Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce
Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce
The billionaire Koch brothers – industrialists Charles and David from Koch Industries – like to say they aren’t involved in “politics” much. But like everything surrounding the right-wing brothers, that’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.
While the Kochs don’t necessarily directly involve themselves in the nitty gritty of electoral politics all the time through direct donations to candidates and parties, they keep themselves in the loop by funding a variety of pressure groups, advocacy organizations and non-profits that push a right wing ideology on a constant basis. These groups don’t wait for election years to be active, and are in the trenches at a micro-local level promoting a spectrum of causes that often happen to fatten the pockets of the brothers.
One such vehicle used by the Kochs is the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(6) trade association (the Kochs also operate Freedom Partners Action Fund, which directly injects money in political races). In 2014 this group took in $126 million, spent about $41 million on overhead and poured the remaining cash on outside groups. Here they are:
Charles Koch, the famously private billionaire industrialist, wanted to welcome his dinner guests before they got too far into their meal. It had been a busy day at a seaside summit for 450 conservative donors who support the network of nonprofits, civic groups and political organizations that he and his brother David founded and bankroll. “I’m sure I’ve worn you out,” the 79-year-old said on the broad lawn. Then he reflected on the experiences he suspected he shared with these allies. “We grew up with every advantage,” Koch mused. “Most of you had the same benefits that our parents gave David and me, that is, growing up appreciating and being imbued with the values and skills required for success. If I didn’t have parents like that, I wouldn’t be worth spit. I would be the worst kid on the block … Certain people say I am still.”
Yes, people do say that–and much, much worse–about the Koch brothers. The billionaires help fund a political network that is larger and perhaps more consequential than the Republican National Committee. That machine wields considerable sway over GOP lawmakers and, potentially, the party’s presidential nominee for 2016. Its sprawling influence is just one reason guests ponied up annual checks of at least $100,000 to hear from five White House hopefuls and at least 14 other current or former lawmakers–as well as the two brothers themselves–at this gathering.
These twice-a-year sessions under the banner of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce are typically private affairs, held at classy watering holes and spread out over several days. TIME was among a handful of news organizations granted access to this summer’s event, though journalists agreed not to reveal the identities of donors who wanted to remain private. Charles and David Koch are the headline-driving brawn behind this confab for VIP donors, yet thousands of other like-minded conservatives add their cash to the kitty from afar.
Having watched voters send a Democrat to the White House in the past two go-rounds, the Kochs and their allies are recalibrating ahead of 2016. In conversations over snacks, meals and cocktails, there was a grumbling acceptance from the network’s top donors that trying to keep earlier events secret had backfired. “The Koch brothers could be depicted as comic-book villains,” says Craig Snider, the 59-year-old son of the family that owns the Philadelphia Flyers. “They are a private family. They never really wanted the attention.” As he sipped chilled white wine in one of the St. Regis Monarch Beach’s courtyards, Snider shook his head at the overwhelmingly negative coverage of the Kochs and their partners. “Our side has done a very bad job telling our story. We’ve been defined by the other side.”
So what is it like to observe the mysterious Koch brothers up close? It’s not all that different from watching two admired grandfathers oversee a large family reunion. They weave through the retreats they convene with an unassuming style that, were it not for the security trailing them, would be like that of any other septuagenarians, moving at a slower pace but refusing to be sidelined. Charles, talkative and engaging, lives in Kansas and has lost little of the quick, dry humor he used to tremendous success in business negotiations. David, somewhat quieter by nature, enjoys a more cosmopolitan life in Manhattan, where the New York City Ballet’s performance hall at Lincoln Center carries his name.
They were born in Wichita, Kans., in the years leading up to the U.S. entrance into World War II. Their upbringing reflected their father’s hard-nosed approach to life: disagreements were settled by fistfights. Fred Koch owned a sprawling Midwest industrial giant yet required his children to learn the trade rather than enjoy a gilded life. “I got my butt kicked every day,” Charles recalls. “Father had me work every minute from the time I was 6.” Both brothers went to MIT and earned graduate degrees in engineering before returning to Kansas, where they expanded the company their father founded into what today has become the second largest privately held company in the U.S.
