With the balance of power in Congress at stake in just under two months, the influential conservative Koch political network has added another campaign finance weapon to its arsenal, a new super PAC.
The latest entity, called Americans for Prosperity Action, is a sister organization to the Koch-backed nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, which describes its mission as fighting for less regulation, lower taxes and "economic prosperity for all."
"Americans for Prosperity has been a difference-maker supporting policy champions in tight races, and AFP Action is a new tool that will allow us to expand those efforts and make an even larger impact," said Bill Riggs, a spokesman for the PAC.
A super PAC is a type of independent political action committee that can spend and raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and mega-donors from across the country. It is not permitted to contribute or coordinate directly with a campaign.
Some of the Koch-supported initiatives, such as eliminating trade barriers and protecting immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, contrast directly with policies implemented by President Donald Trump. The Koch network has typically backed Republican candidates and initiatives. Yet, the official super PAC announcement does not mention any party affiliation for AFP Action. Nor does it mention any particular candidates it might support.
Still, even though AFP leadership said at its last seminar in July that it is open to backing Democrats, the nonprofit has since advocated only for Republican candidates. That push included eight endorsements for GOP lawmakers running for re-election to the House. Election analysts have pegged Democrats as favorites to seize the House majority from Republicans this fall.
The Koch network, which is led by billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Charles Koch, has also targeted Democrats in key Senate races. The group recently spent nearly $6 million on attack ads against three Democratic candidates, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, and are expected to pick up some seats as 10 Democrats from states Trump won are up for re-election.
Riggs said Koch network officials have been working on rolling out the new super PAC since a January seminar in Palm Springs, California. At that meeting, groups in the network umbrella announced they were planning to spend $400 million on pushing for their preferred policies and the upcoming congressional elections.
"It's a new tool that's been in the discussion for a while. We think it will help us build those broad policy coalitions we need in Washington to make an even larger impact," Riggs said in an email. In January, he added, "we did an audit of everything to see how we could significantly increase our impact. This stemmed from those discussions."
The PAC's creation is also an indirect clapback against Trump and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who took on the Koch brothers after they left open the possibility of aiding Democrats during their most recent donor meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
At the time, Trump called them a "total joke." Bannon, in an interview with CNBC, threatened to unmask the network's donors – and warned GOP candidates against taking Koch money.
"We are going to find out who they [the donors] are. We are going to identify people who the Kochs back. We're not just going to sit there and allow them to destroy the Trump presidency," Bannon said at the time.
Since then, Bannon has announced a political nonprofit group of his own, Citizens of the American Republic. Yet he has consistently refused to reveal his own donor pool.
AFP Action may be able to disclose their first round of donors by the end of the month as the next Federal Election Commission filing deadline is Sept. 20.
Koch-aligned PACs have raked in loads of money during the 2018 election cycle, making it more likely that AFP Action will have an immediate impact.
Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC associated with Koch-backed nonprofit Freedom Partners, has raised a notch over $14 million so far this cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The PAC's top donor has been Charles Koch himself, who gave $3 million to the PAC through his trust fund in 2017, records show. The group has spent $3.1 million in total, with almost half that amount going toward media placements and survey research through Koch-backed data gathering firm i360.
However, FEC records show Freedom Partners Action Fund has yet to spend in support of any particular candidate.