COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, June 24, 2017 -- The Koch brothers' political network plans to pick up the pace of spending in the run-up to 2018, despite major policy disagreements with the Trump administration that includes skepticism of the health care bill now being debated in the Senate.
The Koch network of organizations –- funded by some 100,000 donors, with billionaires Charles and David Koch front and center -– had previously announced plans to spend between $300 million and $400 million in the 2017-18 cycle.
"We think it's going to be on the high end of that range," Tim Phillips, president of the Kochs’ political wing Americans for Prosperity, told reporters Saturday as the Koch network's twice-a-year conference started.
Charles Koch told donors that the network he and his brother control is growing and getting stronger. In his opening remarks to the gathering, at a posh resort in Colorado Springs, he made no mention of President Trump, who has had a tense relationship with the Kochs.
"We are more optimistic now about what we can accomplish than we've ever been," Charles Koch said. "I see us taking it to the next level."
In Colorado this weekend, hundreds of wealthy conservative donors have joined four governors, six senators, and five House members -– all of them Republicans -– to discuss policy and strategy under the thematic batter of "the courage to lead."
As for leadership in Washington, leaders of the Koch-backed political groups are expressing optimism about progress in some areas, particularly judicial appointments and the rollback of regulations.
But they are airing sharp differences with the Trump administration in other areas, including criminal justice reform, trade agreements, and drug enforcement.
Mark Holden, Koch Industries' general counsel, told reporters that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is embracing a failed "big-government approach" that is "based on fear" when it comes to following tougher sentencing guidelines. Holden has led efforts to reach out to Republicans and Democrats -– including the Obama administration -– on sentencing reform, only to see Sessions move in the other direction.
"Hopefully we can change people's minds," Holden said.
The Koch-backed groups have stopped short of endorsing the Senate health care draft revealed this past week. They came out against the initial House proposal, but relented after changes were made to reflect conservatives' concerns.
"We're still hopeful on the health care front," Phillips said, adding that the bill "needs to get better" from a conservative perspective to earn his group's support.
He called it "flatly wrong" for Republicans to support continuing Medicaid expansions -– something moderate lawmakers are pushing for in the Senate.
"Their position is not the compassionate way to go, because this program is failing," he said.
The Koch brothers have had a tense relationship with Trump, dating back to a primary campaign where the president attacked his GOP rivals for their ties to the billionaires. Charles Koch told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl last April that "it's possible" Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Trump for small-government priorities; the Kochs wound up attacking Clinton in local races while staying away from outright support for Trump.
As part of an effort to patch up relations, Vice President Mike Pence met privately Friday night with Charles Koch. Pence was in Colorado for unrelated political events and did not attend the donor gathering.