In an address to an exclusive gathering of wealthy donors over the weekend, billionaire Charles Koch said that he and his political network seek "to right injustices" in the style of other movements in American history like abolition, women's suffrage or civil rights.
The Koch brothers brought together a group of 450 conservatives who had donated at least $100,000 to groups backed by Charles Koch and his brother, David, and invited several Republican presidential candidates to address them.
Koch told the donors, "Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women's suffrage movement, the civil rights movement," according to the Washington Post. "All of these struck a moral chord with the American people."
The so-called injustice the Koch brothers are fighting is excessive government regulation, and they argue their work to undo those regulations through their massive political network will benefit poor Americans. Freedom Partners is expected to spend nearly $900 million on the 2016 election.
That made the Koch retreat popular with GOP candidates, five of whom spoke to the donors over the course of the two-day event. Reporters were allowed to view some of the events for the first time.
Some highlights from their Q&A sessions with Politico's Mike Allen included:
- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said President Obama's push for steeper reductions in carbon emissions is "a disaster" and predicted the courts would find that the president had overstepped his constitutional authority. Both Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the new environmental rules would hurt Americans by increasing their utility costs.
- Bush also defended the vast amount of money his super PAC, Right to Rise is raising. "You might as well front load it if you can," he said. "I'm not running to come in third. I'm not running to have it on my résumé that I ran for president."
- Both Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, talked about the Senate's efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, which could spill into budget fights this fall. The two senators said that the media shouldn't be asking Republicans whether they were willing to shut down the government to defund the group. "The question that should be asked of every Democrat 'Why are you being forced to shut down the federal government to allow taxpayer dollars to go to Planned Parenthood which is caught on video confessing to multiple felonies?" Cruz said.
- Rubio said he personally knows people who feel like they are being racially profiled by police, which he said is "deeply disturbing." But he also said he's not sure Congress has a role to play in the current debates over race and policing. "I don't know if there is a law we can pass in Congress to change that," he said. "But I do think it is incumbent upon local communities to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community that they are there to serve and protect," Rubio said.
- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker once again said he isn't sure whether President Obama is a Christian but presumes he is. He also said he'd love to have fellow GOP candidates Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson in his cabinet if elected president.
- Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard executive, took a swipe at Bush, referencing the "festering problems in Washington, D.C." and saying she would ask the former governor, "Why do you think you are the Bush that can change that?" As for whether there's too much money in politics, Fiorina said, "honestly, I think it's the wrong question" and that the media only focuses on major conservative donors, not liberals.
Donald Trump, the wealthy businessman and one of the GOP candidates, took aim at his fellow Republicans who decided to attend the event, suggesting they were "puppets" of the Kochs. Trump has bragged about his ability to self-finance his campaign, saying he won't be beholden to donors like other candidates. But he was also shut out from the weekend event and the Kochs will not give him access to their extensive database of voter information.