It’s Election Day 2015 — and the Kochs have a lot of money on the line. It may be an off-year election, but Charles and David Koch are as invested as ever. Though they downplay the extent of their influence and impact of their machinations, up and down the ticket — from Colorado and Utah, to Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia — Charles and David Koch are using sizable investments and politically-weaponized front groups to influence electoral outcomes and advance their selfish agenda.
The Kochs get a lot attention — deservedly — for their massive investments in congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential elections, but they aren’t afraid to get local, either. The Koch’s Americans for Prosperity dropped big money in Jefferson County, Colorado, turning the school board election into “a money-soaked proxy war.” In Douglas County, CO, AFP’s spent more than $130,000. And over in Utah, AFP’s been lobbying hard against a gas tax ballot initiative.
Back East, the Kochs have spent heavily on digital ads and a direct mail campaign in Kentucky, looking to boost Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin. And down in Mississippi, AFP’s been pumping money into KidsFirst Mississippi, a group that’s launched a digital and TV ad campaign opposing a ballot initiative that “would require the state to provide ‘an adequate and efficient system of public schools,’ and allow people to sue if funding falls short,” according to the AP.
But it’s Virginia that’s been the Kochs’ big experiment this cycle. The billionaires are using the 2015 election to “experiment, take whatever lessons they learn, good or bad, and get back to work” in 2016, reports CNN. The Kochs are literally playing a game at the expense of Virginia’s working families — testing out tactics so they can take their electoral engineering national in 2016.
Across the country, the Kochs have spent 2015 looking to exert influence at every level of government, anywhere they see an opportunity. But none of Charles and David’s plotting and political maneuvering is about promoting public welfare, or the betterment of American families — it’s all about the Kochs’ self-interest. It’s all about boosting their profit margins at the expense of anyone who gets in their way.
AFP And Other Koch Groups Spent Large Sums To Support Incumbents In Jefferson And Douglas County’s School Board Elections
New York Times: “Jefferson County, Just West Of Denver, Has Become A Money-Soaked Proxy War Between Union Supporters And Conservative Groups Like The Koch-Backed Americans For Prosperity.” According to the New York Times, “But the vote here in Jefferson County, just west of Denver, has become a money-soaked proxy war between union supporters and conservative groups like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, testing whether parents in an election-year battleground believe a rightward turn in their schools has gone too far.” [New York Times, 10/28/15]
- Jefferson County High School Teacher: “Never Has So Much Outside Money Been Spent On School Board Elections. […] Voters Need To Ask Themselves Why A Group In Virginia — With No Ties To Jeffco — Is Involved In This Local Election.”According to an opinion by Golden High School English teacher Tammie Peters for the Denver Post, “Never has so much outside money been spent on school board elections. Residents of Jefferson County have received mock newspapers and glossy flyers, all paid for by Americans for Prosperity. Voters need to ask themselves why a group in Virginia — with no ties to Jeffco — is involved in this local election. AFP is a conservative political advocacy group, not an education group.” [Tammie Peters – Denver Post, 10/9/15]
- In The Douglas County School Board Election, Candidates Raised Less Than $80,000; AFP Said It Would Spend “In The ‘Low Six Figures’” In Support Of The Incumbents.According to Chalkbeat Colorado, “Three incumbents seeking election to the Douglas County school board have raised only about $12,000 in campaign contributions, compared to a total of just over $64,000 for their three challengers. But the figures don’t reflect the reality of campaigning in the suburban district, where outside groups are heavily involved in producing campaign materials and TV ads. Some of those groups will have to report their income and spending, but not until next January. Others will never have to file disclosures. Growing involvement by outside groups and inconsistent state reporting requirements make it difficult to track total spending in Dougco and other districts. One group, Americans for Prosperity, is supporting the incumbents and says it will spend in the ‘low six figures.’ The group is one of those that won’t have to report.” [Chalkbeat Colorado, 10/31/15]
