The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Koch-backed network pulls back curtain on gathering of wealthy donors

Charles G. Koch (photo from AP) and David Koch (photo from Bloomberg).

For the first time, a private gathering of wealthy conservative political donors brought together by Charles and David Koch will allow a look inside its much-scrutinized conclaves.

On Sunday night, the group will share with news organizations a live Web stream of one of its final panels set to be held in the weekend at a luxurious Palm Springs resort. The session will feature three potential 2016 presidential contenders: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

The three Republicans will participate in a discussion of economic prosperity, health care and energy titled the “American Recovery Policy Forum,” moderated by ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl. ABC is billing the event as the first forum of the year featuring presidential hopefuls.

"Our members care deeply about the future of our nation, and we're honored to host some of today's most influential and respected leaders in shaping public policy,” said James Davis, spokesman for Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the tax-exempt advocacy group backed by the Kochs and other major donors that hosts the gathering.

“We hope that this panel will give each participant the opportunity to lay out their vision of free markets and the role of government,” Davis said in a statement. “Our goal in 2015 is to help inform the national debate around key domestic economic issues, and this forum is the beginning of that conversation."

It’s a dramatic change in approach for the Koch-backed operation, which has withheld information about previous donor seminars, held under tight security. The events – typically held in Palm Springs in the winter and in Colorado in the summer – feature prominent GOP officials as guests and high-brow panel discussions about economic and political theory.

The Kochs and their allies have also used the seminars to rally donors to support their far-reaching political network. At a session last year, the organization declared its goal of spending $290 million in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections.

As scrutiny of the Koch-backed operation has increased, so have efforts to penetrate the donor seminars. In the summer, a series of internal documents and audio recordings leaked out that revealed details about the group’s June 2014 conference in Dana Point, Calif.