The Kochs are often described as either ultra-conservative or libertarian, but those labels don’t fully explain their ideology. Yes, they believe that government has become too big; they fiercely oppose mandates and regulations, and they could not be more horrified by what they call the permanent Washington establishment. And it is fair to say they don’t care for President Obama. If their wish list of government rollbacks were achieved, it would help the bottom line for Koch Industries, a vast collection of companies and interests that produce everything from Brawny paper towels to Stainmaster Carpets to as many as 600,000 barrels of crude each day.
But some of what this network is trying to accomplish at sessions like those held here is at odds with Koch Industries’ bottom line. The groups oppose government subsidies of all kinds, even those that help the Koch companies’ profits. They would like to see Congress kill the Export-Import Bank and the ethanol subsidies that benefit the family operations that turn Iowa corn into fuel. Koch-backed groups have made building the Keystone XL pipeline a must-do task, even though it would compete with Koch Industries’ refineries. “The prevailing view created by the mainstream media is that this is to enrich Charles and David Koch,” says Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries and one of the brothers’ top lieutenants. “We take a lot of positions that are better long-term for all of us in the country, even though in the short term we would lose money.”
All of these arguments were raised during the summit in Dana Point, which has become something of a refresher course on conservative thinking. For instance, guests attended one session to hear how Chile reduced its poverty rate from 50% to 8% in a generation, but at a political cost. Other donors received updates on the Koch-led crusade against mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders as fiscally, constitutionally and morally unacceptable. Some guests attended a small dinner to talk about free-speech rights on college campuses with Mitch Daniels, a former White House budget chief and Indiana governor who now serves as president of Purdue University. But economic policy, really, ran through most of the discussions.
Charles Koch told his allies, including CEOs of well-known American companies, to ditch government tax breaks and subsidies for their own good. “Obviously, this prescription will not be an easy pill for many businesspeople to swallow,” he said, the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, just a golf-cart ride away. “Because short-term, taking the principled path is going to cost some companies some profits, as it will for Koch Industries.”
Whatever their agenda, losing isn’t part of it. In all, groups under the Koch umbrella plan to spend about $889 million before Election Day 2016, and roughly two-thirds of it will try to determine how voters cast their ballots. Part of their advantage is in how they charter themselves: the groups can accept unlimited donations, and because of the way many are structured, donors’ identities can largely be kept secret. (By contrast, the RNC has fundraising caps and must disclose everyone who gives $200 or more.)
The Koch-based network now is looking at how best to spend the money. During the summit, top Republican strategists told the Koch faithful that four states would be the biggest focus for the next two years: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia. It is almost impossible for an eventual Republican nominee to win the White House without those states. The donors are also continuing to invest in i360, a Koch-built database containing some of the most sophisticated information on voters’ interests and habits. “You can have all the academic debate you want to,” says Art Pope, a mega-donor from North Carolina and Koch friend. “But eventually it takes elected leaders to change the laws and change the policies.”
That focus helps explain why Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina all spent time with these donors at this summit. Each took turns praising the Koch network’s vision of more-limited government while lending their voices to the chorus of praise for what Charles and David Koch have accomplished. Rubio, Walker and Cruz are favorites with this crowd and old hands at the weekend. Bush was attending his first summit and soothed some donors’ unease about his brother; these summits were born out of frustration that federal spending was growing under President George W. Bush. Few knew Fiorina, and she worked the crowd hard to fix that.
But something else was visible at the Dana Point gathering as well. Charles Koch recognizes that the GOP cannot win a national election if it cannot expand its appeal beyond the types of conservatives who huddle with him at these retreats. Just consider the organizational chart of groups that now operate with Freedom Partners’ backing: grassroots-driven Americans for Prosperity, youth-focused Generation Opportunity, Hispanic-oriented LIBRE Initiative, the female-directed Concerned Women for America. At the same time, millions of dollars are flowing through the Koch network to the United Negro College Fund; its president, Michael Lomax, lectured these donors on why historically black colleges and universities matter during an outdoor dinner party at this summit.