- The Koch-Tied AFP, Kids Are First Jeffco And Colorado Independent Action Spent Over A Quarter Million Dollars— At Least— On The Jeffco Recall.According to the Colorado Independent, “Another dark money group, Americans for Prosperity, is running videos on social media in support of the actions of the Jeffco board: ‘Accountability’ and ‘Grateful,’ both which can be found on YouTube. The AFP Foundation also put out three mailers in the past month in support of the board majority reforms and is running TV and cable ads as well. In the CPR report, AFP estimated it would spend less than $250,000 on those ads and mailers. The Colorado Ethics Watch documents details $132,314 in Comcast buys for Americans for Prosperity and tied to the Jeffco recall. Another $8,624 was spent in Douglas County. The grand total for the Jeffco recall from the AFP, Kids are First Jeffco and Colorado Independent Action is at least $261,602.00. […] Colorado Independent Action and Kids are First Jeffco, through the Independence Institute, also are tied to the Koch brothers.” [Colorado Independent, 10/30/15]
AFP Worked To Opposed A Republican Mayor’s Attempt To Fix Colorado Springs’ Crumbling Roads
Headline: “The Potholes Of Colorado Springs Draw The Attention Of Koch Brothers’ Group.” [Washington Post, 10/3/15]
- AFP’s Involvement In A Municipal Infrastructure Issue In Colorado Springs Spotlighted How AFP Was “Seizing On Local Issues Across The Country As It Works To Build A Permanent Grass-Roots Army.” According to the Washington Post, “This much everyone can agree on: The streets of this large city on the Rocky Mountain Front Range are a wreck. […] But when this city’s newly elected conservative mayor urged voters to approve an increase in the sales tax to pay to improve the roads, he drew fire from an unexpected source: a branch of Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative advocacy group backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. The group’s involvement in a municipal infrastructure issue spotlights how AFP is seizing on local issues across the country as it works to build a permanent grass-roots army.” [Washington Post, 10/3/15]
Mayor John Suthers Proposed Voters Approve A 0.62% Increase In The City’s Sales Tax For Five Years, Which Would Generate About $50 Million Per Year That Would Be Socked Into Street Upgrades Exclusively. According to a post on the Colorado Springs Independent Blog, “There’s no need for a tax increase to fix the crumbling roads in Colorado Springs, according to Americans For Prosperity, the Koch brothers-funded ultra conservative activist group. But Mayor John Suthers begs to differ and spent some time this afternoon talking to reporters to explain his position. Suthers is proposing voters approve a .62 of a percent increase in the city’s sales tax for five years, which would generate about $50 million per year that would be socked into street upgrades exclusively. Voters will have their say at the Nov. 3 election.” [Colorado Springs Independent Blog, 8/13/15]
- AFP-Colorado Contracted A CPA To Audit The City’s Budget. According to a post on the Colorado Springs Independent Blog, “First, the AFP news release: Assuming that a tax increase is the best way to pay for local infrastructure repairs, on Tuesday the Colorado Springs City Council voted 8-1 to put a measure on the ballot to increase the city sales tax. According to Steven Anderson CPA, who was contracted by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Colorado to audit the City’s budget, more than enough money is available to cover improvements.” [Colorado Springs Independent Blog, 8/13/15]
- Suthers: AFP’s Had “Very Uninformed” And “Bizarre” Contentions, Such As The Apparent Call To Recover $20+ Million In Property Taxes Lost By Granting Exemptions, Which Would Make Colorado Springs The Only Entity In The State To Tax Meaning Nonprofits, Churches, Government Agencies And The Military.According to a post on the Colorado Springs Independent Blog, “But now to Suthers. Calling the AFP’s contentions ‘very uninformed’ and ‘bizarre,’ Suthers says much of what the AFP contends is indecipherable in terms of what they’re talking about. For example, AFP recommends the city ‘recover $20+ million in property taxes lost by granting exclusions.’ ‘I think they’re talking about exemptions,’ Suthers says, meaning nonprofits, churches, government agencies and the military. ‘If we as a city made the decision to do so [collect property taxes from those entities] we would be the only entity in the state of Colorado doing that. I don’t think for a second people would want to tax churches.’ Suthers notes such a change would require a vote of the people.” [Colorado Springs Independent Blog, 8/13/15]
