By Philip Elliott
September 29, 2017

Vice President Mike Pence is heading to Manhattan next month to huddle with leaders and donors of the formidable network backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The two-day private retreat, on Oct. 12 and 13, is designed to help the small-government patrons pick their fights in House, Senate and state-level campaigns in next year’s midterms. A third of the Senate is in play, as is the entire House and 36 governors’ offices. The Koch-backed groups expect to spend as much as $400 million during the 2018 election cycle, either directly on these races or on the periphery to push policies that dovetail with the candidates.

“As a legislator, Governor and now Vice President, Pence truly understands how good policies can help all Americans improve their lives,” Koch executive James Davis said in an email announcing the Pence visit.

The strategy retreat will convene officials and patrons from the major Koch-linked groups: the activist-focused Americans for Prosperity; the Hispanic- and Latino-facing LIBRE Initiative; the military-aligned Concerned Veterans for America; and the young-voter targeting Generation Opportunity. An affiliated super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund, will also be on hand. Each group is expected to play a role in defending Republican majorities in Congress and pushing programs that boost the Kochs’ vision of a smaller government, less regulation and increased freedoms.

These groups are among the most effective in conservative politics. Democrats have consistently cried foul on their millions in spending because many of its donors are never disclosed. Under campaign finance laws, they do not have to be because their efforts, including television ads, seldom are explicitly about the election. Wiggle-phrases like “Call your Congressman” or “Tell your Senator” give them a loophole to say the messages aren’t about elections and thus not subject to donor disclosure. Cash given to the campaign-driven super PAC, however, is disclosed.

Pence is a familiar face for these seminar participants. Many in the Koch orbit had hoped he would seek the presidency — or that he may yet. The current White House legislative director, Marc Short, ran the Koch network for years and is a former Pence chief of staff from his days in the House. The mind meld between the Koch world and Pence’s office is strong, and a Koch nudge in 2024 may clear the field for him.

That’s not to say the Koch groups have been particularly helpful for the White House’s agenda. Charles Koch in particular is no friend to President Trump and didn’t do much to help his presidential bid. The Koch network was unhappy with the failed outline to scrap Obamacare and is teed up to pick fights as the White House lays the groundwork for a rewrite of the tax code.

Yet one of the top Koch lieutenants, Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity was at the White House on Monday for a dinner with the President. He sat to the President’s right.

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