said, we won’t back down when this Network’s principles are under attack —especially when doing so would be to the detriment of the future of the country,” he continued. “The $1.3 trillion omnibus was among the most irresponsible pieces of legislation ever enacted — especially by a Republican-controlled Congress. We absolutely will hold accountable those who voted for it, and we’ll take that vote into consideration when deciding whom to support electorally this year. The same goes for tariffs and other forms of protectionism that are already harming consumers and businesses in the short-term and which are dangerous for our economy over the long-term.”

At the seminar last weekend, Koch grabbed headlines for saying that he’s hopeful the network can work with Democrats, a line that the RNC has used against him.

“The Koch Network announced they will no longer support only Republicans running for office, and that moving forward they will support candidates that fit their agenda - even if they are Democrats,” McDaniel wrote this week.

Many Koch network donors are conservatives or libertarians and they generally support GOP candidates.

The Koch network is not backing any Democratic candidates this cycle, although individual donors generally prioritize ideology over party identity.

In his letter, Holden noted that the Koch network has spent millions of dollars this election cycle backing GOP Senate candidates in Missouri, Wisconsin and Florida. They intend to spend big to elect Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnDemocrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November Cornyn: 'All the money in the world' won't help O'Rourke win Texas Gillibrand backs Manchin, Bredesen despite their support of Kavanaugh MORE (R-Tenn.), who is running to replace retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Dem Senator: Congress will act on death of Saudi journalist Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (R-Tenn.).

The network has also spent heavily in support of Republican gubernatorial candidates in Nevada, Florida and Michigan. Their network of grass-roots activists will be making phone calls and knocking on doors to get out the vote for scores of GOP House candidates in the fall.

“We’ll be announcing additional activity in the days to come, but rest assured—any candidate in a competitive race who is, on balance, with this Network on the issues and will be a leader on them as well will have our full backing leading up to November,” Holden writes.

But the Koch network also gone after 10 House Republicans and two GOP senators for supporting the spending package or voting against spending clawbacks. They've run ads on wasteful spending that targeted Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials move to require drug prices in TV ads | 4,000 more people lose Medicaid in Arkansas | New top official for Medicaid Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Should we retire the ‘wave' election moniker? MORE (R-Pa.), a top Trump ally who is challenging Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDems target small cluster of states in battle for House Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials move to require drug prices in TV ads | 4,000 more people lose Medicaid in Arkansas | New top official for Medicaid Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE Jr. (D-Pa.) in another state the president won in 2016.

And the network is eager to find Democratic partners to push forward some of their top agenda items, like a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers" and criminal justice reform.

On the latter issue, the network has worked closely with White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Khashoggi disappearance tests US-Saudi relationship The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | How Trump could work with a Dem House | Trump heads to Florida to view hurricane damage Virginia judge calls Manafort’s plea deal ‘highly unusual,’ but is it? MORE. Trump this week signaled an eagerness to revive that issue, which stalled in the Senate after passing the House with overwhelming support earlier this year.

“We have a long-term commitment to unite around issues that will help people improve their lives,” said James Davis, spokesman for the Koch network. “Just as we have in the past, we will work together with the president, elected officials and others where we agree. And where we disagree, we will do so in a civil way.”