Influence Peddler of the Month

Americans for Prosperity

November 2, 2015

Americans for Prosperity Logo

This group, which was founded in 2003 by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, backs conservative social and spending causes and Republican candidates for federal, state and local offices around the country.  The Koch brothers own Koch Industries, the largest privately held energy company in the country. In addition to a state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ other tie to the Badger State is papermaker Georgia-Pacific, which they own.

Americans for Prosperity refuses to disclose how much it spends on its phony issue ad activities, but the Democracy Campaign estimates the group spent more than $5.6 million on broadcast ads and other activities in Wisconsin elections for statewide office and the legislature from January 2010 to date. In addition, Koch Industries Political Action Committee directly contributed another $87,500 between January 2010 and December 2014 to Republican legislative and statewide candidates in Wisconsin.  

The bulk of the group’s secret electioneering spending was to back Republican Gov. Scott Walker, including $3.7 million to help Walker win his 2012 recall.

This 30-second television ad and these mailings – here, here, here, here and here – during Walker’s reelection campaign in 2014 reflect the general tone of most of its electioneering activities, lauding the governor’s spending, tax and economic policies, as well as Walker’s successful 2011 effort to restrict public employee collective bargaining rights.

In addition to tens of millions of dollars by the Koch brothers, reports filed by Americans for Prosperity with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in recent years show that the group is also funded by numerous conservative ideological foundations; energy, business, pharmaceutical and cable industry trade groups; and other shadowy electioneering groups operated by the Koch brothers. Here’s a list of those contributors compiled by the Center for Public Representation from the group’s IRS filings.

Wisconsin contributors to Americans for Prosperity include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which gave $520,000 in 2010 and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) the state’s largest business organization, which gave $10,000 also in 2010. The Bradley Foundation is a funder of numerous conservative causes and groups throughout the country, and its chief, Michael W. Grebe, is a longtime backer of GOP candidates and also served as chair of Walker’s three successful campaigns for governor.

In addition to its outside electioneering activities, Americans for Prosperity also weighs in on numerous legislative proposals considered by the GOP-controlled legislature, including tax and spending bills, environmental deregulation, school voucher expansion, and labor issues. The group’s Wisconsin director is Eric Bott, a former aide to Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and WMC lobbyist. During the first six months of 2015, Americans for Prosperity spent nearly $269,000 on lobbying numerous measures in the current 2015-16 legislative session.

Recently, Americans for Prosperity supported bills being considered by the Wisconsin Legislature that would make major changes to the state’s civil service system, eliminate the state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB), and restrict how John Doe investigations are used and conducted.

The John Doe measure, Senate Bill 43, approved by the legislature and signed into law by Walker, prohibits John Doe investigations in cases of campaign finance, ethics, election and lobby law violations, misconduct in public office and bribery of public officials, among other things. Americans for Prosperity said in a statement the John Doe probes conducted to investigate possible coordination during the recall elections were used to harass and intimidate conservatives.

The GAB measures, AB388 and SB294, would replace the state’s model nonpartisan enforcer of campaign finance, election, ethics and lobbying laws with two partisan commissions and rein in their current ability to conduct investigations. In a statement, Americans for Prosperity thanked the Republican-controlled Assembly for voting to eliminate the GAB.

The civil service bills, AB373 and SB285, would speed up the hiring and firing of state employees, and use resumes rather than competitive state exams to hire state job applicants. Americans for Prosperity said in a statement after the measure was passed by the Assembly that the civil service system changes would make state government more accountable.

Earlier, Americans for Prosperity also supported a right-to-work law that prohibits requiring workers to make payments to unions as a condition of employment, and another measure that greatly reduced the scope of the state’s prevailing wage laws, which set minimum pay requirements for companies chosen for public building projects. Both proposals were approved by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed into law by Walker.

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