Koch Network Looks to a More Bipartisan Tone Following Midterms

(Bloomberg) -- The public policy and political network led by billionaire Charles Koch is advocating a more bipartisan approach, even after spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising to help Republicans running in last week’s midterm congressional elections.

In the remaining weeks of the year, the network plans a “multi-million-dollar” campaign to address some of the top issues embraced by its membership: criminal justice reform, immigration and promotion of free trade.

“Americans have more in common, than that divides us,” said James Davis, a network spokesman. “A majority of Americans are rightly frustrated with the seeming inability to come together to solve major societal problems.”

During the past year in particular, the network has sought to demonstrate a desire for more bipartisan solutions, even suggesting it could work with Democrats on certain issues.

The network includes some of the nation’s most influential conservatives and has spent heavily on programs and politicians it thinks can help foster its goals. In the two-year election cycle that ended last week, it estimated it would spend about $400 million on state and federal policy and politics, a 60 percent increase from 2015-16. Besides trying to influence electoral politics, it also works on education, criminal justice, workforce and poverty issues.

Divided Government

Like others involved in national politics and policy, the network needs to adjust to the return to divided government in Washington after Democrats won control of the U.S. House in last week’s election and will more formally assert their control starting in January.

In its latest effort, Davis said the network plans to push for passage of the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at lowering recidivism rates through increased educational and vocational training, mental health treatment and rehabilitation programs for inmates.

It’s also calling for a permanent solution for so-called “Dreamers,” young people who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children, as well as the elimination of what it terms “corporate welfare” in the form of various subsidies and tax benefits.

“We will work aggressively to bring together a divided government to address these critical issues,” Davis said.

‘Second Chances’

More details will be announced in the coming days, but Davis said the effort would include investments in “highly effective community organizations that allow people to make the most of second chances.”

The network also plans to engage the business community to hire people leaving prisons.

For younger Americans in “fragile communities,” Davis said the network plans to support “supplementary curriculum programs” as well as advocating for “reforms that improve educational opportunity.”

The moves come amid tensions between the network, President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee that he controls as the party’s top official.

Those tensions broke into full view in August, when Trump and the RNC both criticized the network after it said it wouldn’t endorse Representative Kevin Cramer in his fight against Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota because of disagreements over policy positions. Cramer still easily beat Heitkamp, who was one of 10 Senate Democrats who faced re-election in states Trump won in 2016.

The decision not to support Cramer was cast as a warning to other Republicans who might be tempted to stray from the free-market, fiscally restrained approach backed by Koch and his followers. The network has also criticized Trump’s protectionist trade policies and combative leadership style.

Koch, 83, is the chairman and chief executive officer of Koch Industries, the second-largest closely held company in the U.S. He and his brother, David Koch, didn’t support Trump in 2016.

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