On the lobbying front, Freedom Partners–backed groups have linked arms with the liberal Center for American Progress and ACLU for a bipartisan push on criminal-justice reform. Such work has won the Kochs notice–and some guarded praise–from the White House. No one expects the entente to last long. “Last summer, some of them were attacking us. Now we’re working with them,” says Holden, the Koch Industries lawyer. “I know they’re going to be attacking us later.”
The criticism is unlikely to end no matter how wide this moneyed network throws open its doors. But the modest amount of transparency suggests that the Koch brothers are starting to contemplate their legacies. For David Koch, it will be philanthropic giving that is almost unrivaled: $1.3 billion to charities, including $225 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
For Charles Koch, the goal is a realignment of policy and politics that, in his view, will preserve the America he knew as a child, when a kid from Kansas could turn the family business into a global player. “These guys are using business principles to create a political solution,” says Tim Busch, an Orange County lawyer and loyal Koch donor. “They’re creating a force to be reckoned with, so that the political parties have to deal with them and
Can we talk about this DRAMATIC headline? It got my attention…
Before the final commercial break of Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, Megyn Kelly teased the possible appearance of God in the next segment, giving us that quizzical sidelong glance that has made her America’s free-thinking right-wing sweetheart. (I am well aware that’s a sexist response. Of course it’s a sexist response. The primary function of the Megyn Kelly persona is to provoke a sexist response.) To my knowledge, the Almighty did not show up in Quicken Loans Arena. If there is some great guiding force behind or within the universe that can be described as a conscious entity, He, She or It might have wanted to know what the people of our planet propose to do about climate change, economic inequality and gun violence, three issues that were never mentioned on Thursday (except the latter, by Rand Paul, indirectly and as something cool). Instead, we got to hear a full range of unctuous platitudes about the word of God and the blood of Jesus from one of the most hypocritical and, to speak frankly, most profoundly un-Christian assemblages of American manhood you could possibly imagine.
Now, it’s true that after the urge to laugh while vomiting (or vomit while laughing) provoked by Ted Cruz’s prim beauty-pageant pronouncements about his daily Bible reading had passed, and after the suicidal ideation resulting from Scott Walker’s description of himself as an “imperfect man” redeemed by faith had begun to fade, Ohio Gov. John Kasich provided a surprising grace note. But let’s pay attention to the actual content and meaning of the Kasich boomlet, people! Liberal commentators and supposed news media neutrals have fallen all over themselves proclaiming Kasich the spiritual victor of the debate, and perhaps the rising stealth alternative to the Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla throwdown between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. But for what? For saying that it might work better for poor people to get government-subsidized healthcare rather than just going to the E.R. and sticking us with the bill, and for behaving like a polite human being at somebody’s wedding instead of fainting onto the divan and shrieking about Leviticus.
Kasich’s big moment on Thursday evening resembled the old joke about the guy who keeps beating his head against the wall: “It feels so good when I stop.” Listen, I’m not immune: I caught myself wondering whether I was absolutely sure that Kasich would be a worse president than Hillary Clinton. (It’s entirely academic, but the only real answer is that it depends what you mean by “worse.”) Kasich is playing the role of Non-Insane Republican Candidate briefly filled in 2012 by Jon Huntsman, who got almost no support from actual GOP voters but sent the media caste into a collective Jon Stewart-style swoon for the lost days of bipartisan reasonableness. It’s not like the people who cover politics at the New York Times or CNN these days actually know anything about old-timey Republican moderates like Henry Cabot Lodge and Nelson Rockefeller, but they venerate them anyway, like medieval peasants mumbling over saintly relics.
Given the internal dynamics of the Republican campaign, Kasich has no chance and is pretty much irrelevant. But in terms of making the party seem semi-palatable to the general public, and not so much like the rulers of Earth in a super-scary alternate dimension, he serves an important purpose. In other words, he’s Megyn Kelly, only sexier.
