Billionaire donors of the world, unite: Kochs, Adelson and others host high-stakes donor summit

The Kochs will convene 450 of the top GOP donors this weekend. How much money will be thrown around -- and to whom?

Published July 28, 2015 11:59AM (EDT)

Sheldon Adelson, David Koch                                     (AP/Julie Jacobson/Reuters/Brendan McDermid)
Sheldon Adelson, David Koch (AP/Julie Jacobson/Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

The most significant upcoming event in the GOP presidential nomination process is not the first debate August 6, or the litany of muppet stunts from marginal figures building up to it. It is not the Iowa state fair or whatever other day-dinner, cattle call, state party fundraiser thing that's on the calendar. It is not any given Trump rally.

It is instead this Southern California "retreat," wherein the biggest Republican millionayuhs and billionayuhs, as Bernie Sanders would put it, will convene the leading presidential candidates and order them to sing in their underpants, walk across hot coals, make out with wild animals and whatever other humiliating stunts they can come up with in exchange for large checks. The post-Citizens United, super PAC era has unrestrained the wealthy from fully purchasing our political system, and that's terrible, but at least we can take some pleasure in the debasement as it happens.

David and Charles Koch will host their annual summer gathering this weekend under the banner of the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, "the umbrella group in the Kochs’ increasingly influential network of political and public policy outfits." As Politico's Ken Vogel reports, the event "is expected to draw 450 of the biggest financiers of the right for sessions about the fiscally conservative policies and politics that animate the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch and many of the donors in their network." Aside from Dave and Chaz, other billionaires famous for purchasing elections who will be in attendance include Sheldon Adelson, whose main concern is the nuclear obliteration of Iran, and the "vulture fund" billionaire Paul Singer.

The fat cats will audition each of the "big four" candidates (Bush, Walker, Rubio and Cruz) as well as Carly Fiorina, another human who is running for president. Rand Paul claims to have been invited but won't attend. He memorably bombed at the last Koch retreat in January: the young man was dressed informally and said to be slouching in his chair, like some lousy liberal Democrat would. Paul has since fared poorly in the solicitation of large billionaire checks and considers his time better spent elsewhere. (His allies, meanwhile, have just launched a third pro-Rand super PAC to serve as a receptacle for all of that big money he is not getting.)

The stakes are high. As Politico writes, the candidates will be appealing to hundreds and hundreds of figures, any one of whom is capable and perhaps willing to donate seven- or eight-figures to one (or more) of them on the spot.

Except for Carly Fiorina, none of those candidates or their super PACs are struggling to put food on their staffers' tables. But this is an arms race. Right now Jeb Bush's super PAC has far more money than any of his rivals' organizations. If, say, Marco Rubio could get a couple of cocktails into a few of the right awful people, he could, in an instant, close the fundraising gap with Bush. Same with Walker or Cruz, the latter of whose super PACs just received $15 million from a couple of brothers in the fracking racket.

It will be an extraordinary feat for anyone to defeat Jeb Bush and his super PAC. The ability to crush any rival with a nine-figure television attack ad apparatus is a great weapon to have when we're looking at an extended primary season. If Jeb Bush is able to net more commitments from these donors over the weekend than his rivals, the gap will grow, and the establishment will feel more comfortable closing ranks around him. There's a lot on the line here for Jeb's top rivals, and if they want our advice for how to appeal to these donors: don't play it safe in the swimsuit contest.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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