Coming Soon to a Democratic Primary: Candidates Backed By Charles Koch

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The political arm of Charles Koch’s ambitious network is preparing to start playing in Democratic primaries for the Senate, House and local roles, according to a memo being sent Friday.

The decision is the result of a gradual shift away from aggressive and conservative politics inside the deep-pocketed donor network and one more toward comity and compromise.

Several major donors had bristled at the partisan image built around the Koch network and have been lobbying leaders to get behind candidates that promote progress on issues like immigration reform, regardless of their party. The groups will try to find candidates from either party that commit to pieces of the Koch agenda.

The passage of the Koch-backed First Step Act, a massive rewrite of the criminal justice code, sparked many donors’ imaginations on what other goals could be accomplished if they shed the partisanship and found allies from across the spectrum as they did on the crime bill.

The Koch-backed Concerned Veterans for America and the liberal VoteVets have partnered to lobby for the revocation of the authorization of military force passed after the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks. And the Koch-backed LIBRE Initiative is working with the tech-powered to change immigration laws.

The news of primary plans was being shared with staff, activists and donors by Emily Seidel, the CEO of Americans for Prosperity and a senior adviser to its sister organization AFP Action.

“These recent experiences have shown when AFP unites with anyone to do right — regardless of political party — we can lead effective and diverse coalitions of people and groups to help achieve meaningful public policy victories,” Seidel writes in a memo obtained by TIME.

The note also describes a series of four spin-off political action committees that will give directly to candidates who share the groups’ priorities on economic opportunity, free speech, free trade and immigration.

Americans for Prosperity and AFP Action do not disclose their donors to the public. The spin-off political action committees, however, would have to name their funders and beneficiaries under current campaign finance laws.

Koch-backed organizations had previously bought ads to thank Democrats who had shared goals, such as when then-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp backed a repeal of a portion of the Dodd-Frank bank regulation. But the shift into direct intervention in Democratic politics is a new one. “This won’t be easy. We expect skepticism from those who say it can’t be done,” Seidel writes.

There is no set budget for this Democratic play, but in the past Koch initiatives push into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The network decided not to participate in the 2020 presidential race — officially, the line is donors think they can have a greater impact at lower-level races, but it’s worth remembering just how uneasy is the relationship between Charles Koch and Donald Trump.

What remains to be seen is how Democrats may take the development. The Koch network has been a bogeyman on the left and its backing in a primary may not be as helpful as Koch strategists hope. Still, as the broader network inches away from politics, it will be interesting to see just how post-partisan the donors will go in pursuit of specific candidates who match their specific ambitions.

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