By Steve Peoples, Associated Press
COLORADO SPRINGS — Billionaire industrialist and conservative benefactor Charles Koch’s expansive political network will not help Donald Trump win the presidency.
That’s the message from one of the Koch network’s chief lieutenants as hundreds of the nation’s most powerful Republican donors gather for a weekend retreat three months before Election Day.
The exclusive gathering at the foot of the Rocky Mountains is open to donors who promise to give at least $100,000 each year to the various groups backed by the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners — a network of education, policy and political entities that aim to promote a smaller, less intrusive government.
At least three governors, four senators and four members of the House of Representatives are also scheduled to attend, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Republican presidential candidates have been featured at past Koch gatherings — but not this one.
In a sharp break from its plans before Trump emerged as the nominee, the Koch network won’t play an active role in the presidential contest, said Mark Holden, general counsel and senior vice president of Koch Industries.
That’s because there are no candidates in the presidential race who are aligned with their network “from a values, and beliefs and policy perspective,” he said, noting other key factors such as “running a good campaign” and talking about key issues “in a positive productive way.”
“Based on that, we’re focused on the Senate,” Holden said.
An estimated 400 donors gathered at a luxury hotel in Colorado Springs on Saturday, the first day of the three-day meeting.
The weekend’s agenda featured a series of policy discussions and appearances from several elected officials in addition to Ryan: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas. Rep Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado.
Donors are also scheduled to hear from Charles Koch, the 80-year-old chairman and chief executive officer of the privately held Koch Industries.
Trump took a swipe at the Koch gathering on Twitter on Saturday: “I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch,” the Republican presidential nominee wrote. “Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!”
Holden declined to say whether Trump was invited to meet with the Koch network.
Charles and David Koch have hosted such gatherings of donors and politicians for years, but almost always in private. The weekend’s event includes a small number of reporters, including The Associated Press.