COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As 400 wealthy conservative donors in the Charles and David Koch network gathered at a luxury resort at the base of the Rocky Mountains here, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took to his normal form of communication, Twitter, to blast the activist brothers, saying he "turned down" a meeting request with them.
But officials with Freedom Partners, the Koch’s political arm, indicated that they requested no meeting.
"We are not engaging in the presidential," James Davis, spokesman for Freedom Partners, said.
Trump’s tweet comes after Politico reported Friday that Trump’s finance team asked for a meeting but that the request was denied by the Koch organization. Trump held two rallies in Colorado Friday, including one in Colorado Springs.
Staying out of presidential politics is a shift for the network that spent $400 million in the last presidential election cycle and planned to spend as much as $300 million on politics and policy objectives in 2016.
Charles Koch, the patriarch of a massive donor network, addressed that development at the opening reception Saturday evening.
"Politics needs to be a piece of this strategy, but keep in mind just one piece because if we focus on that we are going to continue to lose we’re going to continue to deteriorate,” Koch said to scattered applause.
“The good news is we’ve built this network for just such a condition,” he added. “That puts us in a position to make progress in spite of the political situation.”
In addition to spending money on television and digital campaign ads, they have 1600 staff in 38 states working for organizations including Americans for Prosperity, LIBRE Initiative and Generation Opportunity. All three groups educate the public and organize and lobby around free-market based policy objectives.
Two-thirds of the groups annual budget is spent on philanthropic and academic objectives. For instance, they fund 300 faculty at universities around the country to teach free-market ideas and principles and think tanks.
While they will do nothing to prop up Trump, they won't work to defeat him either.
"We have no intention to go after Donald Trump," Mark Holden, the chairman of the board of Freedom Partners, said.
As for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, the network won’t run an anti-Clinton campaign.
"We’re going to differentiate on policies alone. It’s not going to be anti-Hillary," Holden said. "We’re not going to run anti-Hillary ads. We don’t do that."
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Top Trump campaign aides and Holden met in June after Trump staff requests.
"It was a good discussion. They asked us to come up and we did and met with them," Holden said. "We talked about the issues we care about from free speech to criminal justice reform to regulatory reform to ending cronyism and trade."
But the Koch network did not change their position or opinion of Trump after that meeting.
"We are focused on the Senate," Holden said.
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In order for them to back a candidate, he or she "has to be a candidate who is aligned from a policy and values perspective," Mark Holden, chairman of the board of Freedom Partners, said to a group of a dozen journalists, including one from NBC, who have to be invited and agree to ground rules to attend the bi-annual retreat.
So far six Republican candidates in Senate races and a couple of House candidates fulfill the network's requirements to receive support. Those candidates include Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio, Rep. Joe Heck in Nevada, Rep. Todd Young in Indiana, Sen. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.
The network has planned $42 million worth of television and digital ad reservations for those races and has already spent half of that.
A dozen elected officials are expected to attend the retreat, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Wisconsin Gov. Soctt Walker, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Mike Lee, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Colorado lawmakers Rep. Mike Coffman and Sen. Cory Gardner.
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This three-day gathering, which has taken place since 2003, is being held at The Broadmoor, a luxury resort. Around 400 donors are attending, including 100 who are attending for the first time. The price of admission is an annual contribution of $100,000.
Even Trump's selection of Koch-favorite Mike Pence as his running mate wasn't enough for them to commit to helping the top of the ticket.
Pence had even planned to attend the retreat but cancelled two weeks ago because of the scheduling difficulties of additional campaign duties.
"Mike Pence is a great guy," Holden said. "I think we’ve been pretty clear tht we’re not engaging" in the presidential.
Trump has long hoped he could get in the good graces of the Koch brothers but has been unsuccessful. He chose former New Hampshire chapter head of Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Corey Lewandowski, as his campaign manager but the Kochs have rebuffed his efforts every step of the way.