Americans for Prosperity
Posted: December 29, 2011
Updated: January 21, 2014
Estimated Spending: $1.85 million*
Americans for Prosperity was created in 2003 to back conservative issue like small government and lower taxes. The group refuses to disclose how much it spends on outside electioneering activities in Wisconsin and elsewhere, but the Democracy Campaign estimates Americans for Prosperity has doled out $825,000 on negative ads, mailings and other activities in past Wisconsin elections, including an estimated $800,000 during the first round of recall elections involving nine state senators in the summer of 2011.
The group was founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, owners of Koch Industries and Wisconsin corporations like Georgia-Pacific. The Kochs put up much of the $40 million Americans for Prosperity and its foundation of the same name spent nationwide in the 2010 general elections. Other donors cited in a March 2012 investigative report by the Center for Responsive Politics include $1.6 million from the John William Pope Foundation in North Carolina, $520,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, and $150,000 from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation which is also controlled by the Koch family. All the foundations are backers of conservative causes.
Luke Hilgemann is the current director of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Hilgemann was chief of staff to Republican Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbottsford. The group's first state director, Mark Block, is a longtime Wisconsin political operative and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's campaign manager. Block was campaign manager in the late 1990s for former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox and ended up paying a $15,000 fine, the largest fine in state history for violating state election laws, and was banned for three years from working on Wisconsin political campaigns.
Americans for Prosperity resumed its negative electioneering activities in Wisconsin in late 2011 amid a second round of recall efforts that targeted Republican Governor Scott Walker, the lieutenant governor and four GOP Senate seats. During the last several weeks of 2011, Americans for Prosperity and the Madison-based MacIver Institute, another organization that backs conservative issues, spent a reported $1.2 million on three television ads - here, here and here -in the Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wausau and La Crosse TV markets urging viewers not to sign recall petitions during the 60-day period they were being circulated.
During the first three months of 2012, Americans for Prosperity spent an additional $1.54 million in the Eau Claire/ La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Wausau and Green Bay television markets, according to Gannett Wisconsin Media. During that time it rebroadcast one of its earlier ads - here - that defended Walker's economic policies without naming him, including his successful effort to slash public employee collective bargaining rights. Americans for Prosperity and MacIver also sponsored a new 60-second ad and a shorter 30-second version of it in mid-February that featured a series of brief interviews with people identified as a small business owner, state employee and police officers among others who claimed Wisconsin's last state budget cut the deficit without raising taxes and laying off workers.
The Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in March asking the agency to investigate Americans for Prosperity, MacIver Institute and the Heartland Institute to determine if their political activities and support of the Walker campaign violated their tax-exempt status as a charitable organization.
Shortly before the June 5 recall, the group reportedly recruited out-of-state volunteers to help with a statewide bus tour, rallies, phone bank operations and a door-to-door canvassing effort from late May and to early June designed to promote Walker's actions during his 17 months in office.
The group also sponsored a mailing that accused former Democratic Senator John Lehman of Racine of supporting a bill when he was in office that would have increased the state gas tax by $270 million. Lehman challenged and defeated GOP Senator Van Wanggaard of Racine - one of the four senators facing a June 5 recall election. Wanggaard had defeated Lehman in the 2010 general elections.
Last active election: Recall 2011
*All advertising by this group was credited jointly to Americans for Prosperity and the MacIver Institute for Public Policy. The total shown here represents half of the combined spending estimate for these two groups.