• Politics

Hillary Who? Trump What? Charles Koch Silent on White House Race

4 minute read

Charles Koch welcomed his 400 guests to the sprawling Broadmoor Hotel compound Saturday night with nary a word about the presidential race that has dominated American politics.

Just a day after Democrats decamped from Philadelphia’s nominating convention for Hillary Clinton, the billionaire industrialist made no mention of the White House contest in welcoming remarks in Colorado Springs, Colo. No fans of Republican nominee Donald Trump, either, Charles and David Koch instead are going to keep their focus on keeping Republicans’ majorities in the Senate as a check on the White House, as well as philanthropic initiatives aimed at foster case, free speech on campus and economic opportunities.

“People are looking for answers. And unfortunately, by and large, they’re looking to the wrong places. They’re looking to politicians. To me, the answers they are getting are frightening,” Charles Koch said in one ballroom of the grand, 3,000-acre property. (Rain forced donors indoors, where the mountains and lakes could be seen just out the windows.)

It wasn’t much better when Colorado Senator Cory Gardner welcomed guests, either. The closest he came was to note the next President will impact the country for a generation. “We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us. You think about the elections this November,” Gardner said. “Forty years of Supreme Court Justices are going to be determined this November. The United States Senate majority is going to be determined this November.”

The first remarks of this three-day gathering for a network officially known as Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce were telling, in that they completely avoided the dramatic White House race, now down to just 100 days of campaigning. Charles Koch’s top lieutenants have been steadfast in refusing to engage on the subject, instead keeping their focus on six Senate races where the network of Koch-backed groups — including Americans for Prosperity, the Libre Initiative and Concerned Veterans for America — is working.

Vilified by the left as self-serving billionaires set on perverting democracy, Charles and David Koch in recent years have started allowing select reporters to join the twice-a-year summits. In exchange, reporters must agree not to identify donors against their will and can only attend certain sessions.

The Koch brothers and their allies lead one of the most sophisticated and skilled political networks in America, yet they are parked on the sidelines of the White House race. That stands in sharp contrast to 2012, when the groups under the Koch umbrella bought millions of dollars in ads against President Obama’s re-election bid and spent close to $400 million.

These guests, who ponied up at least $100,000 to back the sprawling political and nonprofit network, were unlikely to be Trump fans. Some were even a little reluctantly open to Clinton, a more traditional political figure. Wall Street donors, for example, have repeatedly cited Clinton’s steady hand as favorable for the economy, while Trump has bragged about being unpredictable. For his part, Charles Koch has said it’s possible Clinton could be better than Trump.

The Koch network, which has funded right-leaning organizations for years, often uses politics as a means, not a goal. Its backing of conservative and libertarian candidates and causes often overlaps with the donors’ ideals on smaller government and fewer regulations.

“I recognize, reluctantly, that politics needs to be a piece of this strategy,” Koch said to knowing chuckles in the ballroom. “But we have to keep in mind, just one piece. If we just focus on politics, we’re going to continue to lose. We’re going to continue to deteriorate.”

Koch went on, sounding sullen about the landscape before his decades-long crusade. “Now, it would be great if politicians were supporting us in these efforts, and a few are, but by and large they aren’t. The good news is that we’ve built this network for just such a condition,” he said. “That puts us in position to make progress, in spite of the current political situation, where, in some cases, we don’t have good options.”

Such an attitude explains why none of the roughly $250 million that the Koch-backed groups plan on spending this election is going to boost a White House run.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Philip Elliott / Colorado Springs, Colo. at philip.elliott@time.com