Though the Koch brothers’ political network is still active and influential, interest in the group has waned in the Trump-era. Google searches for the wealthy mega-donors are less than a quarter as frequent they were at their peak in February 2011. President Trump himself has said the Kochs are no longer relevant.
But according to Politico, the network is “big enough and wealthy enough to rival the Republican Party itself.” They recently announced their intent to embark on a $400 million political spending spree in advance of the 2018 midterms and launched a gargantuan new super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Action. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Kochs’ flagship group, Americans For Prosperity, shares its name.
But Americans for Prosperity is technically a nonprofit, which limits its ability to be explicitly political and restrains it from endorsing candidates. As a super PAC, AFP Action faces no such restrictions as long as it does not directly collaborate with campaigns.
Although AFP Action is just over a month old, it already appears to be fully operational and testing its firepower.
So far, AFP Action has shown interest in a handful of races. These include Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Leah Vukmir’s (R-Wis.) race for a Wisconsin Senate seat, Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) and Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) efforts to retain their seats in the Senate, and conservative Tennessee congresswoman Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) bid to advance to the upper chamber of Congress.
The independent expenditures AFP Action has reported to the Federal Elections Commission are mostly for election essentials like canvassing, advertisements, handouts and mailers. They owe $9,666 to Campaign Headquarters for phone banking on Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) and are $14,832 in debt to Arena Communications, a Salt Lake City-based company, for handouts, mailers and door hangers for Paulsen and against Jon Tester.
AFP Action also recruited the services of Talentwave Inc. to canvass for Leah Vukmir and Marsha Blackburn and against Tammy Baldwin, Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester. They paid $1.4 million to In Pursuit Of LLC for ad production and placement and mailer design.
In Pursuit Of’s website says they “develop multimedia campaigns to drive the conversation,” and identifies the LLC as a “full service communication and marketing agency that drives ideas and shapes debates in pursuit of a free and open society.” According to ProPublica, several employees of In Pursuit Of have gone on to work in the federal government. Brittany Baldwin worked as Deputy Director of Writing for In Pursuit Of and currently works as a speechwriter and special assistant to the president at the White House. Stephen J. Ford, formerly an editorial director for the LLC, went on to become director of speechwriting in Mike Pence’s office. He has also worked as director of writing for Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, another Koch network group. Gary Michael Lawkowski has also cashed checks from both In Pursuit Of and Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. He is currently senior counselor to the deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior.
AFP Action paid Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce $250,000 for “administrative services.” They also sent $278,787 to the flagship Freedom Partners group to pay for canvassing expenses.
Although you can count AFP Action’s major donors on two hands, most are big-spenders who have given to conservative causes before.
Ronald Cameron, chairman of the Mountaire Corporation, gave AFP Action $1 million.
Cameron has a history of passing money to charities through a nonprofit called The Jesus Fund. Some tax forms submitted by the Jesus Fund failed to list the names and addresses of organizations they had donated to, reporting donations in a lump sum designated “various public charities.” Between 2006 and 2013, Cameron distributed more than $26 million to political causes this way.
Tax documents associated with The Jesus Fund and Mountaire Corporation share the same address in Little Rock, Arkansas. Religious organizations called “Anglican Associates Inc.” and “Downline Little Rock” also share this address.
Mountaire Corporation was involved in a 2012 lawsuit in which an employee alleged racial discrimination and inadequate safety procedures.
William Roj, CEO and Chairman of ERICO International, gave $100,000 to Freedom Partners Action Fund less than two weeks before making a $50,000 contribution to AFP Action.
Roj is also the director of DNX Corporation, which “conducts research, develops therapeutic products and provides biological testing services on transgenic animals” according to Bloomberg.
Another $100,000 of AFP Action’s funding came from Dennis Troesh, who sold his concrete company to Mitsubishi for more than $2 billion in 2012. In 2016, Troesh gave $100,000 to Freedom Partners Action Fund. In July 2018, Dennis and Carol Troesh provided support for the creation of “Dennis and Carol Troesh Engineering Building” at the California Baptist University, whose website boasts a “100% Christian faculty and staff.”
“God is going to use this building to touch lives practically and spiritually,” said the school’s president, Dr. Ronald L. Ellis of the facility.
In 2011, Troesh’s company, Robertson’s Ready Mix, found itself a defendant in a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (or “CERCLA”) legal action concerning plans to expand the mid-valley landfill in Rialto, California.
Roger W. Stone — not to be confused with Roger Stone — contributed $500,000 to AFP Action. Stone was CEO and Chairman of KapStone Paper and Packaging before stepping down in 2015. Stone and Kapstone Paper and Packaging are defendants in a civil action filed in 2018 for a Securities and Exchange Act violation. The action concerns a proposed merger between Kapstone and WestRock, another packaging company. The action alleges that a document intended to inform shareholders about the details of the merger “omits certain critical information, rendering portions of the Proxy materially incomplete and/or misleading.”
Finally, Wayne Laufer gave $500,000. Laufer worked for Shell and co-founded two oil and gas companies, S.A. Holditch & Associates and Bois d’Arc Energy Corporation. He is also a member of the Order of the Golden Shillelagh. A shillelagh is an Irish fighting cane usually made of oak or blackthorne. Laufter gave $600,000 to Freedom Partners Action Fund in 2014.
Americans For Prosperity Action is already taking its place alongside more established Koch network groups to play a major role in the 2018 midterms and the elections beyond. The heft of the contributions and expenditures it has already cycled through are proof positive that the network’s twilight years are still a ways off.