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Billionaire conservative funder Koch takes on Trump over trade at Colorado meeting

Author: Mark Harden - July 29, 2018 - Updated: July 30, 2018

Charles Koch in his office at Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas, in 2012. (Bo Rader/Associated Press – File)

A line in the sand has been drawn in Colorado between the conservative-activist billionaire Koch family and President Donald Trump over trade.

Charles Koch, addressing the biannual meeting in Colorado Springs of the political funding network he and his brother founded, said that Trump’s protectionist tariff moves could spell trouble for the American economy.

“The urge to protect ourselves from change has doomed many countries throughout history,” Koch on Sunday told those at the weekend meeting at the Broadmoor hotel via a video, the Wall Street Journal reports. “This protectionist mindset has destroyed countless businesses.”

VIDEO: Watch Charles Koch’s opening remarks to the Colorado Springs conference at the end of this story.

Koch, 82, also held a rare on-the-record session with reporters invited to attend the private event.

Asked about his feelings toward Trump, he said: “We agree with some things and we disagree with others.” He also said he believed Trump’s aggressive trade policies “could” push the U.S. into a recession.

Koch interests are funding a national TV ad campaign questioning Trump’s proposal to spend $12 billion to assist farmers hurt by his trade policies.

The Colorado Springs seminar was expected to draw about 500 donors to the Koch funding network who each had committed at least $100,000 annually, the Associated Press said.

Also at the meeting, Brian Hooks, president of the Charles Koch Foundation, said that “the divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage,” CNN reports.

Koch and his brother David have been longtime funders of conservative and libertarian causes, and Koch interests are expected to spend lavishly to support candidates in the mid-term elections in November. (David Koch said in June he would be retiring from the brothers’ business conglomerate, Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries, and their political efforts.)

Overall, the Koch brothers and their funding allies anticipate spending as much as $400 million to support issues they support and like-minded candidates in the fall election.

The Koch funding network, like other conservative powerhouses, is seeing mixed returns from its backing of the Trump presidency. Says CNN’s Rebecca Berg:

The (Koch) network has during the past year and a half fruitlessly pushed for comprehensive health care and immigration reform; and like other leading conservative groups, the network has been powerless to persuade the president to rethink his strategy on trade generally and tariffs specifically.

In fact, the Koch network — normally reliable backers of Republican interests — was sounding more bipartisan than usual coming out of the Colorado Springs conference, given forecasts by some analysts of a Democratic takeover of one or both houses of Congress in the fall.

“It is radical, particularly given the divisive climate that we’re in right now and how polarized and factionalized the country is in many ways,” Koch network official James Davis told CNN. “But we want to focus on aggressively finding areas of common interest where we can make progress on some issues, even if we disagree on other issues.”

In addition to backing many Republicans, the Koch network has also praised North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat,  for supporting a rollback of  Dodd-Frank financial regulations, the Huffington Post reports. It also is opposed to the Trump administration’s former policy of separating migrant parents from their children at the U.S.-border, Davis said.

“What I regret is some of the ones we have supported (in the past),” Koch told reporters, without naming names. “We’re going to be stricter, when they say they’re going to be for these principles.”

Scheduled to be on hand for the weekend gathering, per the AP, were Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Tennessee U.S Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Senate Republican whip John Cornyn of Texas, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.