By Alex Kotch
The Trump White House is going to be very, very Koch-y.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, billionaire industrialists and Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch made headlines by refusing to endorse a candidate. But ads in U.S. Senate races paid for by Koch-linked independent political groups hurt the image of Donald Trump's foe, Hillary Clinton, whom they criticized while associating Democratic Senate candidates with her. And the massive ground game of the Kochs' well-known political group, Americans for Prosperity, helped turn out thousands of Trump voters in battleground states.
From the time Trump picked his vice presidential running mate, Koch favorite Mike Pence, the brothers' influence on Trump World has grown ever stronger.
From transition team staffers to his cabinet, Trump has brought numerous Koch lieutenants and allies into his inner circle. His taunting of Marco Rubio for being a "puppet" of the Koch brothers is long gone. It's very likely that Trump is eager to work with Charles and David Koch, who represent exactly what Trump values most—wealth and power—which is also reflected in his potential Cabinet of billionaire executives. And though the Kochs may object to Trump's Islamophobia or other select viewpoints, they stand to add to their combined $88 billion through Trump's planned environmental deregulation, privatization, corporate tax cuts and other policies favoring the wealthy to be carried out by his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pick, who recently sued that agency; his secretary of state choice, the CEO of Exxon; his labor pick, a fast-food CEO who doesn't believe in the minimum wage; and others.
David Koch attended Trump's election night victory party. Then on Dec. 21, Trump had an informal chat with Koch at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida (where Koch is a member) about "preparations for his administration."
The Kochs' allies have been helping shape the Trump administration for some time. The liberal Center for American Progress's political arm found that one-third of Trump's transition team, which recommends Cabinet nominees, ambassadors and advisers to the president-elect, has ties to the Koch brothers. These transition team members include Trump mega-donors who are also part of the Koch political network, such as Rebekah Mercer, and employees of Koch-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Energy Research.
Here's a look at some of the top Koch allies who'll be running the government very soon and what kinds of Koch-backed policies we can expect them to champion.
The Koch Brothers' Darling
The Kochs must have popped champagne when Trump announced that Mike Pence, the conservative governor of Indiana, would be his running mate. Pence is adored by the Kochs and their vast political donor network; Ken Vogel and Maggie Haberman described him in Politico as "among the best … messengers for this new Koch brand in a field of prospective [presidential] candidates who fit some portions of the brothers' political bent but not others." Pence has addressed a gathering of Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs' most well-known political group that spends millions on elections each cycle opposing liberal policies and helping elect conservative Republicans. This year he planned to speak at one of the Kochs' donor seminars, where the brothers meet with uber-wealthy allies and pool their hundreds of millions of dollars for joint political spending, but canceled two weeks beforehand.
David Koch gave Pence's two gubernatorial campaigns $300,000. Americans for Prosperity ran ads supporting Pence, and the Republican Governors Association, to which Koch and Koch Industries have donated a combined $10.8 million since 2003, spent $4.2 million in 2012 and 2016 backing Pence.
Pence, who may be an even more powerful vice president than Dick Cheney, will be in prime position to advocate for the issues about which the Kochs care most, including corporate tax cuts, which he instituted in Indiana, and opposition to bailouts and market regulation. According to Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., Pence will be in charge of both domestic and foreign policy. And he'll preside over the U.S. Senate, over which Republicans have a narrow majority.
"Indiana is one big free market, [and] much like Koch Industries, Mike Pence … picks the right fights," said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster whose company has worked for Pence and for Americans for Prosperity. Conway became Trump's campaign manager last August and was recently named a "counselor to the president" who will help "effectively message and execute the Administration's legislative priorities and actions." Conway is also a board member of the Koch-aligned and Koch-funded Independent Women's Forum, which, The Nation reports, has pushed the Koch agenda.
Several of Pence's former staffers have gone on to work in the Koch political network, including Marc Short, who went from being Pence's chief of staff when Pence was a congressman to president of Freedom Partners, the Koch political operation's "central bank," which gives out enormous amounts of money to right-wing political spending groups. Short returned to advising Pence this summer when the governor joined Trump's campaign and will soon take a job in the West Wing, likely heading legislative affairs, according to the Washington Post.