Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the funding arm of the political network backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, wants a lot more hard information from the crowded field of presidential contenders before deciding what to do with its considerable resources.
The group is pressing every 2016 candidate to detail on the record their plans for economic growth, deficit reduction, entitlement reform, criminal justice and even foreign policy.
The tax-exempt entity, a key node in a constellation of conservative entities that aims to spend $889 million before the next White House election, distributed a detailed survey Thursday to all of the declared and likely presidential candidates. Their four-page list, which was obtained by The Washington Post, asks for responses by July 18.
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“The questions in this survey represent issues prioritized by our members,” according to the introductory text.
The most striking of the 25 questions focus on the U.S. role in the world. It’s a reflection of how salient foreign policy has become over the past year in conservative circles with the rise of ISIS, including among economic-minded activists.
James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners, confirmed the authenticity of the document and said the responses will be used to educate both members and the public at-large. He said it was distributed to both Republican and Democratic campaigns.
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Though the Koch-network hasn’t embraced a single candidate in the 2016 sweepstakes, it has signaled interest in several Republicans. Answers to the questionnaire could help drive its decision making.
The Arlington County-based organization, whose board includes current and former Koch Industries officials, has avoided backing any individual 2016 candidate but helped elevate a group of them.
At a California retreat in January for its other major donors, the secretive group allowed the press to watch a livestream of a panel featuring Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also appeared during the weekend but was not on the panel.
The network strongly opposes the reauthorization of the Export-Import bank, whose charter expires on July 1 without congressional action. Freedom Partners recently praised Cruz, Paul and Rubio, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for backing the phase-out of the bank, which provides loans to U.S. companies doing business overseas.
Under a section on crony capitalism and corporate welfare, the new Freedom Partners questionnaire asks not just about Ex-Im, but also federal agricultural subsidies, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the federal renewable fuel standard, which is big in Iowa but free-market devotees vigorously oppose.
The brothers care passionately about criminal justice reform and have publicly complained that too many Americans are in jail. So it’s not a surprise that the candidates are asked to weigh in about the war on drugs.
There are also questions on the big news of this month, including what should be done if the Supreme Court uses King v. Burwell to strike down federal subsidies for health insurance in states without exchanges.
The questionnaire is silent on social issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, which are important to many Republican primary voters but much less so to Koch network participants.
But there is a heavy dose of foreign policy inquiries.
Freedom Partners wants the candidates to spell out criteria for deploying U.S. troops, whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria and Ukraine, and how far the president should be willing to go in order to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and whether defense spending can be cut.
Asked about these foreign policy questions, Davis explained: “We live in a global marketplace and are $18 trillion in debt; now more than ever, our economy, our jobs and opportunities for countless Americans are impacted by U.S. foreign policy decisions.”
Here is the full text of the questionnaire—
Section 1: Expanding Opportunity for Everyone
Question #1: What specific policies would your administration pursue to create greater opportunity for all Americans?
Question #2: Do you believe too many activities are criminalized in America and, as a result, too many people are incarcerated? What criminal justice reforms would you support?
Question #3: Do you believe current federal prohibitions and policies used to fight drug abuse are working? If not, what would you change?
Question #4: Do you believe federal spending on education is insufficient?
Question #5: Do you believe some government programs or policies present barriers to opportunity for the poorest Americans? If so, which are the most destructive?
Question #6: How would your administration address rising health care costs?
Question #7: If repealed by the Supreme Court, would you support extending federal subsidies for health insurance in states without exchanges, even if it would extend individual and employer mandates?
Section 2: Combating Cronyism and Corporate Welfare
Question #8: Do you agree government mandates and subsidies distort the economy and allow certain individuals and corporations to profit at the expense of others?
Question #9: Do you support reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank?
Question #10: Do you support federal agricultural subsidies?
Question #11: Do you believe the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was necessary?
Question #12: Do you support the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)?
Question #13: Should tax reform eliminate all preferential treatment and credits for individuals, industries and activities in order to lower marginal tax rates?
Section 3: Restoring Fiscal Sustainability
Question #14: What is your plan to deal with the $18 trillion national debt and the more than $200 trillion unfunded liability burden facing the U.S.?
Question #15: As president, would you uphold the overall discretionary spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011?
Question #16: Do you believe the debt limit should be used to leverage federal spending reductions?
Question #17: Do you support increasing tax revenue in order to pay for infrastructure spending?
Question #18: Do you support Social Security and Medicare reform that would increase the age of eligibility and reduce benefits for wealthier retirees?
Question #19: Do you support expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act?
Question #20: Do you support capping federal spending on Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by allowing states to control those funds in the form of federal grants?
Question #21: Do you support targeted federal spending or limited tax benefits to help spur economic growth within a particular industry or geographic area?
Section 4: Shaping Foreign Policy
Question #22: What criteria would you use to determine when to deploy U.S. armed forces overseas? For instance, should the military be used to address humanitarian crises abroad?
Question #23: Do you believe military intervention in Libya made America safer? Should the U.S. intervene in Syria and/or Ukraine?
Question #24: Should the U.S. use any means necessary to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon even if it required the use of ground forces?
Question #25: Can current military spending be reduced without compromising national security?