Politics

Influential Koch network closes offices, shifts to digital outreach as coronavirus spreads

Key Points
  • The Koch network has shifted its operations to the digital realm as the coronavirus spreads. 
  • "Our Stand Together community has taken our operations totally remote," the group's spokeswoman said. 
  • The influential libertarian network has publicly rebuked the idea of bailing out corporations as a way to combat the pandemic
Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries.
Bo Rader | Wichita Eagle | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

An activist organization backed in part by libertarian billionaire Charles Koch has shifted its operations to the digital realm as the coronavirus spreads throughout the United States. 

Stand Together, also known as the Koch network, has millions of employees, volunteers and activists in 35 states working for groups such as Americans for Prosperity, the LIBRE Initiative and Concerned Veterans for America. These groups often conduct in-person canvassing with voters but that appears to be changing as governments and businesses restrict gatherings and travel in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

"Our Stand Together community has taken our operations totally remote. Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure the health and safety of our activists, staff, and voters, our staff are working from home and are utilizing digital organizing as one way to continue their grassroots engagement," Nicole Tardif,  a spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, told CNBC. "We're engaging activists by showing them ways to educate their neighbors and expand their reach through social media and other peer-to-peer outreach." 

Americans for Prosperity and others are conducting some of their efforts through their i360 app, Tardif said. Their training events have all moved to a web-based platform. Volunteers and activists are moving toward working the phones from home to assist in their operations. The organization is also trying to hire more unemployed people to assist in making phone calls. 

AFP state chapters have also started calling activists to check in on their health and to make sure they have the resources they need.

"We are simply calling you to make sure you are healthy/okay.  As you have previously attended or volunteered for one of our events, or taken an action online, you are the heart and soul of our AFP efforts in Texas," according to a  script of the calls to activists in Texas that was provided to CNBC. "Rest assured, as Americans, we will get through this together. At AFP we will get back very soon to assuring freedom reigns in our State and Nation!"

The network's policy proposals are often based on libertarian ideals, with an emphasis on cutting taxes, government spending and business regulations. It is supporting several Republican senators as they seek reelection this year, including Cory Gardner of Colorado, John Cornyn of Texas, Steve Daines of Montana, David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Last week, AFP President Tim Phillips, along with other officials, hosted a tele-town hall to discuss how they believe the federal government should handle fighting the coronavirus. The network has publicly rebuked the idea of bailing out corporations as a way to combat the pandemic, including in a letter that was sent to leaders of Congress earlier this month. 

Beyond the calls for limiting bailouts, the letter, sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, pushed for a fiscal  response to the virus but to only have it be enacted for a temporary period of time. 

"Any fiscal response or emergency policy changes should be temporary in nature and be closely tied to the impact and duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. This is a time to deliver swift and targeted relief to those who need it, not to address long term policy goals," leaders of the network said.

The Senate and the Trump administration early Wednesday agreed to a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package that includes a payroll tax holiday, cash payments to individuals and bailout funds for companies and industries.

Americans for Prosperity CEO Emily Seidel has also called on non-essential businesses to remain open, despite some states demanding all of their workers stay home, forcing some companies to shutdown. 

"Rather than blanket shutdowns, the government should allow businesses to continue to adapt and innovate to produce the goods and services Americans need, while continuing to do everything they can to protect the public health," Seidel recently said in a statement. 

VIDEO2:0402:04
Congress really needs to step in to provide economic relief amid coronavirus pandemic, says Sandhill Strategy co-founder