The Colorado Springs Independent Endorsed Initiative 2C, Which Had “Broad Support” “Despite Money And Attention From The Koch Brothers And Their Notorious Americans For Prosperity PAC.” According to the Colorado Springs Independent, “No ballot measure in the region comes close to the significance — and pure dollars — of 2C. The measure asks voters to approve a sales tax increase of less than 1 percent (projected to total $50 million annually for five years, renewable thereafter) to begin catching up with resurfacing and upgrading neglected roads and bridges. This was the main plank of Mayor John Suthers’ campaign this spring, when he emphasized crumbling infrastructure as the city’s most pressing issue. Suthers was elected with almost 68 percent of the runoff vote, a mandate to pursue his top priorities. He never skirted the idea that a tax increase was the best way to make a dent in citywide problems — and he pushed 2C onto this ballot shortly after taking office. There is some opposition from the anti-tax crowd, which is trying to ignite the masses. Despite money and attention from the Koch brothers and their notorious Americans for Prosperity PAC, 2C’s backers have raised far more money and polling indicates it has broad support. That’s because it’s hard to criticize the proposal. All money must go toward fixing roads and bridges, meaning zero for new hires. And it means no bonding debt for the city. […] Vote YES.” [Colorado Springs Independent, 10/14/15]
AFP Made A Significant Investment In Efforts To Support Matt Bevin And Oppose Jack Conway
According to Louisville NPR, “‘We are just going house-to-house and asking people two really quick questions about what their issue is and who they plan on voting for for governor,’ she said. […] Another reason labor union allies are stepping up their ground game is that there are canvassers organizing on the other side. ‘We’ve been hitting tens of thousands of doors on this issue specifically,’ said Julia Crigler, an organizer with Kentucky’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity.” [Louisville NPR, 10/26/15]
- AFP-Kentucky “Launched A Digital And Direct-Mail Campaign” Ahead Of The State’s “Fancy Farm Festivities, Hoping To Connect Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway With President Barack Obama.”According to Pure Politics, “The Kentucky chapter of the conservative 501(c)(4) Americans for Prosperity has launched a digital and direct-mail campaign ahead of this year’s Fancy Farm festivities, hoping to connect Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway with President Barack Obama in the minds of voters.” [Pure Politics – CN 2, 7/25/15]
- AFP-Kentucky State Director Julia Crigler: AFP “Made A Significant Investment” In The Ad Against Jack Conway In Order To Reach A Statewide Audience.According to Pure Politics, “The Kentucky chapter of the conservative 501(c )(4) Americans for Prosperity has launched a digital and direct-mail campaign ahead of this year’s Fancy Farm festivities, hoping to connect Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway with President Barack Obama in the minds of voters […] Julia Crigler, AFP Kentucky state director, said the group has ‘made a significant investment’ in the Web ad to reach a statewide audience. […] AFP will also send direct-mail pieces to about 20,000 residents next week, inviting them to the annual Fancy Farm picnic on Aug. 1.” [Pure Politics – CN 2, 7/25/15]
- AFP-Kentucky’s Field Efforts Included Door-To-Door Outreach And A Direct-Mail Campaign Highlighting Conway’s Stance On School Choice. According to cn|2, “The issue is also a key part of AFP Kentucky’s field efforts this election cycle, which includes door-to-door outreach and a direct-mail campaign highlighting Conway’s stance on school choice. ‘Frankfort has forced Kentucky kids into failing schools and we are calling on Attorney GeneralJack Conway to support funding for charter schools and education choices for families,’ Julia Crigler, AFP Kentucky’s state director, said in a statement. ‘If career politicians can’t protect our children, then which interests are they protecting? ‘Zip codes should not determine the future of Kentucky kids and we know providing more choices to families will create opportunity for all — education equality means jobs.’” [cn|2, 10/17/15]
