INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The donors that make up conservative activists Charles and David Koch’s network are gathering for their biannual gathering this weekend outside Palm Springs, California.
The retreat includes some of the wealthiest people in the country and some of the biggest donors to Republican political candidates.
Called the “Seminar” to participants and organizers, the three-day event begins just two days before the Iowa caucuses, the first major nominating stage in the presidential election.
As a whole, the group has not yet monetarily engaged in this political cycle (some have given independently), but the Kochs have said they have budgeted to spend up to $300 million on direct political activity in 2016. The network spent nearly $400 million in the in the last presidential cycle, which is on par with what the Republican Party spent.
Because most of the organizations operate under tax law that enables them to keep their donors and amount of contributions secret, the people that make up the donor network is not completely known. Their donors, however, have to donate $100,000 to be part of the organization.
What's also not known is how much Charles and David, who are estimated to be worth $40 billion, personally contribute.
In an election where cash is critical with as much as $2 billion expected to be spent, the large sum leaves candidates jockeying for their support.
At the last donor retreat in July, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Jeb Bush and Florida Senator Marco Rubio attended in an effort to appeal to the group. Walker, who the Kochs favored, dropped out of the race shortly after.
With the domination of Donald Trump, a candidate the Kochs don’t like because they doubt his commitment to a smaller government, the Koch's have stayed on the sidelines.
Because this retreat is so close to the Iowa caucuses, the presidential candidates won't be in attendance.
The seminar also comes just two weeks after a new book on the brothers and their political philanthropy has been released. “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer, who is also a journalist at The New Yorker, is an unflattering account of the brothers' aggressive business interests that sidestepped regulations despite health and saftey concerns. It also outlines their financial underwriting that led to the rise of the Tea Party in 2010.
Leading up to the summit, the organization announced a new entity focused on poverty and education. Stand Together will be the latest component of the multi-faceted web of groups that make up the Koch political- and policy-driven agenda.
The group has recruited Bob Woodson, an African American who has been working on poverty since the 1960s. Woodson has been instrumental in educating House Speaker Paul Ryan on what poverty looks like across the country. His belief system is similarly aligned with the Kochs', insisting that government keeps people poor and entrepreneurship enables people to escape the shackles of poverty.
The Koch Brothers have also adopted the issue of criminal justice reform. A long-time Koch aide, Mark Holden, has been spearheading the effort. He’s working with both conservative and liberal groups and the Obama administration to push through Congress a series of measures that are meant to decrease recidivism, reduce drug sentencing and ease the transition from prison.