February 3, 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Koch Brothers Convene Ultra-Secret Billionaires Meeting To Raise Funds, Plot Strategy


A private jet arrives at Palm Springs Airport the morning of the "Defending Free Enterprise" Koch meeting.
A private jet arrives at Palm Springs Airport the morning of the "Defending Free Enterprise" Koch meeting.

At a retreat last weekend, dozens of wealthy donors convened in a large golf resort in Indian Wells, California for a four day conference to raise money and plot out election year strategy, the Republic Report has confirmed. We traveled to the conference, and spoke to a few of the attendees.

The summit, organized by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, was cloaked in secrecy. Helicopters, private security, and police officers from neighboring cities patrolled the area constantly. In previous years, Supreme Court justices, some of the wealthiest businessmen in the country, and Republican politicians like Congressman Paul Ryan have all gathered at these twice annual events. The Renaissance Esmerelda, the conference venue this year, was guarded carefully with every entrance blocked and the entire 560-room resort rented out. I arrived at the hotel the night before the event, but was followed closely by security and asked to leave the next morning before the Koch meeting guests arrived.

Though the donors will funnel tens of millions of dollars into the election this year, they will not have to disclose a single cent. Using an elaborate array of foundations, nonprofits, and other legal entities, the Koch network sponsored bus tours, attack ads, think tanks, and hired Tea Party organizers to shape the midterm elections two years ago. Now it appears they are expanding the effort.

The most that the public knows about these meetings has been culled from leaked audio tapes, reporting from journalists like Ken Vogel, and from an invitation I exclusively reported back in October of 2010. The document I posted over a year ago explained that during the meetings, strategy is discussed, from legislative campaigns to judicial elections, and money is raised from an assortment of executives from the oil, banking, manufacturing, and real estate industries.

At the Palm Springs Airport last weekend, I eventually ran into Phil Kerpen, the vice president of Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group founded by David Koch. Kerpen, who was in a rush to make it to the event, didn’t say much about the agenda. Kerpen’s group recently purchased $6 million in undisclosed attack ads against President Obama, the largest such buy of the entire campaign cycle so far.

Kerpen asked how I knew about the conference. “I thought they had stopped all leaks,” he muttered, as I walked with him through the baggage claim. Eventually he relented a bit and told me that he hopes to help achieve “aggressive cuts to government spending and to regulation to allow robust economic growth” in January 2013. At the last Koch meeting, an event in Vail, Colorado, Charles Koch raised several million dollars from his cohorts, while reffering to President Obama as “Saddam Hussein” and this year’s election as the “mother of all wars.” Kerpen disputed the reporting of Charles Koch’s comments, but did not elaborate on what the Koch Industries CEO really meant.

“Ask your leaker to post my speech, because it’s very good,” he added, before getting in a car with two associates.

The added secrecy was apparent even to local reporters, who were confused about why the multi-golf course Esmerelda Renaissance was locked down and why the hotel staff couldn’t talk to anyone about what was going on.

The jets provided many clues into who was attending the event. A private plane owned by wealthy mutual fund manager Foster Friess flew to the area the morning of the conference, and left the day it ended. Friess is a social conservative who has gained headlines recently for his massive backing of a super PAC supporting Rick Santorum. He has also attended the Koch meeting in the past.

A plane belonging to billionaire investor Phil Anschutz, another regular Koch attendee and major conservative financier, arrived at a nearby airport during the event. We identified over half a dozen private planes owned by major Republican donors that also arrived in the Indian Wells-area during the event, but none of their owners would respond to requests for comment from Republic Report. Some of them, like Kenny Troutt, a financier of a super PAC that supported Rick Perry’s bid for the presidency, seem to suggest new participants to the Koch meetings.

A jet owned by Continental Resources, a large fracking company that dominates the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota, arrived at the event. The company, headed by Obama-critic Harold Hamm, refused to answer Republic Report’s questions about the Koch meeting.

About a day after our call, a website that tracks private jet flights posted a note about Continental Resources: “This aircraft is not available for tracking per request from the owner/operator.”