Protesters decry conservative desert retreat
RANCHO MIRAGE, California
RANCHO MIRAGE, California (Reuters) - About 1,000 chanting protesters rallied on Sunday outside a California resort where conservative lawmakers and business executives met for a political strategy session hosted by billionaires Charles and David Koch.
About two dozen police officers in riot gear lined up in front of the Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa in the upscale desert town of Rancho Mirage to keep the protesters away from the gated entrance.
At one point, a group of demonstrators blocked the street in front of the resort for nearly an hour before Riverside County sheriff's deputies moved in and handcuffed about 25 activists who were led away and cited for trespassing.
They were then released at the scene after promising to appear later in court, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.
Another group, some dressed in hazardous material suits, tried to encircle the resort with yellow caution tape in a symbolic effort to "quarantine" the meeting, but they were dispersed by police.
Many of the boisterous activists, some chanting "Dirty Money, Dirty Money," carried signs with such slogans as "Power to the People" and "Tea Party Founded and Funded by the Kochs."
The rally was organized by the liberal group Common Cause, which has accused of the Koch brothers and other business interests of using corporate largess to exercise undue influence over U.S. politics.
The Koch brothers kept the guest list for this weekend's private, invitation-only gathering confidential, but U.S. House Republican leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and conservative columnist Herman Cain were reported among the participants.
Previous meetings have featured such Republican luminaries as Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, according to Common Cause.
"We respect all Americans' rights to free speech and to peaceably assemble. It is disappointing that some members of the group protesting today made the choice to not be respectful of the community or of our right to meet," a Koch spokeswoman said in a statement.
In a letter calling on participants to join the meeting in Rancho Mirage, Charles Koch argued that "prosperity is under attack by the current administration and many of our elected officials."
The brothers own Koch Industries, an energy conglomerate ranked by Forbes magazine as the second-largest privately held company in the United States, and are known to underwrite the Cato Institute and other libertarian and conservative causes.
Common Cause earlier this month asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether two U.S. Supreme Court justices who have attended past political retreats hosted by the Koch brothers should have recused themselves from a landmark campaign finance ruling last year by the high court.
The two justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, sided with the court's 5-4 majority in the Citizens United decision that lifted many of the restrictions once placed on campaign contributions by corporations and labor unions.
"The Kochs fund some of the sickness that has plagued our country, especially over the last 10 years," protester Diana Wu told Reuters.
(Writing and additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)
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