GOP

By Martin Wisckol / Staff Writer
mwisckol@ocregister.com
July 31, 2015 – Updated 9:45 p.m.

When the billionaire Koch brothers and several hundred mega-donor allies roll into Dana Point this weekend, the conservative coalition will have more on its agenda than the usual screening of favored presidential candidates and discussions about policy.

The group, known as Freedom Partners, is taking numerous steps to address an image that has suffered from relentless attacks by Democrats, who complain that the millions channeled into politics by the Kochs and their friends solely benefit big companies and wealthy individuals.

The Kochs’ network of free-market advocates is easily the largest private financial force in politics. The $407 million the coalition poured into the 2012 elections was outpaced only by the national Republican and Democratic parties’ spending – and not by much.

While Freedom Partners’ summer meeting at the St. Regis resort last year was accompanied by the secretiveness that has long characterized the gatherings, this year’s return to the venue includes invitations to select journalists to cover portions of the event.

Additionally, sessions featuring policy talks with five presidential candidates will be live streamed to a broader field of media and will be moderated by Politico’s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen.

“In light of the barrage of political attacks and distortions of our record, beliefs and vision, we are taking the steps necessary to get out story out to the public,” Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis told the New York Times.

The move toward transparency, intended to better market the group’s message to the masses, includes the public unveiling earlier this year of an $889 million budget for this election cycle. That includes money for programs that are not overtly political, such as a grassroots Latino outreach program that provides driving lessons and tax preparation services.

The title of the weekend’s event is “Unleashing A Free Society: Expanding Opportunity for All Americans,” and a press release emphasized that this would focus on “especially the least fortunate.”

The lineup of speakers reveals the group’s early favorites to carry the free-market torch in next year’s presidential election: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. Rand Paul, whose campaign said he was unable to accept the invitation because of scheduling conflicts, spoke at an earlier Koch event.

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