[A]ccording to interviews with numerous people close to the brothers, including a half-dozen sources with direct knowledge of developments inside their donor network and political operation, the scope of recent changes extends well beyond their inactivity in the presidential race. These sources point to a mounting evidence —reduced budgets, the shuttering and streamlining of departments, the elimination of grants to allied political organizations, and the departure of top executives — demonstrating a shift of resources and attention away from federal campaign activity.
In the months leading up to the Wichita meeting, confidantes and key allies of the Kochs, including some in the room that day, had sensed this transformation was underway. As early as the spring of 2015, some had noticed a change in the brothers’ perspectives and priorities that only grew more apparent as the year wore on. In conversations last year, ‘there was much more an emphasis on getting back to the policy aspect, as opposed to the electoral aspect,’ says one Koch insider.
Concerned about the damage being done to their corporate brand, increasingly bothered by their public vilification, and convinced after Republicans’ 2014 Senate takeover that even significant victories were having a negligible impact on federal policymaking, the Kochs began signaling to their closest allies that they were reevaluating their approach to politics. They had always believed that building the intellectual foundation for libertarian ideas in think tanks and universities — and supporting important public-policy initiatives at the state and local levels — paid greater long-term dividends than spending on elections. And more and more, they worried that campaigns could actually prove detrimental to their educational and advocacy work. The Kochs’ corporate associates and public-relations team had warned them their involvement in politics could sully their legacies, and now they were beginning to agree.
This reassessment, coming from men who had stoically and stubbornly withstood the vituperation of everyone from President Obama to former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, was for some Koch insiders hard to believe. But it was evident: The Koch brothers, who had spent millions of dollars designing an electoral juggernaut that could overpower either of America’s two major parties, were losing their appetite for political campaigns.