GOP Candidates Woo Donors 08/04 06:34
DANA POINT, Calif. (AP) -- Five Republican presidential candidates wooed
donors at a weekend retreat where billionaire industrialist Charles Koch warned
America is "done for" if conservatives don't rally others to their cause by
demanding a smaller, less-intrusive government
"History demonstrates that when the American people get motivated by an
issue of justice, that they believe is just, extraordinary things can be
accomplished," he said on Sunday, going on to reference the American
Revolution, abolition of slavery and women's and civil rights movements. "We,
too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back."
Listening intently inside a tightly guarded luxury resort in Southern
California were 450 business leaders --- many among them top political
contributors --- and the elected officials who receive that largesse. They've
been strategizing with officials at the education, policy and activist groups
that Koch and his brother David have spent years building up and funding.
That network has a budget of $889 million through the end of 2016 --- and
much of it will be directed at electing a Republican to the White House.
And the five GOP contenders spoke to the donor group, answering questions.
It had the potential to be awkward for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: The
Kochs began their donor gatherings in 2003, a reaction to what they saw as
out-of-control government growth when his brother George W. Bush was president.
Until this conference, no Bush had attended a Koch gathering.
"I'm truly honored to be here. I really appreciated the invitation," Bush
responded when asked about that history by Politico journalist Mike Allen, who
interviewed all five candidates in front of the donor crowd. Bush said he loved
his dad and brother. "But I'm running for president based on my own record, my
own life experience." Donors applauded.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who spoke just before Bush, also received an
enthusiastic reception from the crowd; unlike Bush, Cruz has attended these
sessions for years. His experience showed. He fired up the donors by directly
addressing them. Some rose to their feet when he left the stage.
"People are frustrated. They're frustrated because we keep winning elections
and nothing changes," Cruz said. "The men and women in this room spilled
gallons of blood, spent your fortune retaking the Senate." Yet, he said, "the
Washington cartel" has not changed.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another veteran of Koch confabs, said Republican
voters are hungry for someone different. "Americans instinctively understand
that we have reached another one of those pivotal moments in our history where
what's at stake is not what party is in charge but our identity as a nation and
as a people," Rubio said. "And they want to see candidates that are passionate
about that and will do something about it."
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump wasn't as generous in his assessment
of Rubio and the others who came to the Koch retreat, writing on Twitter: "I
wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California
to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?"
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former technology executive Carly Fiorina
took questions on Saturday. Walker heaped praise on the donor crowd and said
their patriotism reminded him of what he saw at tea party rallies, who may not
have the net worth but who are also "fighting for their country."
"I wish the whole world could see what goes on here," Walker said of the
The Koch donor conferences, held twice a year, are insular affairs.
Only those who have donated $100,000 or more to Koch-backed groups are
invited. Yet even those deep-pocketed donors must check their mobile phones at
the doors of some strategy sessions.
For the first time, a small number of reporters were invited to hear the
2016 candidates and attend some other forums. As a condition of attending,
reporters were not permitted to identify any of the donors in attendance.
Most of the Koch-backed entities are nonprofits that do not have to disclose
their donors. The two most politically active groups are American for
Prosperity, which deploys activists to knock on doors and discuss issues
important to the Kochs, and Freedom Partners, which has a super PAC that can
spend directly on elections.
Although leaders for those two groups say they aren't endorsing anyone in
the GOP primary, donors at the retreat have the ability to write million-dollar
checks to boost a candidate's chances.