National Politics

Report: Koch network cutting back political spending, shifting focus to local politics

The donor network lead by Charles and David Koch has cut its budget for political spending by tens of millions of dollars and shifted its focus in 2016 from national to local elections, according to a report in the National Review, a prominent conservative magazine.

The Koch political network has cut its allocation for paid-media in 2016 from $150 million a year ago, to just $40 million now, and even some of that may not get spent, according to the article. The Koch-led Freedom Partners did not make million-dollar donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the National Rifle Association the past two years.

The article attributes these million-dollar shifts away from national political spending to several factors. One was that the network couldn’t find a candidate in this presidential election that sufficiently aligned with their political beliefs in 2016. Another was skepticism that their spending could stop Donald Trump in the primary, in favor of preferred if imperfect candidates such as Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

Trump may also make it difficult to win in places like Nevada, with a large number of Hispanics. And finally, the choice to stay out of the presidential election decreased the network’s ability to draw donations, according to the article.

This is part of a broader tactical shift toward local politics and education, the National Review said. It quotes Charles Koch saying he was not happy with the impact of his national political spending in the past few years. Not only did Mitt Romney lose in 2012, but even the massive Republican victories in 2014 didn’t lead to the kind of change nationally the network was hoping for. In particular, they were upset that the Republicans reauthorized the Export-Import Bank, which they see as support for crony capitalism.

This has led them to separate themselves further from the Republican Party. Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ chief political arm, is spending money against a Republican candidate in North Carolina this year for the first time because she has not pursued its favored policies.

And on top of that, executives from the business side of the company were included more in the decision making, according to the article, and they advocated against the kinds of political spending that has brought critical press to Koch companies in recent years. Koch Industries has spent millions of dollars and devoted significant attention to how their businesses and political efforts can help the disadvantaged, including becoming a leading voice on criminal justice reform.

The National Review story relies on unnamed sources in the network, former employees, publicly released donation information and comments from the company itself that at times disputed some of the more sweeping conclusions in the article.

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison