Charles Koch Invokes Fight for Civil Rights as Model for Political Activism
Matea Gold and James Hohmann, Washington Post, August 2, 2015
Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch on Sunday compared the efforts of his political network to the fight for civil rights and other “freedom movements,” part of a growing effort by the organization to emphasize its commitment to the plight of the disenfranchised.
During remarks to 450 wealthy conservatives assembled in the ballroom of a lavish oceanfront resort, Koch urged his fellow donors to follow the lead of figures such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement,” Koch said. “All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”
The theme of helping the lower class was echoed throughout the weekend conference as network officials laid out their plans to spend $889 million by the end of 2016 on issue advocacy, higher-education grants and political activity. Huge banners positioned around the halls of the resort featured quotes from donors describing their commitment to helping the poor. Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries, led a 40-minute discussion Sunday afternoon on the network’s push for criminal justice reform at the state and federal levels.
The emphasis appears to be driven by a sense among network officials that they need to do more to win the public over to their cause, including what they call “the middle third” of the electorate that does not identify with their libertarian ideology. It underscores one of the remaining challenges for the Koch political network, one of the most potent forces in American politics: to recast its image of being a political organ for the rich.
On Sunday, Koch cited the need to be “to be much more effective in articulating” the group’s mission.
“If we cannot unite the majority of Americans behind the vision, then we’re done for,” he added. “So that to me has to be our number one objective. But to do so, we’ve got to do a much better job of understanding what matters most to people, and then to demonstrate that a free society gives them the best opportunity of achieving that.”
Five presidential contenders–former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker–made appearances at the weekend retreat, held on the grounds of the St. Regis Monarch Beach, with dazzling views of the misty-blue Pacific Ocean.
Seven sitting governors, six incumbent senators and three House members also were in attendance.
For all of the interest in hearing from the candidates in attendance, much of the talk throughout the weekend was about one of the contenders who had not been invited: real estate impresario Donald Trump. In hallway conversations and strategy meetings, attendees fretted about the effect he was having on the GOP primary race, according to attendees.
“People are alarmed that he has some staying power,” said one person familiar with donor views, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “But there is an understanding that you don’t want to overdo the response.”
Indeed, if there was any question about whether Trump would go after the Kochs, he answered that with a tweet Sunday morning.
“I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers,” he wrote. “Puppets?”