COLORADO SPRINGS—About 400 donors in the network backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch gathered at a resort here this weekend to hear from an array of Republican lawmakers and governors—but not GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump, who held a campaign rally here on Friday afternoon, wasn’t invited to the seminar, and the Koch network has said it won’t spend money on the presidential race, focusing instead on the U.S. Senate. Groups financed by the Kochs and their alliance spent more than $400 million in 2012, according to tax returns, although much of that money went to ventures not overtly political.
Network officials also appeared to reject Mr. Trump’s assertion on Saturday that he had “turned down” a meeting with the Kochs, saying that they had met with top Trump advisers in June and had at the time decided to focus their efforts on keeping Republican control of the Senate. Freedom Partners Chairman Mark Holden said he wasn’t aware of any contact between the Trump campaign and the network while the nominee was in Colorado on Friday.
Mr. Trump tweeted on Saturday “I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!”
I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2016
Network officials declined to comment specifically on whether an offer for a meeting had been extended but said they were holding firm on their decision to focus on the Senate.
The New York businessman during the primary railed against his Republican rivals for meeting with the Kochs and attending their network seminars, and criticized major donors for seeking to buy influence. But in recent months, his campaign has ramped up its fundraising, soliciting checks of as much as $449,400 a person for a joint fund with the Republican National Committee and effectively blessing a super PAC that can accept uncapped contributions. Top donors to Mr. Trump have sought in recent months to set up a meeting between the Kochs and the candidate, but the billionaires haven’t agreed to do so.
Mr. Trump’s choice of running mate in Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a longtime favorite of the Koch network, had made some donors hopeful the Kochs might change their mind and decide to spend money on the nominee’s behalf. That hasn’t been the case.
Speaking to reporters here on Saturday, Mr. Holden said the network had “no intention to go after Donald Trump.” But he said the network would only air ads criticizing his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, if officials found it effective to tie Senate candidates to her record.
Mr. Holden also drew a contrast between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on crime and that of the network, which has made criminal-justice reform one of its key issues. Mr. Trump devoted a substantial part of his speech at the Republican convention last week to citing statistics showing crime on the rise in the U.S. and casting himself as the “law and order candidate.”
Asked what he made of Mr. Trump’s crime rhetoric, Mr. Holden said, “I respectfully disagree. I don’t think the data shows that.” He added that while statistics show “some spikes in some cities … I think that we’re much safer.”
Mr. Holden also said the $889 million the network had said it would spend in the 2016 cycle was a “wish-list number,” adding: “It was never something we thought was going to happen necessarily.” Only a third of those funds were expected to be aimed at overtly political ventures. The network is now on track to spend between $250 million and $280 million on politics this cycle.
Meanwhile, several prominent Republican governors, senators and members of the House were set to address donors this weekend. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has endorsed Mr. Trump but only tepidly embraced the nominee, will address the crowd this weekend, while Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Doug Ducey of Arizona were also in attendance. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Tim Scott of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas also attended the seminar, as did Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Mike Coffman of Colorado.
Charles Koch is set to address donors later Saturday evening.
The network has spent about $21 million on five key Senate races—in Nevada, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio—and is looking at getting involved in the Florida race, where Sen. Marco Rubio is running for re-election, Mr. Holden said. The network is expected to spend about $20 million more on Senate races, according to ad reservations.