COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders announced plans Saturday to join forces with the conservative Koch brothers to launch a new $21 million venture to work on anti-poverty programs in Dallas.
The project, called Prime 5, will expand the Kochs’ work with two existing Dallas programs focused on building young entrepreneurs and reducing gang violence. Organizers plan to expand their support to other groups working in the city.
“Football and baseball is what I played, but this is what I am,” said Sanders, now a network sports commentator, of his focus on community work and the new venture with the billionaire industrialists.
Sanders and Evan Feinberg, who runs a Koch-funded group Stand Together, made the announcement on the opening day of a three-day retreat attended by Charles Koch and the hundreds of donors who help fund projects that advance Koch’s free-market, small-government agenda.
Sanders, who attended his first Koch gathering earlier this year in Indian Wells, Calif., said Koch and his brother have been “targeted unfairly.” He described the Kochs as a family with the “desire to make this country a better place.”
“I am thankful to be partnering with them,” he said.
The Kochs’ donor network is among the most influential in Republican politics, rivaling the national party in staff and budget. One sign of their influence: Vice President Pence on Friday night had a 50-minute face-to-face meeting with Charles Koch to talk about efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, taxes and other policy matters.
The Kochs have committed millions to help advance the Trump administration’s tax cuts through the GOP-controlled Congress and are putting their muscle behind several of President Trump’s pick for the federal bench.
The Kochs’ three-day retreat at the luxury Broadmoor Resort in the Rocky Mountains will help the network craft its strategy ahead of the 2018 midterm elections as well as gain support for new community efforts to spread donors’ free-market message.
Stand Together, one of the fastest-growing groups in the Koch network, provides seed money and advice to private organizations working on anti-poverty programs.
Prime 5 leaders aim to raise the $21 million over three years. The weekend retreat will offer the chance to start seeking money from the wealthy conservatives who attend the gathering.
Earlier this year, the network officials announced plans to raise and spend between $300 million and $400 million in 2017 and 2018 to advance their policy and political agenda, a boost from the $250 million they spent during the 2016 cycle.
For his part, Sanders said he was steering clear of politics and was untroubled by any public blowback from his partnership with the Kochs.
“I’ve been criticized since I was 16 years old,” Sanders told reporters on Saturday afternoon. “I’ve been booed by 90,000 that sung my name like a quartet.”
Sanders will serve on the “board of managers” of the new group and said he plans active involvement in both fundraising and management.
Feinberg said Prime 5 is aimed at tackling what the Koch network views as the five drivers of poverty: joblessness, educational failure, addiction, personal debt and the breakdown of the family.
Asked about the group’s name, Sanders, known as “Prime Time” during his pro days, quickly chimed in: “Well, prime is a beautiful name.”