The libertarian-leaning political network funded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch is getting ready for two-party rule in Congress.
The network, which traditionally backs Republicans, is mounting a multimillion-dollar campaign to push some key priorities – such as immigration reform and free-trade initiatives – the rest of this year as Democrats prepare to take over the House in January.
For one, the Koch group will be pushing lawmakers to pass the FIRST STEP Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure that recently made its way through the House, said James Davis, the network’s chief spokesman. It will also focus on finding a permanent fix for the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which gives protections to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
The organization also aims to battle corporate welfare and the trade barriers implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration.
These were the network’s goals in 2018, as Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. Yet Davis said the network is open to working with anyone regardless of party affiliation.
“We’re focused on building broad-based policy coalitions. We will work aggressively to bring together a divided government to make progress on the issues,” he explained.
An NBC projection shows that Democrats will gain at least 30 seats in the House, while Republicans are going to expand their thin majority in the Senate.
The Koch network plans to use a mix of tactics to push these goals, including advertising, lobbying and grassroots organizing. It hopes to make progress on these issues during the lame-duck session of Congress over the next two months in order to build momentum for 2019.
“We see an opportunity to engage the American people to address some of the toughest problems facing our country: a broken criminal justice system, an immigration system that prevents good people from contributing, eliminating cronyism and promoting open trade,” Davis said. “We’re launching an effort to address these challenges at all levels.”
Ahead of this new influence campaign, the network quietly bolstered its lobbying division in order to better work with congressional members on both sides of the aisle.
Americans for Prosperity, one of the groups in the larger Koch political organization, recently hired Mike Dingell, the former vice president of government relations at the National Association for Biomedical Research, or NABR, a nonprofit group that advocates for the humane care of laboratory animals being used for medical research. He also was an intern in the office of former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who became an independent, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
As the head of NABR’s government relations team, Dingell lobbied numerous pieces of bipartisan legislation, including the Senate Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, which tries to modify various programs within the Department of Agriculture. The bill was introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and co-sponsored by recently re-elected Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
In the runup to the elections, the Koch network announced it would be dedicating $400 million to the midterms. During the group’s donor summit in Colorado Springs earlier this year, Charles Koch announced they were open to backing Democrats.
However, the network ended up only supporting Republicans through their super PACs and have won at least half of the federal races it was involved with that have been called so far. The organization also worked on races that are still undecided, including the Florida Senate race, a House race in Utah and a congressional matchup in Texas.
The network’s victories included spending millions in support of Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who defeated former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen for retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker’s U.S. Senate seat. The group also netted a win in Missouri, where Americans for Prosperity spent at least $700,000 against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who lost to Republican challenger Josh Hawley.
However, one of its biggest losses came in Wisconsin, where Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin fought off a surge in spending against her by the network and defeated her Republican opponent Leah Vukmir.
As 2018 comes to an end, the network has yet to solidify its plans for the 2020 campaign, including whether it will be involved with Trump’s bid for re-election.
“No idea yet!” said one network official who declined to be named. “Still recovering from 2018.”
The Koch network did not participate in the contest between Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in 2016.