AFP Set Up A Shadow Group To Oppose An Initiative To Support An Adequate And Efficient System Of Public Schools
KidsFirst Mississippi Was Working Against An Initiative That “Would Require The State To Provide ‘An Adequate And Efficient System Of Public Schools,’ And Allow People To Sue If Funding Falls Short.” According to the Associated Press, “Initiative 42 would require the state to provide ‘an adequate and efficient system of public schools,’ and allow people to sue if funding falls short. Supporters say students are shortchanged because lawmakers don’t provide as much money as Mississippi’s school funding formula demands. […] [Lt Gov. Tate] Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn have urged opponents of Initiative 42 to donate to a political action committee linked to a GOP-leaning group. It has yet to disclose any contributions, but announced Friday that it has begun airing television ads. Another group working against the initiative, KidsFirst Mississippi, has reported $1,700 in contributions, including $979.54 from Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy arm of conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.” [Associated Press, 10/3/15]
KidsFirst Mississippi Was “Financed By Exactly Two Donors”: AFP-MS Director Russ Latino And AFP. According to the Jackson Free Press, “While Improve Mississippi seems to be the local bundler for cash committed against Initiative 42, the KidsFirst Mississippi Political Initiative Committee, formed on July 31, 2015, is financed by exactly two donors. Its director, Russ Latino, put in $3,176.62 this year, and the Koch brothers’ national advocacy organization, Americans for Prosperity, donated $119,370.38 between Sept. 16, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2015. […] Latino, the Mississippi director for Americans for Prosperity, is also the director for KidsFirst Mississippi and two other PACs, Forward Mississippi, which donates only to Republican candidates, and Russ PAC, formed in 2010, which has two reports in 2011 on the Secretary of State’s website.” [Jackson Free Press, 10/14/15]
- AFP Put Out A Press Release On Behalf Of KidsFirst Mississippi, Promoting Their Purchase Of “A Substantial Broadcast And Digital Advertising Effort.” According to a post on the Americans for Prosperity website, “KidsFirst Mississippi, a political issue committee engaged in the public debate on Initiative 42, launched a substantial broadcast and digital advertising effort Wednesday to warn voters of the consequences of the Initiative.” [Americans for Prosperity, 10/14/15]
- KidsFirst Reported Only $159.50 In Total Expenditures But Showed Only $110,285.00 Cash On Hand, A Difference Of Over $12,000.00.According to the Jackson Free Press, “Its director, Russ Latino, put in $3,176.62 this year, and the Koch brothers’ national advocacy organization, Americans for Prosperity, donated $119,370.38 between Sept. 16, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2015. KidsFirst has reported only $159.50 in total expenditures as of its September report, but shows only $110,285.00 cash on hand; a difference of $12,102.50.” [Jackson Free Press, 10/14/15]
- While Latino Claimed 42 Would Give A Lone Hinds County Judge “Limitless Authority,” In Reality, The Issue Would Go To Hinds County Chancery Court Only If Legislators Ignored The Law.According to the Jackson Free Press, “Latino did not respond to the JFP for this story. His stance on Initiative 42 is clear, however, in recent columns onbamsouth.com and the Madison County Journal. On Oct. 6, Latino wrote in the Madison County Journal, focusing on the lone Hinds County judge the initiative’s opponents claim will control MAEP money: “Because of how broad this new judicial power is, a judge will have limitless authority to engage in education decisions that will affect our children, our schools and our economy.” In reality, the issue would go to Hinds County Chancery Court because the Legislature is in Jackson, and only if legislators continued to ignore the law after the initiative passed. That court’s decision could be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.” [Jackson Free Press, 10/14/15]
AFP Vowed To Fight Against A Gas Tax Increase Which The Salt Lake Chamber Defended As Of Vital Importance
