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Originally published Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8:31 PM

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Big GOP donors' summit under veil of secrecy

A secretive network of Republican donors is heading to the Palm Springs, Calif., area in January but not to relax after a hard-fought election. Instead, it will be to plan for the next one.

The New York Times

A secretive network of Republican donors is heading to the Palm Springs, Calif., area in January but not to relax after a hard-fought election. Instead, it will be to plan for the next one.

Koch Industries, the longtime underwriter of libertarian causes including the Cato Institute and the ballot initiative that would suspend California's landmark law capping greenhouse gases, is planning a four-day, invitation-only, confidential meeting to, as an invitation says, "develop strategies to counter the most severe threats facing our free society and outline a vision of how we can foster a renewal of American free enterprise and prosperity."

The invitation, sent to potential new participants, offers a rare peek at the Koch network of the ultra-wealthy and the politically well-connected, its far-reaching agenda to enlist ordinary Americans to its cause, and its desire for the utmost secrecy.

Koch Industries, a Wichita, Kan.-based energy and manufacturing conglomerate run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, operates a foundation that finances political-advocacy groups. Tax law protects those groups from having to disclose much about what they do and who contributes.

The Koch network meets twice a year to plan and expand its efforts — as the letter says, "to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it."

Those efforts, the letter states, include countering "climate-change alarmism and the move to socialized health care," as well as "the regulatory assault on energy," and making targeted donations to higher-education and philanthropic organizations to advance the network's agenda.

The Kochs also seek to cultivate Americans' growing concern about the growth of government: At the most recent meeting, in Aspen, Colo., in June, some of America's wealthiest people listened to a presentation on "a vision of how we can retain the moral high ground and make the new case for liberty and smaller government that appeals to all Americans, rich and poor."

Charles Koch, whose wealth Forbes magazine calculates at about $21.5 billion, in his letter argues that "prosperity is under attack by the current administration and many of our elected officials." A brochure underscores that to the Koch network, "freedom" means freedom from taxes and government regulation. Koch warns of policies that "threaten to erode our economic freedom and transfer vast sums of money to the state."

The Kochs insist on strict confidentiality. The letter advises participants that the Palm Springs event is closed to the public, including media, and admonishes them not to post updates or information about the meeting on the Web, blogs, social media or traditional media, and to "be mindful of the security and confidentiality of your meeting notes and materials."

A brochure from the group's meeting in Aspen includes a list of the roughly 200 participants — a confab of hedge-fund executives, Republican donors, free-market evangelists and New York socialites.

They listened to a presentation on so-called "microtargeting" to identify like-minded voters, as well as a discussion about voter mobilization featuring Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity, the political-action group founded by the Kochs in 2004 that campaigned against the health-care legislation passed in March and is helping Tea Party groups set up get-out-the-vote operations.

Other sessions discussed the opportunities in the presidential election of 2012 to address threats to free enterprise and "how supporters of economic freedom might start planning today."

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The participants in Aspen dined under the stars at the top of the gondola run on Aspen Mountain and listened to Glenn Beck, the Fox News personality, in a session titled, "Is America on the Road to Serfdom?"

Participants in Aspen included some of the nation's wealthiest families and biggest names in finance: private equity and hedge-fund executives like John Childs, Cliff Asness, Steve Schwarzman and Ken Griffin; Phil Anschutz, the entertainment and media mogul ranked by Forbes as the 34th richest person in the country; Rich DeVos, the co-founder of Amway; Steve Bechtel of the giant construction firm; and Kenneth Langone, a founder of Home Depot.

Participants listened to presentations from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as people who played leading roles in John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, like Nancy Pfotenhauer and Annie Dickerson, who also runs a foundation for hedge-fund executive Paul Singer.

Previous guests have included justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Govs. Haley Barbour and Bobby Jindal, Sens. Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, and Reps. Mike Pence, Tom Price and Paul Ryan.

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