Saturday, November 14, 2015

How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst - POLITICO


Joni Ernst was surprised to receive an invitation in the summer of 2013 that she later credited with starting her meteoric rise to the U.S. Senate.

Ernst was then a little-known Iowa state senator and lieutenant colonel in the National Guard who was considering a long-shot campaign for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. Polls showed more than 90 percent of her state’s voters had no opinion of her. At least a half-dozen other Republicans ― some with better funding and connections and stronger establishment support ― also were positioning themselves to run against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Rep. Bruce Braley.

But Ernst was being watched closely by allies of the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who saw in her an advocate for their brand of free-market, libertarian-infused conservatism. Operatives affiliated with the Kochs’ political network invited Ernst to the network’s August 2013 gathering of wealthy conservative donors at a posh resort in Albuquerque’s Santa Ana Pueblo.

Ernst later told POLITICO she had no idea "how my name came through those channels." But her appearance at the event impressed donors and was followed by an infusion of support that helped Ernst win the GOP nomination and, eventually, a Senate seat. It also represented a new phase in the rapid expansion of the Koch-backed political network ― its willingness to become involved in primary fights among GOP candidates — potentially putting it on a collision course with the official Republican Party.

Until now, little has been known about the secretive role played by the Kochs' donors and operatives in boosting Ernst. The Koch network has focused primarily on policy fights, mostly leaving the spadework of recruiting and nurturing candidates to the party.

But the network's financial support for Ernst ― detailed here for the first time ― offers the first signs of a move into GOP primaries. The Kochs and their allies are investing in a pipeline to identify, cultivate and finance business-oriented candidates from the local school board all the way to the White House, and Koch operatives are already looking for opportunities to challenge GOP incumbents

deemed insufficiently hard-line in their opposition to government spending and corporate subsidies.
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