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Koch Brothers Rival GOP With Plans To Spend $900 Million In 2016


The political network led by billionaires Charles and David Koch plans to spend nearly $900 million on the 2016 elections. NPR's Peter Overby reports that's roughly as much as the Republican Party's three national committees spent in the last presidential election cycle four years ago.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: In modern politics, $889 million is more than just a ton of money. Here's Sheila Krumholz, director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks politicians and donors.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: It is staggering. To put it in perspective, the Koch brothers and their network will spend double what they spent in 2012.

OVERBY: And not just staggering, but also mostly secret. Unlike the political parties, which have to disclose their donors, the Koch network consists almost entirely of groups that don't register under the campaign finance laws and so don't publicly identify their donors. Again, Sheila Krumholz.

KRUMHOLZ: So much of their funding and operations are conducted in secret that we really don't know who else is behind this.

OVERBY: The Koch organization unveiled the $889 million budget to several hundred donors at a private conference in Palm Springs, Calif., which concluded Monday. Donors were asked to pledge. A participant told NPR people realized it's an ambitious number. The conference featured newly-elected Republican senators who won with help from the Koch network. The participant, who asked to remain anonymous, said those success stories helped spur donors' enthusiasm. Darrell West is a political scientist and author of "Billionaires," a book about wealthy donors in politics.

DARRELL WEST: Essentially we've created a new party. It's the party of conservative, rich activists.

OVERBY: He said the Republican and Democratic Parties have big donor bases. But here...

WEST: You're talking about an incredibly tiny slice of Americans.

OVERBY: The donors in Palm Springs also got to see three likely GOP presidential candidates in a debate. The moderator, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, asked them about the influence of wealthy donors. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said the real political corruption involves government contracts.


SENATOR RAND PAUL: I haven't met one person since I've been here or as I travel around the country who's coming up saying, oh, I want a contract. They're saying they want to be left alone.

OVERBY: And Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said the real corruption was about special access, which wasn't happening with these donors.


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I don't know a single person in this room who's ever been to my office - and I haven't seen everybody here today - but a single one that's ever been to my office asking from government any special access.

OVERBY: But it was Texas Senator Ted Cruz who gave a full-throated endorsement of his hosts.


SENATOR TED CRUZ: Let me be very clear - I admire Charles and David Koch. They are businessmen who've created hundreds of thousands of jobs.


OVERBY: As the applause faded, he continued.


CRUZ: And they have stood up for free market principles and endured vilification with equanimity and grace.

OVERBY: No word yet on whether the donors were dazzled, but the Koch network is showing interest in jumping into the presidential primary fight - something it's never done before. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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