Original Link: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0612/77453.html
By KENNETH P. VOGEL and TARINI PARTI
The Billion-Dollar Buy: About this series
before, big dollars are having a big impact on politics and governance. This
series examines how the new wide-open fundraising landscape will affect the 2012
The Koch brothers’ political operation has increasingly come to resemble its
own political party — and later this month in San Diego, it will hold what
amounts to its most ambitious convention to date.
Many of the dozens of rich conservative invitees are expected to write huge
checks to a pool of cash distributed among Koch-approved groups, potentially
boosting the Kochs’ 2012 spending plan beyond their historic $395
million goal. And it’s also a chance for the Kochs to show off their
increasingly robust political machine, including a growing voter database
project called Themis that played a major role in conservatives’ recent efforts in Wisconsin and in which
POLITICO has learned Koch operatives have discussed investing $20 million.
It’s part of an ambitious expansion of the billionaire brothers’ political
operation that includes the recruitment of new donors and fundraisers into their
network by a development team led by summit emcee Kevin Gentry, and their recent
hiring of in-house political operative Marc Short to oversee the spending of
funds raised at the summits.
The expansion is also reflected in Charles and David Kochs’ bid to
take over the libertarian Cato Institute as well as their operations
steering cash to groups that aren’t
commonly thought of as Koch affiliated. The 60 Plus Association, American Energy Alliance,
American Future Fund, Americans for Limited Government and National Right to
Life have all received funds through the Koch donor network.
“They ask for support — and they get it because we all love our country and
we have a different vision than do the liberals,” said Stanley Hubbard, a
Minnesota television station owner who has attended the Koch donor summits for
years and plans to be in San Diego for this month’s meeting. “I’ve gotten
friends to be involved, and I think others have, too, so I would guess, yes,
Yet, even as Koch World has increasingly flexed its muscles in conservative
politics, its inner sanctum — comprised of the brothers and their longtime
right-hand man Richard Fink — has remained all but impenetrable to even big GOP
players who want a piece of the Koch action or invitations to the summits,
according to numerous operatives.
The specific location of the San Diego summit could not be determined. And a
Koch spokesman declined to comment on details of the summit, which starts the
weekend of June 23, or the brothers’ political plans.
“The Koch groups are very complex in the way they do things. They’re
difficult to penetrate from the outside, which is smart,” said one GOP operative
who has worked with Koch-backed groups. “You often need a Sherpa.”
That’s what makes Gentry, Short and Tim Phillips so powerful. They came up
together in the good-ol’-boy universe of Virginia GOP politics, and they’re now
the Kochs’ liaisons to Washington’s professional conservative class.
A number of sources with knowledge of Koch World — who did not want to speak
publicly about it for fear of being cut out of the loop — said the trio carry
with them the full confidence of the brothers and Fink, and the ability to make
and execute decisions on their behalf, not to mention access to the mega-donors
who make the network so potent.
The roles break down thusly: Phillips runs the Kochs’ primary political
vehicle Americans for Prosperity and Short oversees the spending of Koch network
cash by other approved groups, some of which air among the sharpest attack ads
against Democrats, and Gentry raises the Koch network’s cash.
Gentry’s fundraising appeals can strike an urgent tone, as was the case in a
letter he sent to attendees of a 2008 Koch donor summit, warning that “our
society faces dangerous and imminent threats.” The letter, reported here for the
first time, seemed to compare the Koch summit with the Continental Congress and
asked, “Can a small but dedicated group of leaders make a difference?”
Gentry also leads a sort of informal network of fundraisers for top
conservative think tanks and advocacy groups around the country, including The
Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the Texas Public Policy
Foundation, POLITICO has learned.
In a weekly email to the network, Gentry passes along tips on donor
prospecting and maintenance and cites best practices. For example, in a February
email obtained by POLITICO, he shared advice from a Heritage fundraiser who
suggested his group won the loyalty of a million-dollar donor who attended Koch
summits by introducing him to big names who spoke at Heritage events, including
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Short, who attends the same church as Gentry, is by far the newest member of
the inner circle, having been hired only last year to oversee the spending of
Koch donor network cash by other groups. Previously, the Kochs had tasked a
contractor named Sean Noble with the responsibility. Short — who most recently
had worked with Koch-favorite Rep. Mike Pence, leading an unsuccessful effort to
lure him into the presidential race — has been representing
Koch World at the Karl Rove-conceived Weaver Terrace Group meetings where conservative groups coordinate ad spending.
