The Koch brothers’ vast network of conservative organizations and allies reportedly plans to spend $300 million to $400 million on policy and politics leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.
Officials from the Koch network disclosed their spending plans for looming political battles during a Saturday donor conference in California. Much of the money would be “devoted to the organization’s nationwide grassroots organization to help educate voters and hold elected officials accountable,” suggested network Spokesperson James Davis according to the Associated Press.
“We should use this as an opportunity to help us really move forward in advancing the country toward a brighter future, now, while the opportunity is available,” Charles Koch said to the donors at the event, according to Time. “We may not have an opportunity again like we have today.”
The Koch network has focused on gutting state and federal regulations designed to protect the environment, pushing a range of anti-worker policies, and dismantling the country’s social safety net.
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Sean Lansing, chief operating officer for Americans for Prosperity, told CBS News that Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) seat would be a likely target for the Koch network.
“I can’t imagine she will vote the way we think she should on health care, taxes, spending, potentially the Supreme Court,” he said.
Baldwin has co-sponsored measures to protect and expand reproductive rights and health such as the Women’s Health Protection Act, which sought to limit GOP-backed restrictions on abortion care. The Koch brothers have previously funded anti-choice politicians and causes.
Attendees of this weekend’s Koch event, which attracted more than 550 donors, must vow to donate at least $100,000 annually to the network.
Five Republican U.S. senators and two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives appeared at the event: Sens. Patrick Toomey (PA), David Perdue (GA), Ben Sasse (NE), Mike Lee (UT), James Lankford (OK), along with Reps. Jason Chaffetz (UT) and Marsha Blackburn (TN). Republican governors Scott Walker (WI), Doug Ducey (AZ), Bruce Rauner (IL) were also there.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Monday responded to the Koch network’s intent to play a role in looming political races in a series of tweets.
“You get one vote. The Koch brothers get one vote + the ability to spend $400 million to elect those who will represent the rich and powerful,” tweeted Sanders, a fierce critic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that brought a flood of money into politics from millionaire and billionaire donors. “Democracy means one person, one vote. It does not mean billionaires buying elections.” [Tweet 1, Tweet 2]
The Kochs declined to back a presidential candidate in 2016, but nonetheless influenced state and congressional races. Just three of the Kochs’ key groups had already moved to influence races in 43 states by August 2016, according to an analysis conducted by Rewire.
With the brothers’ backing, a coalition of conservative groups raised $407 million during the 2012 presidential elections. Koch network officials reportedly confirmed over the weekend that in 2016 it had reached its $250 million spending goals for the 2016 election cycle.
Members of the Koch network publicly broke with President Trump over his recent order banning immigration and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. “The travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive,” said Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Foundation and the chair of the donor conference, according to the Washington Post.