So that’s one sense in which the first Republican debate fulfilled its mission: When seen in person, the candidates largely resemble human beings rather than cannibals or ogres, which tends to “tighten the race,” as we political insiders say. Even Ted Cruz was revealed to have human characteristics, specifically those of a debate-team coach at a Baptist women’s college. We must exempt the current GOP front-runner from this group hug, of course, since Donald Trump actually is an ogre, which is the source of his immense and alarming public appeal. We’re not talking about the lovable ogre from “Shrek,” either; Trump is more like Polyphemus, the Cyclops who eats several of Odysseus’ men and then passes out drunk on the floor, trapping everybody in the cave.
That brings us to the next “Mission Accomplished” of the GOP debate, which was to begin the process of blinding the Cyclops without enraging him too much. You can take this irresistible analogy as far as you want: In Homer’s epic, Odysseus blows his getaway at the last minute by telling Polyphemus his real name, and the Cyclops calls down a devastating third-party campaign of vengeance from his dad Poseidon, god of the sea. That’s precisely the outcome that Fox News and the Republican leadership hope to avoid, and the first stage of their plan was executed pretty well on Thursday. Kelly and Chris Wallace kept Trump on the defensive throughout the evening. In fact, it was Wallace who pushed Trump hardest on his lack of GOP convictions and credentials, even if Kelly penetrated further beneath his hard yellow hide, provoking a series of misogynistic outbursts that may even make an ogre look ugly. Meanwhile Jeb Bush stayed lashed to the mast – that’s a different episode, I know – declaring himself to be both for and against his brother’s war in Iraq, for and against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and mystified as to why anybody would think he disliked the leering monstrosity standing to his right.
Plenty of virtual ink has already been spilled on the horse-race ramifications of the Great Quicken Quack, but that’s really all you need to know: Trump was diminished just a little, and Bush seemed lucid and calm. Jeb may have even looked “statesmanlike,” by which I mean that he talked in circles as usual but did not seem incredibly bored or as if he’d be happier wearing an orange smock and taking your order for parquet paneling at Home Depot. At least to this point, those 47 other dudes – plus Carly Fiorina, the micro-star of the micro-debate apparently held in the employee break room of a call center – are just window dressing. One aspect of the conventional wisdom is clearly correct: Polyphemus has dashed out the brains of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the two most dangerous and least controllable Bush alternatives, and left them broken and whimpering. From the point of view of the big-money donors who orchestrate the Wrepublican Wrestlemania, that is mostly a good thing.
Republicans love wars, and over the past decade it appears it does not matter one iota who they are at war with; just so they get to wreak death and destruction on human beings. Oh it is true they love little more than waging war against Muslims on behalf of their ‘most favored’ nation, Israel, but because they are “the structurally violent segment of society,” they also love waging war on Americans. Part and parcel of the Republican war on Americans is borne of their godly devotion to the Koch brothers and their dirty fossil fuel industry, but now the Kochs have abandoned working behind the scenes and are openly expanding their war against the people and the Pope.
The final straw was the official adoption of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan this week that incited the enemies of clean air, the economy, the Pope, and the people prepared their substantial forces to prevent America from reducing the amount of carbon it produces to stem the devastation of anthropogenic climate change. The war became official when at long last, mainstream mediareported that the Koch brothers’ legislative arm, the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity openly vowed to “stop the CPP’s implementation” at all costs.
The Washington Post reported that the Kochs’ and their fossil fuel industry underlings intend on launching a rash of initiatives at the state and local level to stop the CPP implementation in Congress, the courts, and state legislatures and country governments. At the local level, the Koch brothers directed their legislative arm ALEC to convene a special task force comprised of fossil-fuel interests and electricity producers. The Koch task force rapidly “approved model legislation to be sent to state and local governments around the nation giving them ‘special authority’ to ‘expedite approval of resources to challenge the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.”
