Rand Paul turns his back on a second chance to beg the Koch Brothers for cash

After bombing his first performance, Paul refuses to head to glitzy Koch Brothers retreat

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published July 27, 2015 5:31PM (EDT)

Rand Paul, David Koch, Paul Ryan                                   (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/AP/Evan Agostini/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rand Paul, David Koch, Paul Ryan (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/AP/Evan Agostini/J. Scott Applewhite)

$889 million. That's how much the vast Koch network has promised to spend in an effort to ensure a conservative is elected to the White House in 2016 and the massive amount of cash Charles and David Koch have reserved on behalf of the eventual Republican nominee has nearly every one of the 16 candidates salivating at the chance to make an impression. Well, almost every one.

The Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce is the nondescript title of a group of donors who each pay at least $100,000 in annual dues to have their money pooled with the resources of the Koch Brothers in an effort to ensure Republican electoral gains. This weekend, the group will hold its annual summer conference featuring 450 Republican mega-donors and a select group of Republican presidential candidates vying for their campaign donations.

After telling reporters that are considering giving a "very, very large extent" to the "top five Republican candidates," the Koch Brother's network has extended an invitation to Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, all of whom have indicated they plan to make the trek to the ritzy luxury resort in Southern California over the weekend to speak with representatives for Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, among other really, really rich Republicans. But one candidate appears to have declined the opportunity to impress the uber-rich and ultra-conservative, days before the first Republican primary debate. According to Politico, Rand Paul has better things to do.

"I'm supposed to be in Iowa," the Kentucky senator explained to The Washington Post. "We've been invited -- it's just hard to make [these] decisions, because you can't be everywhere." Paul, who flopped earlier this year in the first of the Koch network series spotlighting select Republican candidates, Freedom Partners’ Policy Leader Forum, evidently doesn't care to repeat his past blunders. As Politico explains, Paul hardly won over the crowd during the last question-and-answer session with ABC's Jon Karl:

Paul – who had worked to cultivate a relationship with Charles Koch based on their shared appreciation of libertarian philosophies – was widely seen as having bombed at the January seminar. And, though there’s not necessarily a direct causal link with his seminar stumble, super PACs supporting Paul have thus far failed to keep up with the big-money fundraising operations of his rivals.

During the forum, Paul, at times slouching in a cushy arm chair with his legs crossed, gave rambling and sometimes unpopular answers. At one point, he opposed eliminating tax benefits to the oil and gas industry — from which Koch Industries, the brothers’ multi-national conglomerate, benefits but which the brothers philosophically oppose. And, in a speech, he raised eyebrows among even some of his ardent supporters by touting tax breaks to spur growth in blighted inner cities. The idea is anathema to the brand of small-government conservatism espoused by the Kochs and many of their network’s donors, who object to marketplace interference.

Paul’s attire didn’t help, either. Some in the buttoned-down crowd remarked later that his boxy blue blazer, faded jeans and cowboy boots gave off a “cavalier” vibe

Instead, former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiornia will attend the event. Although, Fiorina was not originally invited to the first of the Koch network's gathering early this year, Koch Industries' PAC helped host a fundraiser for her failed Senate bid in 2010. The Koch platform could prove to be a big boost for the candidate who's struggled to gain traction in the polls but who's made headlines attacking Planned Parenthood and Hillary Clinton as the only woman running on the Republican side. As it stands now, it doesn't appear that Fiorina will make the cut-off to be featured on the main debate stage in Cleveland on August 6.

“We have a number of members who were interested in hearing more from Carly, so we invited her to our event,” said James Davis, Freedom Partners’ spokesman

For his part, Paul appeared at an event in South Carolina on Monday hosted by Concerned Veterans for America, a Pete Hegseth-helmed and Koch funded group. So not all love is lost between the libertarian brothers and the at-times libertarian-minded senator. But forgoing a chance to compete for Koch cash is a real gamble for Paul. A super PAC supporting his candidacy raised just $3.1 million in the first half of 2015, far lower than the other Koch invitees. In fact, as Politico notes, attendance at a Koch confab can be a huge boon for a candidate's campaign coffers: "Since then, Rubio has made significant headway with the donor class, raising a total of more than $40 million into his presidential campaign and a pair of supportive big-money groups, including a super PAC and a non-profit."

Ahead of this weekend's luxury retreat, the super PACs supporting the GOP candidates will have to file the names of their donors with the Federal Elections Commissions and we'll be able to get a clearer picture of the Koch network's allegiances beyond invitations to their summer soirées.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Elections Campaign Finance Gop Koch Brothers Rand Paul Republican Primary