Charles Koch’s political operation readies for 2020 election: New PAC report

AFP's money comes from Koch Family Foundations and donor conduits like DonorsTrust, the Koch political network's dark money ATM.

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SOURCEPR Watch

Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Action (AFP Action) has reported receiving nearly $6 million this quarter, bringing the total raised in 2019 to $14.16 million. AFP Action is the super PAC of the Koch political network’s astroturf group: Americans for Prosperity (AFP.)

AFP Action was launched months before the 2018 midterms as “a new tool to build broad policy coalitions in Congress to help advance AFP’s vision,” CNN reported. Super PACs are allowed to spend unlimited funds on elections under loose disclosure laws.

Of the money raised in 2019, AFP Action spent $2.9 million in last the quarter and $3 million for the year on federal campaign activity, including independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of GOP incumbent senators, digital media production, and political consultants. In addition to money left from the 2017-2018 election cycle, it ended the year with $13.9 million in cash.

AFP claims to have 3.2 million members, but it is unclear how many are active in the group. In 2018, AFP Action sent mailings to members, encouraging support for Koch’s candidates or against the opponents of those candidates. It also uses T.V. ads and social media to appeal to voters, members of AFP or not, using “1,800 unique data points” it has harvested on more than “199 million active voters” and “290 million U.S. consumers” from Koch’s i360 data analytics company.

AFP’s money comes from Koch Family Foundations and donor conduits like DonorsTrust, the Koch political network’s dark money ATM. DonorsTrust is not required to disclose contributions, but AFP Action, the electoral arm, must report contributions and independent expenditures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

In the fourth quarter of 2019, Koch Industries, the parent company of Charles Koch’s conglomerate, contributed $1 million to AFP Action, as part of the $2 million it contributed for the year.  

Much of AFP Action’s cash on hand comes from the 2017-2018 election cycle, when Koch Industries also gave $2 million, while Freedom Partners, another of Charles Koch’s favorite funding vehicles that dissolved as of May 2019, gave its remaining $5 million to AFP Action.

Other Contributors

Mary Alice Bergan, former co-owner of a manufacturing company in Fargo, North Dakota and a major GOP donor, gave $1.1 million to AFP Action in 2019, but also gave $2 million to Freedom Partners in 2018, money now combined into AFP Action.

Ronald Colman, chairman of Mountaire Corporation, the sixth-largest U.S. poultry company, based in Arkansas, gave $1 million. He was a major contributor to Freedom Partners’ political action committee, giving it $1 million in 2014, $3 million in 2016, and $1 million in 2018.

Richard Gilliam, former owner of a Virginia coal company, gave $300,000 for the quarter, all he gave in 2019, while Joe Craft, with Alliance Coal, gave $100,000 in the quarter. A major Illinois GOP donor and financier, Craig Duchossois, gave $150,000 to AFP Action in the last quarter, and $250,000 for the year.

Again, these contributions are AFP Action’s money from Koch and affiliated groups and peopleAFP itself, a 501(c)(4) non-profit under the tax code, is prohibited from donating to federal candidate campaigns, but can do unlimited expenditures and electioneering (theoretically up to 50 percent of its budget, since it is not supposed to be the “primary” purpose.)

AFP spends tens of millions each election cycle largely attacking Democrats on the issues or publicly thanking congresspeople who support Charles Koch’s positions on such issues as tax breaks for the wealthy and free trade.

AFP Action’s Spending

Four incumbent GOP Senators were supported by AFP Action in the fourth quarter of 2019.

For the quarter and for the year, the political action committee spent $48,500 for digital ads on behalf of incumbent Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who faces primary opponents on March 3, 2020.

It spent $24,000 in the fourth quarter and $230,000 for the year on behalf of Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO). “Gardner, the former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is a prime target for Democrats, who control every other major statewide office in Colorado,” says The Hill

AFP Action spent $140,000 on digital ads for Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), who faces a Democratic challenger to be decided by that party’s March 3, 2020 primary. Finally, AFP Action also spent $7,000 on digital ads on behalf of David Perdue (R-GA).

Most of the $3 million AFP Action spent in 2019 went to the consulting firms, “People Who Think” and “In Pursuit Of,” used by the Koch network. “In Pursuit Of provides public relations services, such as ad creation and ad buys, to the Koch political network. James Davis, the former vice president of Freedom Partners, runs the media agency,” writes the Center for Media and Democracy.

AFP Action also gave $600,000 to the connected AFP for consulting services, likely reimbursing staff time spent helping the political action committee for those otherwise working for its sister C4 group.

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