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Despite Ties To VP Pick Mike Pence, Koch Network Still Refuses To Support Trump

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joins Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Westfield, Ind., on Tuesday.
Michael Conroy
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joins Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Westfield, Ind., on Tuesday.

Mike Pence, newly chosen as Donald Trump's running mate, has a strong following among social conservatives for his stands on Planned Parenthood, gay marriage and other hot-button issues.

Less noticed are his ties to low-taxes, small-government conservatives. Pence has well-established connections to the politically powerful armada of tax-exempt groups led by the billionaires David and Charles Koch.

The ties are deep. But so far, they don't seem likely to bring badly needed Koch money into the presidential race.

Two years ago, Pence made a one-day trip to Dallas, for two quick appearances at the Defending The American Dream Summit, the annual grassroots convention organized by Americans For Prosperity. AFP is the primary front-line group in the Koch network, and this was just one of several appearances Pence has made at AFP events.

"The reason I got on that airplane and am standing before all of you today ... is to simply say thanks," he said in Dallas. When his tax-cut proposal stalled in the Indiana legislature, he said, "AFP of Indiana at a critical moment in that debate came alongside our administration and informed the people of Indiana. And we put together an income tax cut and a tax cut package that was the largest state tax cut in Indiana history. And AFP made a difference."

There's something of a revolving door between Pence's office and Koch offices. When Pence was in Congress, his chief of staff was Marc Short, who later became president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Freedom Partners serves a central office of the Koch network. Pence's congressional press aide, Matt Lloyd, went on to become communications director for Koch Industries. Then Lloyd returned to Gov. Pence as a deputy chief of staff.

These connections have roots. Pence and the Kochs have inhabited the same political world since at least 1991, when he became president of the newly organized Indiana Policy Review Foundation. It was one of many state-level conservative think tanks, in a national network funded in part by Koch family foundations.

None of this, however, seems likely to help the woefully underfinanced Trump-Pence campaign.

The Koch network once expected to spend nearly $900 million in the election cycle. Not anymore. Most significantly, David and Charles Koch refused to back Trump for president. Instead, Koch network money and energy are going to protect the Republicans' vulnerable Senate majority.

When the Trump campaign confirmed that Pence would be the VP pick, there was speculation that he could yet pry loose some of the Koch millions. Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis cut off the speculation with a terse email statement: "We are not engaging in the presidential. Our focus will remain on the Senate."

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.

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