By Michelle Conlin
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) – The billionaire industrialist Koch brothers rejected pressure over the weekend from dozens of big donors in their sprawling political network to back U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying that their money was better spent trying to influence congressional races.
The rejection deprives Trump, a New York businessman who has never previously run for elected office, of a major source of fundraising and reflects how his unorthodox White House bid has sparked some disarray among fundraisers who would normally be squarely behind a Republican nominee.
The Kochs, with a nearly $300 million political warchest, have earned a reputation as powerful allies in Republican politics.
Charles Koch, the dominant player in his political partnership with brother David Koch, told attendees at a bi-annual donor retreat at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado: “At this point, I can’t support either candidate” for the White House.
He said network’s mandate was to shore up “the country’s financial future and eliminate corporate welfare,” a reference to government subsidies provided to some industries.
“But since it appears that neither presidential candidate is likely to support us in these efforts, we are focused on maximizing the number of principled leaders in the House and Senate who will,” he said.
Trump’s protectionist stances and pledges to review free trade agreements and to get tough on immigration have clashed with the Kochs’ free-market political philosophy. Charles Koch has described as a “a blood libel” the idea he would instead support Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee for the Nov. 8 election.
A group of wealthy Republican donors, who paid the minimum $100,000 per year to be members of the 700-strong Koch network, had been urging the brothers to step off the sidelines of the election and back Trump.
SEEKING FUTURE INFLUENCE
The donors argued that if Trump is elected, the Koch network would want to have influence on his emerging policies and cabinet picks, and to have access to a Trump administration.
Over cocktails on the patio overlooking the Rocky Mountains, in private meetings and on text message threads, some donors voiced their concern that if the Kochs alienate Trump, “it could hurt us down the road.”
Some suggested that some donors could leave the Koch network over the decision not to back Trump. Oil magnate Harold Hamm, a leading candidate to serve as Trump’s energy secretary, did not attend the weekend gathering.
Other donors who had been at the forefront of a movement to urge the Kochs to get on board with Trump, like billionaire broadcasting magnate Stanley Hubbard, said that in a private meeting with Charles, they had now been convinced that the Kochs were “doing the right thing.”
Trump has shown no hesitation in spurning the Kochs.
On Friday, he tweeted that he had turned down an invitation to meet with the brothers. Koch insiders quickly disputed that characterization, saying an invite was never extended.
Nonetheless, the Koch brothers also did not act to stop Trump from beating 16 presidential rivals and winning the party nomination. During the primary contests, many Koch donors were urging the brothers to perform a “Trump Intervention,” whereby the brothers would leverage their political operation to support Trump’s rivals. The Kochs refused.
Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination in Cleveland last month, with a speech that painted a bleak picture of rising crime at home and increasing threats from overseas.
The top Koch official on criminal justice reform, Mark Holden, said the speech was inaccurate. “We are safer (now),” he said.
(Reporting by Michelle Conlin; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Frances Kerry)