The Koch brothers enjoy vast influence in the conservative movement, sustained partly through direct political contributions from their company’s PAC and grants to ideologically friendly nonprofits from their family’s charitable foundations. But perhaps no initiative is more crucial to the Kochs’ political efforts than Americans for Prosperity, the self-described “grassroots” organization best known for helping fuel the rise of the Tea Party movement.
David Koch founded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in 2004 after internal divisions caused Citizens for a Sound Economy, another Koch-founded entity, to dissolve into two new groups. (The other became FreedomWorks.) Together with its companion “educational” foundation, AFP has become a leading force in anti-government activism, especially in the Obama era.
In addition to hosting the annual “Defending the American Dream Summit,” AFP has organized nationwide protests against a variety of policy proposals. Those efforts include the “Hot Air Tour” opposing legislative responses to alleged “climate alarmism,” and “Hands Off My Health Care” rallies protesting health care reform. In 2009, AFP played a major role in establishing the Tea Party as a national movement, planning events and partnering with organizers all over the country.
However, AFP’s activities are not limited to “issue”-based activism; the group is also an active participant in the electoral process. In 2010, AFP ran more than 10,000 television ads in the three months preceding the midterm elections, placing it among the most prolific spenders of the cycle. Furthermore, AFP is one of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s most important backers. Since his election, AFP has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads supporting Walker’s anti-union policies and defending his record in the face of recall efforts.
The group’s president, Tim Phillips, has indicated that AFP plans to increase its spending from around $40 million for the midterms to “more than $100 million.” The origin of those funds is mostly unknown, since AFP’s 501(c)(4) advocacy arm and 501(c)(3) foundation can both accept unlimited anonymous contributions. Although the organization boasts of having more than 90,000 individual donors, AFP is rumored to get much of its funding from the Kochs. Tax forms filed with the IRS reveal that the Koch-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation has donated at least $4.6 million to AFP Foundation since 2005, while the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation gave an additional $1 million in 2008. The big-spending Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation also reported combined contributions to the foundation of $520,000 in 2009-10.