Koch Brothers Are Outspending Everyone for a GOP Senate Takeover

Americans for Prosperity has outspent all other Republican groups combined, including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

David Koch and co. don't want their name tied to the Keystone XL Pipeline.
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Alex Roarty
Jan. 16, 2014, midnight

Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law has re­shaped the polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment for 2014, en­dan­ger­ing Sen­ate Demo­crats and ex­pand­ing the field of com­pet­it­ive elec­tions. But one group has brought the pro­spect of a Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate takeover closer to real­ity, even be­fore the midterm cam­paigns get un­der way.

Look no fur­ther than Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, the con­ser­vat­ive out­side group fun­ded in part by the wealthy in­dus­tri­al­ists Charles and Dav­id Koch.

AFP has spent a whop­ping $22 mil­lion on TV ads so far this elec­tion, part of a multistate cam­paign that uses Obama­care’s troubled rol­lout to at­tack vul­ner­able Demo­crats. AFP’s bar­rage has knocked sev­er­al in­cum­bents off-bal­ance just as their reelec­tion cam­paigns be­gin — es­pe­cially sen­at­ors rep­res­ent­ing Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing states. Their early ef­forts have helped send Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors’ ap­prov­al rat­ings plumet­ting in the states where they’ve spent big bucks.

It’s the kind of pre­cise, pree­mpt­ive strike nor­mally ex­pec­ted from tra­di­tion­al GOP heavy­weights like the Karl Rove-backed Amer­ic­an Cross­roads or the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce. But while they have re­mained al­most si­lent in the midterm elec­tion’s early go­ing, AFP has single­han­dedly taken the fight to Demo­crats.

And in do­ing so, it’s emerged as the GOP’s most im­port­ant out­side group, a role the group’s lead­ers don’t plan on re­lin­quish­ing any­time soon.

“Polling data for a lot of these Sen­ate and House mem­bers who “¦ we’ve un­der­taken these ef­forts against have clearly suffered,” said Tim Phil­lips, AFP’s pres­id­ent. “They’ve dropped, and I think that’s a re­flec­tion of the pub­lic’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Obama­care. And we’re de­term­ined to keep this is­sue on the front burn­er.”

Just this week Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity ex­pan­ded its TV cam­paign to two states Obama car­ried in 2012: Iowa and Michigan. It’s a sign of things to come.

“In a state like Michigan, where the pres­id­ent hand­ily won twice, you would as­sume sup­port for his sig­na­ture le­gis­lat­ive ac­com­plish­ment “¦ would be strong. It’s not,” Phil­lips said. “And the fact we’re not ex­pand­ing our ef­fort here demon­strates that even a state that has sup­por­ted the pres­id­ent over the years, there is deep dis­sat­is­fac­tion. And I think that’s a sig­ni­fic­ant sign.”

Demo­crats have taken no­tice: Across nu­mer­ous House and Sen­ate races this week, cam­paign of­fi­cials have be­gun push­ing back against the group. A spokes­wo­man for Sen. Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, whose state has wit­nessed more than $6 mil­lion in ads from AFP, is­sued a state­ment con­demning the in­volve­ment of “shad­owy out­side groups” in her Sen­ate race. The Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, mean­while, warned in a memo that the group was poised to “dump mil­lions” in­to a spe­cial House race in Flor­ida. The in­su­lat­ing man­euvers are on top of the mil­lions spent by al­lied Demo­crat­ic groups like Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC in re­sponse to AFP’s ads.

Party op­er­at­ives are rais­ing alarm about the group, telling their donors that they need to step up or risk be­ing run over in the fall. “Demo­crats need money at this early stage in or­der to fight back against the lim­it­less spend­ing from the Kochs,” Guy Cecil, the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee’s ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or told The New York Times on Wed­nes­day.

The non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion has been a ma­jor play­er among Re­pub­lic­ans in the post-Cit­izens United cam­paign fin­ance world.It spent $140 mil­lion, $44 mil­lion of which came from Koch-backed funds, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­por­ted.

But what makes its ef­forts so sig­ni­fic­ant now is that it’s spend­ing big bucks while the oth­er ma­jor Re­pub­lic­an out­side groups are stand­ing pat. Amer­ic­an Cross­roads has barely raised any money since the last elec­tion. The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce’s polit­ic­al arm has spent re­l­at­ively small sums in sev­er­al GOP primar­ies. Even the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, whose PAC launched sev­er­al high-pro­file TV ads against fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans, has spent only about $5 mil­lion in the last year, ac­cord­ing to a source close to the group.

In fact, by one meas­ure, AFP has bought al­most as much air­time as every oth­er out­side group com­bined. Total spend­ing from Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic out­side groups totaled only $5 mil­lion more than AFP’s, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics. Not all polit­ic­al spend­ing, in­clud­ing Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity’s, is re­por­ted to the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, so it’s not an apples-to-or­anges com­par­is­on, but it’s non­ethe­less il­lus­trat­ive of the group’s siz­able in­vest­ment.

But money alone doesn’t ex­plain its suc­cess; tim­ing has been just as im­port­ant. While oth­er groups kept their powder dry for 2014, AFP’s neg­at­ive spots co­in­cided with dis­mal re­views of Obama­care’s open­ing months. While voters were hear­ing about faulty web­sites and can­celed health plans at work and home, they were watch­ing ads that laid the blame on Demo­crats on their TV. The ads them­selves — which have fre­quently fea­tured a lone man or wo­man ex­plain­ing to the cam­era how Obama­care has hurt them and their fam­ily — have won plaudits from oth­er GOP strategists for their per­son­al touch.

“We knew that the rol­lout was com­ing, and that pub­lic aware­ness would be heightened as a res­ult,” Phil­lips said. “And we wanted make sure in this peri­od of heightened aware­ness we were de­liv­er­ing our mes­sage that Obama­care was harm­ing Amer­ic­ans.”

Phil­lips said his group’s goal is still to re­peal Obama­care, which he ac­know­ledges is likely im­possible un­til Obama leaves of­fice. But the con­sequences for Demo­crats could be dire. Phil­lips wouldn’t re­veal AFP’s midterm budget but called the com­ing in­vest­ment “sig­ni­fic­ant.” It’s already on pace to spend more than the $65 mil­lion that it shelled out for TV ads in 2012.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­stated how much AFP raised in the 2012 elec­tion cycle and how much of it came dir­ectly from the Koch broth­ers.


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