Politico

Documents detail plans to beef up the network’s state-of-the-art data system and pay hundreds of staff embedded in local communities across the country.

By Kenneth P. Vogel
4/22/15 – 1:09 PM EDT
Updated 4/23/15 12:11 AM EDT

The Koch brothers’ political machine is expanding into new states and recruiting new donors as it seeks to shape the Republican Party — and its presidential field — headed into 2016, according to interviews with multiple sources, as well as confidential donor briefing documents obtained by POLITICO.

The documents detail plans to beef up the network’s state-of-the-art data system, and pay hundreds of staff embedded in local communities across the country in preparation for get-out-the-vote efforts that are unprecedented from a third-party group.

The plan comes with a $125 million 2015 budget for Americans for Prosperity, the most robust arm in the network of small-government advocacy groups helmed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. That’s the most the group has ever spent in a non-election year and the documents call the plan “beyond the biggest, boldest, broadest effort AFP has ever undertaken.” It calls for the creation of new chapters in Alabama, Idaho, North Dakota and Utah — continuing a move by the group to invest in deep red states where it can focus on pushing aggressive reforms to scale back union power and government regulation, rather than winning or protecting GOP majorities.

That mission sets AFP and the Koch network apart from the GOP — a distinction to which the briefing documents allude, noting “foes of economic liberty still sit on both sides of the aisle.” In fact, there’s been rising competition between the two as they have jockeyed for major donors this year, according to sources in conservative finance circles. (The Republican National Committee rejected any suggestion of tension with the Koch network, with RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh saying “Both organizations are receiving tremendous support from the Republican donor base as we all prepare to do everything we can do ensure we take back the White House in 2016.”)

The relationship between the GOP and the Koch network – which fluctuates between faintly adversarial in off years and mostly supportive in election years – was thrust into the spotlight this week amidst confusing signals about the brothers’ 2016 leanings.

David Koch attended a Manhattan fundraiser on Sunday for a super PAC supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s expected campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, sources tell POLITICO. The next day, during a fundraiser in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, Koch said that Walker “should be” the GOP presidential nominee. But soon after The New York Times reported the comment, Koch’s office issued a statement saying: “While I think Gov. Walker is terrific, let me be clear, I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for president at this point in time.”

Then, on Tuesday, Charles Koch, in a rare interview, told USA Today that he and his brother and their team are considering donating to five GOP presidential prospects — Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. The Kochs would only “select one over the others,” Charles Koch said, “if somebody really stands out from the standpoint of their message and what they would actually do to benefit America and has a chance a decent chance of being elected.” The Kochs, he said, “expect them … to compete on who has a more positive message for America.”

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