WASHINGTON — In a last-minute effort to sink the Republican health care bill, a powerful network of conservative donors said Wednesday it would create a new fund for Republican 2018 reelection races — but they’ll only open it up to GOPers who vote against the bill.
The advocacy groups helmed by Charles and David Koch have unveiled a new pool of money for advertisements, field programs and mailings that would exclude those who vote for the health care bill they oppose on Thursday. The effort, which they described as worth millions of dollars, is an explicit warning to on-the-fence Republicans from one of the most influential players in electoral politics not to cross them.
The Koch-aligned networks oppose the bill because they think it does not do enough to scale back former President Barack Obama’s health care policies.
“We want to make certain that lawmakers understand the policy consequences of voting for a law that keeps Obamacare intact,” Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips said. “We have a history of following up and holding politicians accountable, but we will also be there to support and thank the champions who stand strong and keep their promise.”
The vote is not a litmus test: Other money and resources would still be available to Republicans who do not vote with the network, formally called the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. But those who vote with the network will have access to more.
The vote in the House is expected Thursday, though more than 20 Republicans had said as of late Wednesday that they planned to vote against it, which would kill the legislation. President Donald Trump and his allies in the House have been frantically whipping as many last-minute votes as they can, and Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows showed openness to working with the White House late Wednesday.
The Kochs typically support Republican congressional candidates in competitive races, though they have withheld their volunteers and advertising in the past when they felt snubbed by a particular candidate, such as Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire senator who lost her reelection battle in 2016 and did not receive Koch funding for much of the race.
The network has also grown increasingly comfortable with wading into Republican primaries. Network donors have been skittish about advertising against GOP candidates in the past, though Koch officials said last year that they were inching in that direction and to expect more primary fights in the future.
The Koch network has tiptoed toward confrontation with Trump in the opening months of his presidency. More ideologically pure than the deal-making White House, they have been critical of his travel bans and have been uneasy with a support for protectionism, but have spent some of their sums to boost Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and have applauded his attempts to scale back federal regulations.
The group of high-powered donors plans to spend between $300 million and $400 million on political projects over the 2018 cycle.
By Theodore Schleifer