COLORADO SPRINGS — The Koch network kicked off its summer meeting here Saturday by announcing a partnership with former NFL star Deion Sanders to tackle poverty in Dallas.
The network, led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, is best known for spending hundreds of millions every election cycle on politics but also backs nonpolitical philanthropic activities.
Hundreds of donors, who have committed to give a minimum of $100,000 per year, are gathering for three days at The Broadmoor hotel to plot strategy. Several Republican members of Congress will join them for the twice-annual conclave.
Vice President Pence came to the resort on Friday night to attend a fundraiser for Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and met privately with Koch for 45 minutes. Aides said they discussed tax reform, among other issues, and were joined by Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs and a former top official in the Koch network.
At a news conference on Saturday, Sanders joined a leader of the Koch network to announce a three-year, $21 million initiative to support local organizations in North Texas that will be called Prime 5.
Sanders, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, came with friends to the Koch donor summit in Palm Springs, Calif., in January to talk about work they were doing to help the community. He said he was blown away by the infrastructure of the Koch network and impressed by the work they’re doing.
He said he was invited to fly to Wichita to meet with Koch himself and came away feeling that the billionaire has been unfairly demonized.
“You’re talking about a family that has one desire: to make this country a better place,” Sanders said, adding that he knows what it’s like to get jeered by critics from his time as a football player. “I’ve been criticized since I was 16 years old. I’ve been booed simultaneously by 90,000 … so I could care less.”
Evan Feinberg, executive director of Stand Together, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is part of the Koch constellation of groups, said the Sanders effort fits well with its focus on five areas of persistent poverty: chronic joblessness, educational failure, addiction and trauma, personal debt, and breakdowns in the family structure.
“We’ve been looking for social entrepreneurs,” he said. “We don’t think top-down solutions work. It’s going to have to be organic.”
Sanders declined to comment when asked about the role government should play in helping the inner cities. “I don’t want to get into politics,” he said. “I’m into the kids. I’m into the disenfranchised. I’m into the lower-income neighborhoods …”
“I’m not playing no games politically,” he added. “My biggest accomplishments have been with a team. That’s why I am thankful to be a part of this winning team.”