The meeting comes at the request of the Trump team, Koch said. No date has been set for the gathering, which has not been publicly disclosed before.
“We are happy to talk to anybody and hope they understand where we’re coming from, and they will have more constructive positions than they’ve had,” Koch said of the sit-down with Trump’s team.
That doesn’t mean Koch, one of the biggest financial players in Republican politics, will endorse the brash billionaire or open his bank accounts to back his presidential bid. In a wide-ranging interview, he criticized Trump’s recent comments about the Mexican heritage of a federal judge overseeing a civil fraud case against his now-shuttered Trump University. Last week, Trump suggested that Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, was not handling the case fairly because of Trump’s stances on immigration — a position denounced by Democrats and several Republicans, who moved this week to distance themselves from the GOP’s standard-bearer.
“It’s either racist or it’s stereotyping,” Koch said of Trump’s comments. “It’s unacceptable, and it’s taking the country in the wrong direction.”
Asked whether he thought Trump was fit to be president, Koch said: “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Koch said it would require a major shift in tone and policy for him to back Trump. Koch said he would need to be convinced that Trump supported his top causes “in a way ... wasn’t just hype,” ticking off as conditions: support for free trade, "free speech," eliminating “corporate welfare” and “trying to find common ground with people.”
Is that likely to happen? “No,” Koch said. “But we want to be open.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement that the meeting would occur "in the next week or so and we look forward to identifying areas of common ground."
Trump's aides reached out to the network “a couple weeks ago,” said Steve Lombardo, Koch Industries’ top spokesman. Koch said Mark Holden, Koch Industries’ general counsel and chairman of the network’s umbrella group, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, would participate in the meeting.
The effort by Trump’s camp to court the Koch network represents a sharp reversal for the New York real-estate developer, who touted his ability to fund his own primary campaign and took to Twitter last August to mock five of his Republican rivals who flocked to a California seminar convened by Charles Koch and his brother David Koch.
“I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers,” Trump tweeted. “Puppets?”
Trump, however, is working to raise money quickly for the general-election battle and is building a fundraising apparatus to collect the $1 billion he says is needed for the showdown with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Even as Charles Koch says he’s unlikely to engage in the presidential race, he remains a powerful force in American politics. The libertarian-leaning Kochs and a group of some 450 like-minded donors have built a massive policy, political and data operation that rivals the size and scope of the Republican Party itself.
On Wednesday, Koch and his aides said the network collected about $300 million last year and expected to raise $450 million this year — about a third of which would be directed to politics and policy fights. It has focused heavily on Senate races so far, already spending $15.4 million in advertising in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nevada to help Republicans and reserving another $30 million for television and digital ads in Senate battlegrounds that will start in August.
On Tuesday night, Koch forces scored their first big victory of the 2016 campaign, with the defeat of North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers, a moderate Republican who bucked Koch and other small-government groups by supporting the Export-Import Bank. The federally run bank helps U.S. companies by subsidizing loans to foreign customers to help them buy U.S. products.
Koch has sought to kill the bank, which he denounces as corporate welfare, and his grass-roots arm, Americans for Prosperity, along with the anti-tax group Club for Growth, spent heavily in North Carolina in the battle between Ellmers and Republican Rep. George Holding. The two were competing in a newly created congressional district. Americans for Prosperity officials flooded the district with door-knocking activists, and they spent six figures on a digital and direct-mail campaign against Ellmers.
Koch said his team needed to send a message to lawmakers who back “welfare for the wealthy that we’ll oppose you,” regardless of party affiliation. “Otherwise,” he said, “the Republicans will just take us for granted and do what they want rather than what will create a better society.”
Author: Fredreka Schouten