Expedite approval of resources is typical ALEC-speak for legislation giving Republicans unchallenged authority to transfer taxpayer dollars allotted for education, transportation, and healthcare into a giant legal fund to challenge, and block, CPP implementation in the courts; all to keep those same taxpayers breathing foul air and suffering harsher droughts, more intense, larger wildfires, and more severe weather events. Americans should never making the mistake of thinking the Kochs are at war solely with the Obama Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency although they are prime targets; this war is fundamentally against the American people who will be around long after the Obama Administration is termed out. However, the people should not feel they are being singled out by the Kochs; the oil magnates have also publicly opened up a battle front against Pope Francis over his audacity of hope that world governments will address climate change.
Conservatives are declaring that the “witch hunt” against Governor Scott Walker is over because the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered the special prosecutor to stop the John Doe investigation into Walker’s alleged illegal coordinated with dark money groups during his recall elections in 2011 and 2012.
They claim that Scott Walker was cleared of illegally coordinating with dark money during his recall campaign. This isn’t exactly accurate, and it matters because the court’s ruling impacts the rights and voices of Wisconsin citizens.
This probe not “political”, as a bipartisan group district attorneys were behind it and the County District Attorney John Chisholm has gone after both parties. In fact, Chisholm — who is being inaccurately eviscerated for having a political agenda — has gone after mostly fellow Democrats. This doesn’t stop conservative outlets and politicians from pretending this is all Chisholm. Personal attacks and smears are the best recourse of the guilty – smear the source, smear the facts. It works, so they do it.
But the facts tell a different story.
The Wisconsin State Journal/Host Madison reported that the court, which helpfully for Scott Walker’s presidential run ordered that all “potential evidence — including thousands of pages of emails and other documents — be returned and all copies be destroyed”, ruled that outlawing coordination was “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague under the First Amendment.”
The secret John Doe investigation targeted suspected illegal coordination — the special prosecutor referred to “a criminal scheme” — between Republicans and purportedly independent conservative groups that supported Walker as he beat back the effort to oust him from office. Documents obtained by investigators indicated Walker’s involvement in directing donors to the independent advocacy groups.
In its opinion released early Thursday, the majority said a state law outlawing such coordination was “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague under the First Amendment.”
Campaign finance advocates predicted the ruling would relegate most Wisconsin citizens to the sidelines in future elections with anonymous, deep-pocketed donors taking over. The critics also began discussing an appeal to federal courts.
This does not mean that Scott Walker did not violate the law. It means the court thinks the law sucks. They decided to ignore the criminal elements of the charges and focus on the state’s campaign laws instead. So they found fault with the law that would make what the evidence suggests was illegal coordination to be no good. Change the interpretation of the law and suddenly Scott Walker is not guilty.
To reiterate, the John Doe investigation was looking into suspected illegal coordination and they had documents indicating Walker’s involvement. That’s criminal. Or it was, until the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided they didn’t like that law.
An important fact in this case that can’t be overlooked is that the prosecutor asked two justices to recuse themselves since they have benefited from dark money from the same groups, but they refused.
The WSJ noted, “… the four state Supreme Court justices considered to be conservatives benefited in their own elections from millions of dollars spent in their behalf by so-called independent groups.”
Dissenting opinion provided by Justice Shirley Abrahamson criticized the majority opinion for having a “faulty interpretation” of the state’s campaign finance law and the majority ignored the criminal element of the accusations, “I conclude that the Special Prosecutor has a valid legal theory to support his investigation.”
Thanks to this ruling, dark money from outside of the state will be allowed to buy elections. Or, as the Republicans call it, “freedom”.
Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts – which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC – is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over – some even say control of – the GOP.
The core issue, from Priebus’ point of view, is one of loyalty and allegiance. The RNC is a permanent entity, committed to the Republican Party without question. The Koch network is too independent from the party to be trusted with possession of the GOP’s most valuable core assets. If the Kochs – whose political history is steeped more in libertarianism than it is in any loyalty to the Republican Party – decided next week to use their database to benefit only their massive multinational corporation, they could do so. […]The Kochs’ political arm, Freedom Partners, which oversees i360, views the issue as one of capability. Koch aides – several of whom used to work at the RNC – want to win elections, and in their view the RNC has inherent challenges to helping the party win. Party committee fundraising is severely limited by federal election law, while building, maintaining and enriching a database is expensive.
