The vast and well-funded political network maintained by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch “started my trajectory,” according to Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.
Ernst was one of several rising GOP politicians who attended a June 16 gathering in Dana Point, California, along with a collection of wealthy donors that the Kochs have helped organize. Ernst joined the other Republicans on a panel held at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort. Audio of the panel was obtained by The Undercurrent and the shared exclusively with the Huffington Post. According to the report, each of the panel speakers took some time out to discuss the state of play in their respective races.
“We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election,” Ernst said in her talk. “And this is the thing that we are going to take back — that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network.”
The Kochs and their network have poured millions into an array of organizations — including Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Heritage Foundation — which deny science behind climate change, while fighting to roll back federal cuts to carbon emissions from power plants, to undo state-level renewable energy requirements, to stop environmental regulations, and to take down various other efforts like Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Ernst has promised “to abolish” the Environmental Protection Agency, she opposes the Clean Water Act, and in May she stated that “I have not seen proven proof that [climate change] is entirely man-made.”
Back in June, according to The Hill, Charles Koch, his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law all personally maxed out the legal limit of $2,600 they can make to Ernst’s war chest. Koch Industries also made its own $5,000 contribution to her campaign. On top of that, Ernst’s campaign took to its Facebook page in January to specifically thank the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity for running ads against her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).
Ernst has also gone on record that she “philosophically” opposes subsidies like the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) — a federal requirement that a certain amount of biofuel be mixed into the country’s fuel supply, and which thus threatens the market share of traditional fossil fuels in the transportation sector. But given the way the RFS has benefited Iowa’s agricultural industry, and the way other subsidies like the wind production tax credit have helped solidify the wind energy industry in the state, Ernst has had to walk a fine line, declaring she’ll “stand behind” the RFS until the government eliminates subsidies “across the board.”
Those stances have earned Ernst the ire of several environmental and climate groups, which are bringing their ad campaigns to bear on Iowa’s Senate race.
Nonetheless, Ernst was able to beat out Mark Jacobs, the putative front-runner for the GOP Iowa Senate nomination, in the state’s primary earlier this year. In terms of polling, she remains in a dead heat with Braley, the Democratic nominee.
“I was not known at that time,” Ernst continued later on the panel. “A little-known state senator from a very rural part of Iowa, known through my National Guard service and some circles in Iowa. But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”
Ernst and Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), another panelist, also both pointed out this was the second Koch Brothers’ retreat they had attended — the first was a New Mexico event in 2013. And Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), another one of the panelists and current Colorado Senate candidate, told the attendees — in what Huffington Post characterized as an “obvious pitch” for more donations — that the supply of “third party” money is what would likely decide his race.
The Nation reported at the time of this year’s retreat that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were also in attendance. A source told the magazine that the explicit goal of the event was to raise $500 million to take back the Senate in 2014, and another $500 million to pour into the next presidential election in 2016.
An analysis by the Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the Koch network raised $407 million for the 2012 presidential election.