UPDATE: Koch Candidates? Where Is the Koch Machine Spending in 2016 So Far
By Lisa Graves and David Armiak
Recent articles in the national media, such as yesterday’s piece in the National Review, suggest that Charles and David Koch are less interested and less involved in national politics in the 2016 election cycle than in previous years.
This latest PR effort comes despite the fact that $400 million of the $889 pledge by the Kochs through their “Freedom Partners” network has already been invested in the outcome of the 2016 elections, with more money to be spent.
A close examination of recent campaign finance disclosures and other data reveals that Team Koch has already identified some of their candidates for 2016 and in many cases has already started spending big on behalf of candidates in races for the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, state Governorships and state Attorney General races — as the presidential tickets remain unsettled and controversial.
For example, the Center for Media and Democracy/PRWatch (CMD) looked at disclosed donations by Koch Industries’ KochPAC. This is limited to the donations that are required to be disclosed under federal and state law but, as the Nation and others have documented, Koch Industries also attempts to indoctrinate its employees on who and what to vote for or against, as documented here.
CMD also examined the activities of the Aegis Strategic PAC.
Aegis Strategic is a Koch-funded political consulting firm that seeks to “help electable advocates of the freedom and opportunity agenda who will be forceful at both the policy and political levels.” The company is owned and run by Jeff Crank, a Koch operative who previously served as state director for the Colorado arm of David Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity” operation.
The Kochs’ Freedom Partners has provided at least $1 million to Aegis Strategic since its founding, and Mother Jones has reported that “People who’ve spoken with Crank about Aegis say he told them that the firm has access to the Kochs’ formidable donor network.”
CMD also reviewed news reports and press releases on the activities of a variety of Koch electioneering vehicles, including Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners Action Fund, Concerned Women for American, Concerned Veterans for America, and the 60 Plus Association.
Notably, much of this research is focused on disclosed spending through Political Action Committee reports, but the bulk of the Koch network spending is through dark money vehicles that don’t disclose the donors or the recipients of the Koch-fueled largesse.
Spending by the Koch dark money network usually comes in the form of big ad buys on TV and the internet, framed as “issue ads” closer to elections, along with robo-calls, door-knocking with candidate-specific door hangers, rallies, and other operations that are more visible nearer to the elections.
Also, the Kochs have bankrolled an array of groups to aid in their ambitions — such as Libre, Generation Opportunity, and the like — that don’t report spending in elections but are poised to try to impact the elections. Their activities are not part of this tally issued by CMD today.
The latest Koch spin about their engagement in electoral politics must be viewed in light of past claims about what counts as electoral politics. For example, as CMD wrote in the last presidential race, David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity claimed to the press that the $10 million it spent in the weeks leading up to the recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker “had nothing to do with any candidates, political parties or ongoing races.”
But audio obtained by Lauren Windsor and the Undercurrent revealed that at the semi-annual Koch billionaires’ conclave, Americans for Prosperity was described as a “tremendous partner” in Walker’s win.
So, disclosed spending is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Koch machine’s activities to help win the elections they target.
But, six months out, here are the Koch Candidates identified so far, based on disclosed donations or other visible support.
U.S. House of Representatives
Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) received $1,000 from KochPAC to his Robert Aderholt for Congress in late March.
Martha McSally (AZ-02) appears to be backed by Aegis Strategic and its PAC. Although she is not listed on its PAC site, AegisPAC contributed $13,200 to her campaign.
Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-03) received $3,000 in contributions from KochPAC in late March to VoteTipton.com.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (GA-11) received $1,000 from KochPAC to Loudermilk for Congress in late March.
Rep. Todd Rokita (IN-04) received a contribution of $2,500 to Hoosiers for Rokita, Inc. in late March from KochPAC.
Rep. Susan Brooks (IN-05) received a contribution of $2,000 to Friends of Susan Brooks in late March from KochPAC.
Rep. Luke Messer (IN-06) received a contribution of $2,500 to Luke Messer for Congress in late March from KochPAC.
Rep. Brett Guthrie (KY-02) received a $1,000 contribution from KochPAC to Guthrie for Congress in late March.
Rep. Andy Barr (KY-06) received a $2,500 contribution from KochPAC to Andy Barr for Congress, Inc.
Rep. Bill Huizenga (MI-02) received $3,500 in contributions from KochPAC in late March to Huizenga for Congress.
Rep. Dave Trott (MI-11) received a $1,500 contribution from KochPAC in late March to Trott for Congress, Inc.
Stewart Mills is running to unseat incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-08). KochPAC gave Friends of Stewart Mills $5,000.
Pam Tucker (NH-01) is backed by Aegis Strategic and its PAC. Jeffrey Crank, President of Aegis Strategic has contributed $300 to her campaign. AegisPAC also contributed $2,700 to Friends of Pam Tucker.
Rep. Scott Garret (NJ-05) received $3,000 from KochPAC to his Scott Garrett for Congress in late March.
Rep. Chris Collins (NY-27) received a $1,500 contribution from KochPAC to Collins for Congress.