Happy Earth Day! Today is a day we can all band together and share our love for this beautiful planet—or at least drown our sorrows about climate change with nerdy themed cocktails. Later today, President Barack Obama will mark the occasion with a climate-focused speech in the Florida Everglades. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, had a different idea: Fire a big chunk of the state’s environmental staff.
From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Fifty-seven employees of the state Department of Natural Resources began receiving formal notices this week that they might face layoff as part of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget for the next two fiscal years…
The DNR’s scientific staff conducts research on matters ranging from estimating the size of the state’s deer herd to to studying the effects of aquatic invasive species. Work is paid for with state and federal funds…
All told, Walker’s budget would cut 66 positions from the DNR. Of this, more than 25% would come from the science group. Cosh said a smaller number of employees received notices than the 66 positions in the budget because some positions targeted for cuts are vacant.
It’s no secret that a signature tactic in Walker’s controversial environmental recordhas been to degrade the DNR, which in addition to carrying out research is tasked with regulating the state’s mining industries. Still, the timing of this particular announcement is striking. I guess no one marked Earth Day on Walker’s calendar.
Neither Walker’s office nor DNR immediately returned requests for comment.
As consolation for this depressing news, here’s is a webcam of pandas at the San Diego Zoo.
His laid-back style turns off big money donors.
Some of the most influential players in big-money conservative politics gathered late last month to discuss government’s role in society, but their focus kept shifting to a less weighty topic: Rand Paul’s outfit.
The Kentucky senator and prospective GOP presidential candidate — whose libertarian politics mesh with those of the billionaire megadonor brothers Charles and David Koch — appeared at the annual winter meeting of the Koch donor network wearing a boxy blue blazer, faded jeans and cowboy boots.
Some attendees commented that Paul’s appearance was “cavalier,” said Frayda Levin, a Paul supporter and major donor who attended the conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, California. It was organized by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the nonprofit hubthat oversees the Koch network. “This is an older crowd and much more establishment crowd. They are used to a Romney. They are used to a Jeb Bush,” Levin said.
“Jeans might work for a younger audience,” said another attendee, “but these are old bulls who put on a tie every day to go to the office.”
The sartorial criticisms hint at a potentially more serious challenge for Paul — securing the backing of enough big-money donors to be competitive in a crowded Republican primary that could include prolific fundraisers such as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.
During a Sunday afternoon speech at the Koch forum , Paul drew skepticism among some donors by touting tax breaks as a means of spurring economic growth in blighted inner cities. That stance is anathema to the brand of small-government conservatism espoused by the industrialist brothers and many of their network’s donors, who object to marketplace interference. Even Levin admitted she was “a bit surprised. But he’s just exploring ideas right now. People didn’t quite understand where he was coming from.”
Donors were further put off by Paul’s performance later that evening in a forum for prospective GOP presidential candidates that also featured Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. At times slouching in a cushy arm chair, Paul, with his legs crossed, gave rambling answers that contrasted sharply with other participants.
At one point, he opposed eliminating tax benefits to the oil and gas industry — from which Koch Industries, the brothers’ multi-national conglomerate, benefits but which the brothers philosophically oppose. Paul seemed less prepared than Rubio, who gave detailed answers and was by far the most sharply turned out of the trio (pressed Navy blue suit, crisp white shirt, red tie and American flag lapel pin). Cruz, tieless in a light blue shirt and tan sports coat, laced his remarks with one-liners.
The next day, when 100 donors participated in an informal straw poll conducted by veteran consultant Frank Luntz, Paul finished dead last. Rubio came in first, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who stopped by the conference, but could not make it for the panel.
