WASHINGTON -- In June, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took a break from the campaign trail to address a conference held in Dana Point, California, for donors to the political network operated by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
According to secret audio obtained by The Undercurrent, McConnell spoke to the wealthy crowd about his opposition to campaign finance reform and the latest efforts to increase the amount of money they could donate to campaigns. He was introduced by two employees of Koch Industries, Mark Holden and Kevin Gentry, who also happen to help run the Kochs' main political funding node, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.
McConnell began his remarks by praising the two brothers. David Koch, at least, was in attendance.
"I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing," McConnell said. "I don’t know where we’d be without you."
At that point, Charles and David Koch, along with their families, had already donated the maximum amounts to McConnell's re-election campaign, which has faced a tough slog against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D). But there is always more money to be raised from donors in the Koch orbit.
Two months later, on Aug. 25, McConnell's campaign reported spending about $237 for catering at the offices of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce in Arlington, Virginia. Neither the McConnell campaign nor the Freedom Partners nonprofit responded to requests for comment on whether this was a fundraising event or a strategy session. The expense was reported in McConnell's October quarterly campaign filing with the Federal Election Commission.
McConnell's campaign already reports renting offices in Washington from two different lobbyists. This makes it all the more likely that the use of the Freedom Partners office was not for want of convenient space, but because it was occupied by the Koch-linked group.
McConnell's campaign and the outside groups funded by the Koch brothers are forbidden by law from getting together to coordinate campaign strategy for his own race. Moreover, none of the Koch-linked groups have reported spending in support of McConnell or opposition to Grimes to the FEC.
But since McConnell's campaign held that meeting at Freedom Partners' office, an affiliated super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund, has launched a blitz of nearly $16 million in spending aimed at the races that Republicans need to win in order to take control of the Senate and lift McConnell up to Senate majority leader. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Freedom Partners Action Fund has spent more than $3 million in the Arkansas, Iowa and Kansas Senate races, more than $2 million in Colorado, and more than $1 million in Alaska, North Carolina and Oregon.
In 2012, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce directed $235 million to other groups working to elect Republicans and pursue conservative economic and social policy agendas across the country. In 2013, the chamber distributed another $41 million to those groups.
As Election Day nears this year, the Grimes campaign has turned to McConnell's Koch connections as a line of attack. One recent ad criticized McConnell for his promise to donors at the June conference that he would shelve Senate proposals to raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment insurance and lower student loan costs.
In his speech that day, McConnell said that "we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals." He further stated that if Republicans win a Senate majority, "We’re going to go after [the Obama administration] on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board."
No word on what McConnell or his campaign team might have said at the Freedom Partners gathering in August.