Rep. George Holding (NC-13) is retiring from his current seat to run in the 2nd District. KochPAC has contributed $1,000 to George Holding for Congress, Inc. in support of his bid. The Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) also recently took out a six figure ad campaign to attack incumbent Rep. Renee Elmers (NC-02), his opponent in the Republican primary.
Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) received $2,500 from KochPAC to Hudson for Congress in late March.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (NC-10) received $2,500 from KochPAC to McHenry for Congress in late March.
Rep. Kevin Cramer (ND) received a $1,000 contribution from KochPAC to Cramer for Congress.
Rep. Jim Renacci (OH-16) received a $2,500 contribution from KochPAC to Jim Renacci for Congress in late March.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) received a $2,500 contribution from KochPAC to his Mullin for Congress in late March.
Rep. Mike Kelly (PA-03) received a $1,500 contribution from KochPAC to Mike Kelly for Congress in late March.
Rep. Scott Perry (PA-04) received a $4,000 contribution from KochPAC to Patriots for Perry in late March.
Rep. Bill Shuster (PA-09) received a $2,500 contribution contribution from KochPAC to Bill Shuster for Congress.
Rep. Keith Rothfus (PA-12) received $4,000 from KochPAC to Rothfus for Congress in late March.
Rep. Bill Flores (TX-17) received a $2,000 contribution from KochPAC to Bill Flores for Congress.
Rep. Mia Love (UT-04) received a $1,500 contribution from KochPAC to Friends of Mia Love in late March.
Rep. Mogan Griffith (VA-09) received a $5,000 contribution from KochPAC to Morgan Griffith for Congress in late March.
Rep. Glenn Grothman (WI-06) received $7,500 in contributions from KochPAC to Glenn Grothman for Congress in late March.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) received support from the Koch-funded 60 Plus Association through a robocall campaign. The group did not disclose how much it spent.
Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) has been a recipient of Koch electoral support for many years. The Center for Media and Democracy previously reported that “Koch Industries has been one of Rep. Heck’s top contributors throughout his career, and Heck voted with Koch-held positions nearly 90 percent of the time in 2015. In 2014, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity also ran a $200,000 advertisement in support of Heck.” In Heck’s race for the NV senate seat left open by Harry Reid, another Koch-funded group, Concerned Veterans for America has been placing ads supporting Heck with a $700,000 broadcast and digital ad buy. The Kochs’ Freedom Partners Action Fund spent $1,036,945 on ads opposing Heck’s opponent, Catherine Masto, in late April-early May. Friends of Joe Heck received $2,500 from KochPAC in late March. AegisPAC backs Heck as well.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) received a $1,000 contribution from the Koch PAC to the Richard Burr Committee.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) received a $2,500 contribution from the KochPAC to Hoeven for Senate in late March.
The Kochs support incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) in his bid for reelection. Charles Koch has donated $2,900 to his campaign. The Koch Industries PAC has contributed $2,000 to his campaign as well. Portman’s opponent, Former Gov. Ted Stickland (OH) has been attacked by the Kochs’ Freedom Partners Action Fund. A $2 million TV and digital ad buy was taken out by the group criticizing his tax and spending policies as governor. AegisPAC backs Portman, too.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is backed by Aegis Strategic and Aegis PAC. He received donations from Aegis PAC for $30,000 in 2015–2016. The Kochs’ right-hand man Richard Fink, who has worked for the Kochs and advised them for decades, has donated $2,700 to Johnson. Americans for Prosperity has rolled out a $1.1 million campaign in support of Johnson. In addition to the TV spot, the group will support a door knocking campaign in La Crosse, Waukesha and Milwaukee. The Kochs’ Freedom Partners Action Fund spent $2,025,048.99 attacking Russ Feingold, Johnson’s opponent in late April-early May.
State Governor Races
Koch’s are backing Gov. Mike Pence in his battle for reelection. Americans for Prosperity are running ads in the state supporting him. Marc Short, longtime Koch operative, is reported to be advising Pence since Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) presidential campaign imploded.
Although no Koch money supporting Pat McCrory (R) could be identified yet this year in his race against State Attorney General Roy Cooper, in the fall of 2015 the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity took out a six-digit ad buy praising the Governor for cutting personal income and corporate tax rates. Koch operative Art Pope, who has served on the board of the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity and is an alum of the American Legislative Exchange Council, was his budget director in his first years in the governorship.
Aegis Strategic and its PAC are backing Bill Cole for Governor. Aegis contributed $1,000 to Cole’s campaign in August 2015. The Kochs’ Freedom Partners Action Fund donated $100,000 to his PAC Accelerate West Virginia.
The Kochs and their various operations have a history of also getting involved in school board races — as with Colorado, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and more — in addition to some initiative fights, which are not covered in Part 1 of this special report.
This snapshot focuses on the federal and statewide races so far, but there is more to come, especially as the season for so-called “issue ads” ramps up in the coming months and as the ground game — like the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity Grassroots Leadership Academy-trained organizers — gets deployed along with Koch-orchestrated bus tours or rallies in the autumn.
CMD’s Deputy Director Mary Bottari contributed to this special report.
Disclosure: Lauren Windsor works with CMD on select projects.
Originally published at www.prwatch.org on May 17, 2016.