In politics, earning the support of Charles and David Koch is like winning the Republican lottery and advancing halfway to the finish line. The conservative billionaire brothers can make or break a candidate's campaign.
As the Republican 2016 primary race heats up, a fierce competition is underway for the brothers' blessing: The coming months will feature a string of behind-the-scenes rounds of golf, private meetings, and auditions as candidates compete to curry favor with the Kochs. At stake: $900 million, the staggering sum the Kochs and their network plan to spend over the next two years, according to The New York Times.
That's more than double the roughly $400 million the Koch brothers spent in 2012 – even more than the $657 million the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, combined spent in the last presidential election, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In other words, the Koch brothers have sweetened the pot.
So when word slipped that the Kochs had already chosen their man for 2016, it threw the Republican primary race for a loop.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was the Kochs' favorite, according to a Monday afternoon report by The New York Times’ Nick Confessore, “G.O.P. Donors Signal a Favorite: Wisconsin Governor.”
“When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination,” David Koch told a crowd at a fund-raising event in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, the billionaire brothers would support him, according to a spokeswoman quoted by the Times. Governor Walker represents a more conservative wing of the party. He is against a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a stance that sets him apart from presumed frontrunner Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The Times report sent the Kochs into damage control.
Speaking with Politico, Koch associates dismissed the Times report, saying the brothers are far from settling on a favorite. “It’s really early, and a lot is going to happen,” a Koch aide told Politico. “We wouldn’t want to take options off the table by getting behind one of them now.
In a statement, David Koch himself echoed that sentiment. "While I think Gov. Walker is terrific … I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for President at this point.”
Some have taken that with a grain of salt, suggesting that the Kochs are officially undecided, but have already settled on Walker behind closed doors.
Still, that narrative continued with a top Koch aide telling Politico that Mr. Bush will also have an opportunity to audition for the Kochs' support.
In the running, officially, for the Kochs' support are Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz, Walker, and Bush – who are among the candidates invited to the brothers' summer onference.Who's out: Chris Christie, according to recent reports. Regardless of the Times' report, the candidates will continue to scramble to gain the brothers' favor – and pundits will analyze every move.
Is Bush out of the running thanks to a thinly-veiled rebuke of the Kochs at a House Budget Committee panel in 2012 where he said "I love the idea of having campaigns be funded directly, rather than indirectly. And have no limits and total transparency so if people were offended by a large donor, the candidate, he or she, would have to accept responsibility for the message and the for the amount of money and who gave it." Will Senator Paul's recent ode to the Kochs in Time's 100 Most Influential People issue, which Salon called a "nauseating Koch suck-up," help him curry favor?
Of course, the Kochs aren't the only billionaire GOP donors being courted - others include conservative casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Berkshire Hathaway partner Charles Munger, shipping supply magnate Richard Uihlein and hedge-fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin - but they may be the biggest/but they may offer the most lucrative prize.
Whoever wins the Koch nod of approval will gain instant credibility among conservatives, the support of a large political operation, and of course, access to the billionaire brothers' bank account.