Salt Lake Chamber CEO Lane Beattie: State Gasoline Taxes Have Not Kept Up With Local Needs And Cities Have Deferred Many Projects And Maintenance— “Nothing Is More Important To A Strong Economy Or Directly Impacts It More Than Mobility And Good Transportation Infrastructure.” According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “The new Utahns for Responsible Transportation Investments will be led by Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, and Ron Jibson, the chairman, president and CEO of Questar. ‘We’re prepared, as a business community, to lead out in showing why investing today will save taxpayer dollars tomorrow,’ Jibson said in a news release. ‘Nothing is more important to a strong economy or directly impacts it more than mobility and good transportation infrastructure,’ Beattie said. ‘It’s simple: If customers or employees can’t get to businesses, they can’t do business. If businesses can’t get services and goods to their customers, they can’t do business. That’s why we need voters to support this initiative,’ Beattie said. He added that while businesses are cautious about any new taxes, they support this one because state gasoline taxes have not kept up with local needs and cities have deferred many projects and maintenance.” [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/6/15]
- AFP-Utah “Vowed To Continue Its Fight” Against The Proposed Sales-Tax Increase For Transportation.According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “Utah business leaders announced Thursday that they have formed a new ‘public issues committee’ (PIC) to raise money and campaign for a sales-tax increase for transportation. That comes just two days after the Salt Lake County Council decided to put the tax hike on the Nov. 3 ballot. Other counties are expected to follow suit soon and also put the proposal to voters, as authorized by the Legislature this year. […] On the other side of the issue, Americans for Prosperity has vowed to continue its fight against the tax increase. That conservative group tried to stop the initiative at the county level by using mailers, social media and phone calls ccc and even by giving some lucky shoppers $50 gift cards to draw attention to state estimates that the tax would cost $50 per person annually. Evelyn Everton, state director of the group, said after the county’s decision to put the tax hike on the ballot, ‘We look forward to further educating residents on the cost of tax increases like these. AFP Utah will continue to engage our community to help Utah families keep more of their hard-earned dollars.’” [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/6/15]
On Behalf Of AFP-Utah Director Evelyn Everton, A Moab Resident Submitted A Statement Against The Proposed Sales Tax That Would Appear In Voters’ Pamphlets. According to the Moab Sun News, “A statement against the tax that will appear in voters’ pamphlets says the increase might not sound like much, but when it’s combined with two recent state tax hikes, it would only hurt lower-income and middle class families. The argument, which Moab resident Dave Cozzens submitted on behalf of Americans for Prosperity Utah Director Evelyn Everton, says that the increase would cost the average family of four $120 per year.” [Moab Sun News, 9/24/15]
- The Statement Was “Virtually Identical To Ones That Everton Tried To Submit In Other Utah Counties.”According to the Moab Sun News, “Although the local option sales tax would only add a few cents to most purchases of non-food items, the opposition statement says that amount would quickly add up. Over time, it says, the increase would fall hardest on those who can least afford it. ‘This could mean the difference between a week or more worth of groceries for many families,’ the statement says. The statement is virtually identical to ones that Everton tried to submit in other Utah counties, and both Hawks and Grand County Council vice chair Chris Baird suggested that it does not apply to tourism-driven Grand County.” [Moab Sun News, 9/24/15]
AFP Viewed The 2015 Election In Virginia As A Practice Run For The 2016 Presidential Contest
