INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — The conservative Koch network plans to spend between $300 million and $400 million to influence politics and public policy over the next two years, intensifying its nationwide efforts in the initial years of Donald Trump's presidency.
Network officials disclosed their rough spending plans Saturday as donors gathered at a luxury hotel in the California desert. The investment, backed by the organization's extensive nationwide network, positions the billionaire industrialist family to play a major role in the debate over several Trump priorities — even those they oppose.
"We're just getting started," billionaire industrialist Charles Koch said at the opening reception for the weekend conference, which attracted more than 550 donors, each willing to donate at least $100,000 each year to the various conservative political and policy groups backed by the Koch brothers.
Koch and many of his top donors refused to support Trump in the run-up to his election, raising questions about both his readiness for the job and his dedication to conservative principles. There were lingering signs of tensions as donors arrived on Saturday.
Trump's name was not mentioned by Koch — or the four other speakers — at the welcome reception. The group's primary benefactor ignored the new administration and noted instead that his network successfully helped preserve the Republican majority in the Senate.
"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. Because we may not have an opportunity again like we have today," Koch said without mentioning the presidency.
The network's spending plans going forward mark an increase from the amount spent in the two years before the 2016 election, which was roughly $250 million.
Spokesman James Davis said the network would spend between $300 million and $400 million ahead of the 2018 elections, much of it devoted to the organization's nationwide grassroots organization to help educate voters and hold elected officials accountable.
The Koch and their allies are particularly focused on re-shaping the federal health-care system and eliminating federal regulations — two priorities in alignment with the new president. They sharply oppose, however, efforts by the Trump administration to interfere with free trade.
"Based on opportunities, based on our partners' interest, if we can make a difference we'll try to do that on the policies we care about," network co-chair Mark Holden said.
Charles and his brother David Koch have hosted such gatherings of donors and politicians for years, but usually in private. Organizers report that this year's attendees include five senators — prominent Trump critic Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, among them — three governors and two congressmen. All are Republicans.
Several reporters, including one from The Associated Press, were invited to attend some of the forums. As a condition of attending, reporters were not permitted to identify any donors without their permission.