Paul’s spokesman Sergio Gor noted the event was mostly off the record (though the forum was streamed live online) and said his office wouldn’t comment on specifics. But, he added “we can assure you Sen. Rand Paul made great inroads with countless individuals who attended the event. His individual meetings with attendees proved very, very fruitful and he was well-received by the hosts. Finally, since the event was closed to the press, it is impossible for any reporter to accurately reflect the opinion of 300 attendees.”
Still, several attendees characterized Paul’s performance as a missed opportunity for him to significantly broaden his base of megadonor support headed into a presidential election in which the two major party nominees and their allies are expected to spend upward of $1.7 billion apiece.
Big-money support is seen as a key weakness for Paul, much as it was for the presidential campaigns of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. While there are key differences between father and son in both style and substance, major donors still look skeptically upon both Pauls’ brands of libertarian-infused conservatism — particularly their noninterventionist foreign policies.
Supporters argue that Rand Paul, who has opened offices in Silicon Valley and Austin, can overcome that by looking outside the traditional GOP megadonor community
“Mainstream donors were never his primary target. He is bringing in guys from Silicon Valley, from the tech world, who were never comfortable with the Republican Party,” Levin said, describing Paul’s donor base as “transpolitical.”
Indeed, Paul has met with a number of tech tycoons who defy party labels, such as Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and early investor in Facebook and LinkedIn, who gave more than $2.7 million to super PACs supporting Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg; PayPal board member Scott Banister; Joe Lonsdale, founder of Palantir who is considered a Thiel protégé. Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who has waded increasingly into national politicsin recent months, donated $5,000 to Paul’s leadership PAC in November, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Paul might not raise the most, but he will have necessary donor support, said Aleix Jarvis, one of the few Paul backers among the K-Street lobbying world of Washington. “Money is not going to be a problem for him,” said Jarvis, a lobbyist at Fierce Government Relations. “It won’t match what Jeb does, but I think that’s an advantage in Rand’s mind.”
Yet with mixed results, Paul has continued to try to court allies among the traditional megadonor community.
During a 2013 major donor summit organized by the Karl Rove-conceived American Crossroads super PAC, Paul was aggressively challenged on whether he would support a military strike on Iran if it became apparent that the regime had enough uranium to build a bomb.
The Freedom Partners conference seemed like fertile turf for Paul, given that Paul’s libertarian sensibilities align closely with the Koch brothers and some of their key donors.
In fact, Charles Koch is thought to favor Paul most among all the prospective 2016 candidates. And Paul has traveled to Koch’s home turf of Wichita to court him, playing at least one round of golf with the 79-year-old billionaire. (Paul’s PAC late last year paid $406 to Koch Industries for a “golf expense” according to a recent campaign finance filing).
Some have viewed Charles Koch as a bridge to other network donors. The Koch network intends to spend $889 million in the run-up to the 2016 election on a combination of political organizing and advertising, as well as academic research and advocacy on free-enterprise issues. While the brothers and their network have not said whether they will try to influence the GOP presidential primary, the political world is closely watching its every interaction with prospective candidates.
Some conference attendees say Paul was well-received in a small group break-out session on one of Koch’s key issues — criminal justice reform.
But when Paul defended his noninterventionist positions in response to a question on Cuba at the candidate forum, sources say he got mixed results from the Koch donor network, which has become increasingly diverse and now includes several donors who are more aligned with the hawkish GOP orthodoxy on foreign policy.
Asked about his support for President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with the communist island nation, Paul said “We’ve tried an embargo for 50 years. It hasn’t worked. The reason I call it a form of isolationism is if you apply the embargo … if you do that for China, for Vietnam, for Laos, for any of the other countries that have human rights abuses, that would be a policy of isolationism.”
Levin conceded that Paul’s foreign policy isn’t for everyone. “That’s what differentiates him. I don’t think he came across as extreme libertarian. Rand Paul just thinks we can’t patrol the world,” she said. As for the Rancho Mirage, she said “I don’t think it was a missed opportunity. He tried to court them, but there are some issues — some key issues — that he’s not going to back down on.”