AFP Used The 2015 Election To Measure The Effectiveness Of Tactics And Materials In Preparation For The 2016 Presidential Election. According to CNN, “What has changed the game is the presence of outside advocacy groups with the funding and patience to think 10 years down the road — and aren’t tied to any particular candidate or party. These groups don’t need to explain to a ballroom of supporters why they lost — they can experiment, take whatever lessons they learn, good or bad, and get back to work next time. So at some homes in four different regions across the state, organizers like Holt won’t leave any door hangers — one of four ‘test cells’ the group has employed through Tuesday. Then during the weeks after Election Day, AFP brass will check their data set and judge whether the treatment effect was large enough to be worth producing, printing and placing the hangers in the first place, as it promotes an agenda of expanding school choice, rolling back EPA regulations and fighting the expansion of Medicaid. In the parlance of AFP, the conservative grassroots organization at the heart of the Koch brothers’ powerful network, it’s running to, ‘test and learn.’ […] Republicans have trained their eyes on delivering the boastful former Democratic National Committee chair a stinging defeat a year before McAuliffe is expected to try and engineer a Clinton victory in November 2016. That’s the race that is being foreshadowed Tuesday — even if Clinton or the Republicans aren’t yet on the ballot. And for data-driven groups like AFP, it’s a chance to learn exactly how to win it.” [CNN, 11/3/15]
AFP Targeted One Of Two Western Virginia Democrats Remaining In The Senate With A Five Figure Ad Buy, Attacking The State Senator For Supposed Support Of The Federal Clean Power Plan
AFP Targeted State Sen. John Edwards, One Of Only Two Democrats From Western Virginia Remaining In The Senate, With “A ‘Modest’ Ad Buy Costing In The Five Figures.” According to the Roanoke Times, “Edwards is one of only two Democrats from western Virginia remaining in the Senate. The other, Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County, is uncontested for re-election. [… AFP State Director Tyler] Foote described the TV push as a ‘modest’ ad buy costing in the five figures. He said his group felt its message would have particular resonance in Edwards’ Southwest Virginia district. ‘Energy is important all across the state, but particularly in that region,’ Foote said. ‘We’re holding Sen. Edwards accountable and hope his constituents will do the same.’ The ads urge residents to contact Edwards’ office and voice opposition to the federal mandates. Americans for Prosperity does not make endorsements or participate in the election process, Foote said.” [Roanoke Times, 10/18/15]
AFP “Argued Edwards Has Tacitly Supported The Federal [Clean Power Plan] Push By Voting Against Bills Seeking To Curb The Mandates.” According to the Roanoke Times, “The ads allude to the new U.S. Clean Power Plan that aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants over the next 15 years. […] Americans for Prosperity argued Edwards has tacitly supported the federal push by voting against bills seeking to curb the mandates. It pointed to two pieces of legislation from the 2015 General Assembly session: Senate Bill 1365 and House Bill 2246. Senate Bill 1365 laid out some requirements for state regulators to follow while developing an action plan to meet the federal pollution limits. The measure passed the Senate with broad support — including from Edwards — but was rejected when it returned from the House of Delegates with language giving the General Assembly veto power over the plan. The amendment was voted down in the Senate with 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans opposed, including Edwards and the bill’s patron, Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan. House Bill 2246 barred Virginia’s air pollution control board from enforcing federal emissions limits on new residential wood-burning heaters. It passed and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Edwards was among seven senators voting no. ‘This vote once again showed Sen. Edwards’ willingness to side with big government bureaucrats at the expense of Virginia families,’ Tyler Foote, state director for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Virginia, wrote in an email.” [Roanoke Times, 10/18/15]
- Edwards On Ads Attacking Him On Federal Policy: “I’ve Never Cast A Vote In Washington, D.C., In My Life. I’m A State Senator.”According to the Roanoke Times, “In mailers and TV ads, Americans for Prosperity has blasted Edwards for backing ‘reckless new energy mandates’ from the federal government. The ads allude to the new U.S. Clean Power Plan that aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants over the next 15 years. Edwards, D-Roanoke, said he was surprised to be attacked over a point of federal policy. ‘They got the wrong guy,’ he said. ‘I’ve never cast a vote in Washington, D.C., in my life. I’m a state senator.’” [Roanoke Times, 10/18/15]