A New Koch Brothers-Funded Super PAC Tried to Capitalize on the Janus Decision Ahead of the Election

A right-wing political advocacy organization funded by the Koch brothers has endorsed eight GOP House incumbents in the hopes of keeping the House red and squashing unions’ influence in Washington.

Eric Bradach November 6, 2018

Billionaire David Koch. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

On the cusp of the midterm elec­tions, Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­i­ty (AFP), a right-wing polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tion found­ed by the bil­lion­aire Koch broth­ers, has endorsed eight GOP House incum­bents in the hopes of weak­en­ing labor groups’ influ­ence in Wash­ing­ton and ensur­ing that the AFP’s polit­i­cal agen­das remain a pri­or­i­ty in Congress.

AFP is a Koch-fund­ed orga­ni­za­tion whose agen­da is in line with oth­er groups — such as Con­cerned Vet­er­ans for Amer­i­ca, which is also fund­ed by the Koch broth­ers — that work against pro­gres­sive ini­tia­tives and pro­tec­tions for labor unions, health­care reform and any effort to com­bat cli­mate change, says David Armi­ak, a researcher for the Cen­ter for Media and Democ­ra­cy, a Wis­con­sin-based non­prof­it watch­dog group.

On August 31, AFP endorsed eight GOP House incum­bents as its pol­i­cy cham­pi­ons”: Peter Roskam (R‑Ill.. 6th), Dave Brat (R‑Va. 7th), Ted Budd (R‑N.C. 13th), Steve Chabot (R‑Ohio 1st), Will Hurd (R‑Texas 23rd), Erik Paulsen (R‑Minn. 3rd), Rod Blum (R‑Iowa 1st) and David Young (R‑Iowa 3rd).

AFP will ful­ly acti­vate its grass­roots infra­struc­ture through phone banks and neigh­bor­hood can­vass­ing, as well as deploy tar­get­ed dig­i­tal, mail, and radio adver­tis­ing” to sup­port these can­di­dates in their upcom­ing elec­tions, the orga­ni­za­tion writes in a statement.

While it’s hard to know the spe­cif­ic rea­son that the AFP sin­gled out these eight GOP incum­bents as its pol­i­cy cham­pi­ons,” the AFP has cor­rect­ly rec­og­nized that these are can­di­dates who are vul­ner­a­ble,” says Alexan­der Her­tel-Fer­nan­dez, a polit­i­cal sci­en­tist and pub­lic affairs pro­fes­sor at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. Accord­ing to the non­par­ti­san elec­tion ana­lyst the Cook Polit­i­cal Report, many of them are in toss-up races. In three of the elec­tions, Ill.-06, Iowa-01 and Minn.-03, polls cur­rent­ly lean Democrat.

Armi­ak says AFP’s new­ly formed super PAC, Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­i­ty Action (AFPA), allows all Koch broth­er-fund­ed groups to con­sol­i­date their spend­ing pow­er into a sin­gle polit­i­cal ad-buy­ing pow­er­house. This makes it more chal­leng­ing for an expe­ri­enced researcher, such as Armi­ak, to track the mon­ey fun­nel­ing through the Koch broth­ers’ polit­i­cal network.

[The groups] are reor­ga­niz­ing their spend­ing fil­ing to make it more com­pli­cat­ed,” Armi­ak says. It’s a sophis­ti­cat­ed net­work and dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out and will take a while to study to tru­ly under­stand how it operates.”

This can be wor­ri­some to pro­gres­sive inter­est groups that AFP and Koch broth­er affil­i­ates typ­i­cal­ly work against — such as those push­ing for health­care reform and envi­ron­men­tal advo­ca­cy — because it allows AFP to spend more mon­ey against such inter­est groups with lit­tle dis­clo­sure of where their funds come from.

Orga­nized labor groups espe­cial­ly may be neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed after the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court deci­sion this June. “[AFP wasn’t] direct­ly involved in the Janus deci­sion but heav­i­ly sup­port­ed it,” Her­tel-Fer­nan­dez says. The deci­sion means right-to-work laws, which pro­hib­it unions from charg­ing non-mem­bers fees regard­ing union ser­vices like col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, now apply to the pub­lic sec­tor. This could ben­e­fit AFP and its endorsed can­di­dates because it could lessen the finan­cial strength of unions, which will inevitably hurt their lob­by­ing abil­i­ties in Wash­ing­ton, accord­ing to Hertel-Fernandez.

It’s like­ly AFP and the Koch broth­ers are eye­ing the Janus deci­sion as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to use it as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to sup­port fed­er­al right-to-work laws in the pri­vate sec­tor, too, Her­tel-Fer­nan­dez says. AFPA is a new weapon that allows the AFP to spend exor­bi­tant amounts of mon­ey to sup­port can­di­dates who will push for pri­vate sec­tor right-to-work laws, which are cur­rent­ly applied in 27 states.

As a super PAC, AFPA is not restrict­ed to any dona­tion or spend­ing lim­its. While it is ille­gal for a super PAC to coor­di­nate with polit­i­cal can­di­dates, it can spend unlim­it­ed amounts to sup­port any can­di­date it choos­es with meth­ods such as adver­tis­ing and can­vass­ing. Donors to AFPA know that if they want their agen­das advanced, they have to keep finan­cial­ly sup­port­ing con­gress­men that have proven to be a strong return on invest­ment by vot­ing on leg­is­la­tion that suits their inter­ests, says Her­tel-Fer­nan­dez. The eight GOP incum­bents AFP has endorsed have his­tor­i­cal­ly been aligned with the Koch broth­ers’ lib­er­tar­i­an ide­ol­o­gy and polit­i­cal interests.

To Charles and David Koch, politi­cians are just actors who are just a means to an end. They are look­ing for peo­ple who will just do what they ask them to,” Her­tel-Fer­nan­dez says. They are will­ing to work with any­one to pur­sue [their] agenda.”

The Koch broth­ers and their polit­i­cal net­work are clear­ly focused on main­tain­ing influ­ence in Con­gress. But as we head into the polls today, polit­i­cal ana­lysts and pun­dits are pre­dict­ing a blue wave that might just thwart the Koch broth­ers’ attempt to keep con­trol of the House.

Eric Bradach is an edi­to­r­i­al intern for In These Times.
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