Influence Peddler of the Month

Eric Bott

July 1, 2016

Eric Bott

Eric Bott is the director of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a secretive rightwing group that recently began its outside electioneering activities for the upcoming fall elections with so-called grassroots issue ad activity that attacks Democratic legislative candidates and supports Republicans.

AFP’s presence in Wisconsin elections isn’t new. The group has been involved in Wisconsin statewide and legislative races since the 2010 general elections. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that AFP, which is a phony issue ad group that is not required to publicly disclose its fundraising and spending, has doled out an estimated $5.6 million to date, making it one of the top outside spending groups in state elections. The national group was created in 2003 and is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers to support Republican and conservative state and federal candidates and causes around the country.

As director of AFP Wisconsin, Bott has been an outspoken critic for the conservative side on numerous state issues, including labor, education, taxes, and environmental regulation. Bott hailed laws approved by the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker that dismantled the state’s 100-year-old civil service system, expanded the state’s school voucher program, repealed the state’s 35-year-old ban on building nuclear power plants, and scrapped the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which was the state’s election, ethics and campaign finance watchdog.

Bott called a proposal to require the disclosure of wealthy special interest donors to secret, dark money smear groups a violation of free speech, claiming it would breed harassment by people with opposing viewpoints.

Before becoming AFP’s state director in June 2015, Bott, of Waunakee, worked for about two years as a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization and one of the most influential special interests on state spending and policy. WMC is also among the top spenders in Wisconsin legislative and statewide elections, usually supporting GOP candidates.

Prior to WMC, Bott held jobs as a campaign manager and legislative aide, working at times for GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, and the Wisconsin Assembly. Bott helped develop or work to pass some of the most controversial laws that moved through the legislature between 2011 and 2013, including iron mine deregulation, voter ID and Walker’s plan to severely restrict public employee collective bargaining rights.

AFP is already ramping up its outside electioneering activities to oppose Democrats and support Republicans in races for the legislature and U.S. Senate in Wisconsin in November.

In May, AFP Wisconsin said it was sending volunteers door-to-door in the 18th and 32nd Wisconsin Senate Districts to attack the policies and voting records of Democratic candidates vying for those seats. It also planned similar activities, but with a positive spin, to highlight the voting records of Republican incumbents, like Reps. Joel Kitchens, of Sturgeon Bay and Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield. For more details about AFP and its activities, check out the group’s profile in the Democracy Campaign’s Hijacking Campaign 2016 feature.

Since April, AFP has launched a $1.1 million broadcast-ad campaign praising Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on government spending, regulation and tax issues, and opened field offices in Delafield, Wausau, and Eau Claire.

Johnson faces Democratic candidate and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold in November.

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