07/29/2018 04:22 pm ET

In Rare Interview, Charles Koch Suggests Political Spending May Dip

He also warned that the Trump administration’s push for a trade war could trigger a recession.

By Kevin Robillard

THE SEMINAR NETWORK / HANDOUTMultibillionaire Charles Koch addresses donors to the libertarian Koch Network at its annual summer gathering in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on July 28.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. ― Charles Koch, the libertarian megadonor who leads a network that has spent tens of millions helping Republicans win races over the past several election cycles, suggested in a rare on-the-record briefing with reporters Sunday that his groups may spend less cash backing the GOP in the future.

“What I regret is some of the ones we have supported,” Koch told reporters at The Broadmoor resort, where more than 500 donors to the Koch Network had gathered for its annual summer summit. “We’re going to be stricter, when they say they’re going to be for these principles.”

Koch did not specify which candidates he was referring to.

He promised to “hold people accountable for their commitments” and said the donor network would “engage in politics to the degree it’s really moving our overall agenda.” The group also spends heavily on lobbying, and on backing nonprofits and educational institutions.

While money from the Koch Network played a major role in Republicans winning countless gubernatorial, congressional and Senate races during the presidency of Barack Obama, the network declined to endorse President Donald Trump’s run in 2016. While the network has had success in stocking the Trump administration with its allies and is immensely pleased with the GOP’s tax cuts, it’s also been sharply critical of his handling of immigration and trade and has slammed a $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress passed earlier this year.

Brian Hooks, a top official at the network, slammed the legislation as “the most fiscally irresponsible budget in the history of our country” during a briefing for donors earlier in the day.

I don’t care what initials are in front of or after somebody’s name.
Charles Koch, on whether he would work with Democrats if they win the House.

HuffPost, along with other news organizations, was invited to attend the event after accepting ground rules set by the Koch Network, including not identifying donors unless they agree to an interview.

The network has been inviting reporters to its winter and summer gatherings ― what it calls seminars ― since 2014, but this is the first time Charles Koch has spoken to reporters on the record.

Asked if he could work with Democrats if they win control of the House, he responded: “I don’t care what initials are in front of or after somebody’s name.”

Despite Koch’s comments, the network isn’t a strictly bipartisan entity: So far this year, it has spent around $10 million attacking vulnerable Senate Democrats like Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, mostly for opposing the GOP tax law.

But the group has also spent money attacking GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, the Trump-endorsed candidate in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, and praising Democratic North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for voting for a law rolling back Dodd-Frank regulations.

Asked if Trump was responsible for increasing political divisiveness in the country, Koch declined to echo some of his top network leaders.

“We’ve had divisiveness long before the president, we’ll have divisiveness long after,” he said. “I’m into hating the sin, not the sinner.”

He also warned that the Trump administration’s push for a trade war could lead the country into recession “if it’s severe enough.”

Standing up to the Trump administration’s moves toward protectionism have been a major theme of the network’s message at the seminar.

“The urge to protect ourselves from change has doomed many countries throughout history,” Koch said in a video shown to donors on Sunday morning. “This protectionist mindset has destroyed countless businesses.”