But Koch World’s expansion has raised hackles among critics in the
conservative movement who see the Kochs and their operatives as secretive
control freaks who don’t
always play well with others and are trying to leverage their cash to expand
“Koch has been angling for the last three or four years to consolidate more
of the conservative movement within their network,” said a conservative
operative who has worked with donors in the Koch network. “That’s why they do
these seminars — to try to consolidate more big donors’ money and direct it into
their projects,” said the operative, who asserted that groups that attend the
summits become beholden to the Kochs, but also marveled at the effectiveness of
the gatherings as a fundraising technique.
“Some of the donors believe giving to one source makes it easier for them
instead of having to give to a dozen different places,” said the operative, “and
others just want to come out to hang with the billionaire brothers and be part
of a very elite universe.”
Koch Industries, the brothers’ privately owned oil, chemical and household
products company, has sponsored the summits twice a year since 2003 and they are
where it all comes together in Koch World. The donors, like regulars Foster
Friess and Rich DeVos and first-timers like Sheldon Adelson, are gently pressured to give while the
invited operatives jockey to impress the Kochs and their donors with
presentations on campaign and legislative strategy.
There’s also a collection of A-list dignitaries that has in recent years
included rising political stars like Eric Cantor, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell
and Rick Perry, talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck — even Supreme Court
Justices Antonin Scalia and Thomas.
Koch summit donors over the years have donated more than $120 million on
their own to various federal candidates, committees and super PACs, according to
an analysis of Federal Election Commission data, as well as numerous background
interviews and confidential Koch documents reviewed by POLITICO.
But most of the cash raised at the Koch summits — typically in pledge
sessions on the last day of the summit that have a revival-like feel — goes to
nonprofit groups that do not disclose their donors. And the groups represented
at recent conferences provide some hints as to the recipients. According to the
documents reviewed by POLITICO and interviews, there are think tanks such as The
Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and The Federalist
Society, as well as advocacy groups including the 60 Plus Association, National
Right to Work, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.
The Kochs raised more than $150 million at their winter conference this year in Indian
Wells, Calif., on top of $49 million at a summit a year earlier in Rancho Mirage,
There was one summit in between, in Beaver Creek, Colo., and even if donors
only matched the lower tally, that would put the Koch network at about $250
million raised for the cycle. That means they’re within striking distance of
their $395 million goal, and could exceed it, given that sources said interest
in the donor network has only increased since Democrats up to and including
President Barack Obama have taken to targeting the Kochs as examples of the corrupting influence of big money in politics.
The attacks haven’t bothered Koch network donors, asserted Hubbard,
declaring, “All this nonsense over ‘Well, they’re oil people’ — baloney! They
will do the right thing for their country.”
But at last year’s summer conference, Gentry seemed to assure the donors they
wouldn’t catch flak for their donations. “There is anonymity that we can
protect,” he said in remarks that were surreptitiously recorded and leaked to Mother Jones.
Secrecy is the name of the game at the summits, much like at the Democracy
Alliance gatherings of big liberal donors: Koch donors are required to
wear name tags at all times, and security officers wearing gold lapel pins
bearing Koch Industries’ “K” logo, roamed the halls at last year’s winter
meeting, removing a POLITICO reporter under threat of arrest.
Attendees are warned not to “post updates or information about the meeting on
blogs, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, or in traditional media
articles,” according to a packet distributed to participants at the June 2010
session that was obtained and posted by the liberal blog ThinkProgress. The summits had gone off without a peep of
publicity until that packet, which included an invitation to the winter 2011
meeting in Rancho Mirage, Calif., leaked to The New York Times and ThinkProgress, paving the way for raucous protests outside the
Rancho Mirage resort hosting the conference.
Attendees are expected to wear business casual attire for panels, according
to a packet for an earlier meeting that was reviewed by POLITICO, but “For our
evening meals, cocktail attire is appropriate for women. Men should wear a sport
coat, though most forgo wearing a tie.” Justice Thomas was the featured guest at
one such dinner, while another included a menu of “shiitake mushroom and roasted
vegetable strudel with goat cheese crema” and “tomato water poached halibut with
heirloom tomato salad and mint couscous.”
Aesthetics aside, the Koch summits are regarded as a holy grail of sorts for
conservatives seeking cash for their initiatives. Decisions about who gets
invited, and who doesn’t, can lead to raw feelings, as Gentry learned firsthand
at a dinner meeting of the Cato board, to which he had been appointed by the
Kochs in their bid to wrest control of the libertarian think tank from a faction
led by President Ed Crane.
“Kevin Gentry sitting over there has never once — never once! — invited me to
one of the Koch donor events that he organizes for Charles!” Crane bellowed at
Gentry, according to an account in the Washingtonian. “Nor has he invited anyone from Cato!”