The network backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is coming down hard on President Donald Trump’s trade policies, yet another indication of the conservative mega-donors’ willingness to break with the the Trump administration.
Three groups that are under the network’s umbrella — Americans for Prosperity, the Libre Initiative, and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce — announced Monday they are launching a multi-year, multi-million dollar campaign to promote the benefits of free trade and opposing tariffs. The announcement comes less than a week after Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from key allies Mexico, Europe and Canada.
In addition to calling for the removal of the steel and aluminum tariffs, the Koch network will also use the campaign as a mechanism to urge Trump to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), resume negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and lift proposed tariffs on imports from China. The campaign, which will include advertisements, lobbying, and grassroots mobilization, calls on Congress to implement measures that would give lawmakers broader oversight over the implementation of tariff policies.
“Trade lifts people out of poverty and improves lives. It is critical to America’s future prosperity and our consumers, workers and companies,” Freedom Partners Executive Vice President James Davis said in a statement. “Tariffs and other trade barriers make us poorer. They raise prices for those who can least afford it. That’s why this issue is so important.”
While the Koch groups have long been outspoken about opposing tariffs, the new financial investment in promoting this agenda — which an official says is their biggest yet on this issue — comes as talk of a trade war continues to heat up. Trump’s announcement provoked an outcry — and threat of retaliatory tariffs — from the leaders of the allied countries Trump is planning to hit with tariffs, with cries of imminent political and economic ramifications.
“There are no two countries that are as interconnected, interdependent,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “The fact that the president has moved forward with these tariffs is not just going to hurt Canadian jobs. It’s going to hurt U.S. jobs as well, and neither of those things is something that Canada wants to see.”
Tim Phillips, the President of Americans for Prosperity, echoed Trudeau’s sentiments about the adverse impact on the American economy in announcing the initiative.
“The Trump administration has taken some incredibly positive steps for the American economy, but tariffs will undercut that progress and needlessly hamstring our full economic potential,” Phillips said in a statement. “There are better ways to negotiate trade deals than by punishing American consumers and businesses with higher costs. Instead of pursuing protectionist policies that we already know don’t work, let’s help everyone win by expanding trade, opening new markets and lowering costs.”
Brian Faughnan, a spokesman for the Koch-backed Libre Initiative, did not specify how much money would be spent on the initiative beyond saying it was a multi-million dollar effort, but said more announcements would be made in the coming days.
(Disclosure: Time Inc., TIME’s parent company, has been acquired by Meredith Corp. in a deal partially financed by Koch Equity Development, a subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc.)