Influence Peddler of the Month - Americans for Prosperity (Updated)

March 1, 2018

(This profile updates information and figures in a previous November 2015 feature on Americans for Prosperity.)

The state arm of Americans for Prosperity is one of Wisconsin’s top outside electioneering spenders, doling out an estimated $5.7 million since January 2010 on Wisconsin legislative and statewide elections.

Americans for Prosperity was created by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. This group secretly raises and spends unlimited amounts of cash on phony issue ads to promote conservative social and spending issues, as well as GOP federal, state, and local candidates throughout the country.

The political agenda of Americans for Prosperity mirrors that of other rightwing groups. It advocates tax cuts for business and other powerful special interests, opposes government regulation and the federal Affordable Care Act commonly called Obamacare, and supports environmental deregulation and anti-labor measures.

Americans for Prosperity spent the bulk of its money on outside electioneering activities, an estimated $4.8 million, to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker win his 2012 recall and 2014 reelection campaigns. The group lauded Walker’s successful effort in 2011 to sharply restrict public employee collective bargaining rights, which spurred the recall elections.

In addition to the millions of dollars pumped into the organization by the Kochs, the group also gets support from numerous conservative ideological foundations and powerful business and trade groups, according to a list compiled by the Center for Public Representation.

At least some of the group’s activities are paid for by Wisconsin contributors. The conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has given the group more than $1.2 million, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group, has given it $10,000.

In addition to outside electioneering activities, Koch political action committees (PACs) and its corporation directly contributed $125,500 to Republican legislative and statewide candidates and fundraising committees in Wisconsin between January 2010 and December 2017. In addition to the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers also have a business tie to Wisconsin; they own papermaker Georgia-Pacific.

Topping the list of Koch PAC contribution recipients were:

Walker, $43,000

Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $18,000

Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $12,000

GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, $10,000

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, $10,000

Americans for Prosperity also lobbies on state spending and social issues, and it has close ties to the lawmakers it helps elect. The group’s Wisconsin director is Eric Bott, a former aide to Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and a WMC lobbyist.

Since Americans for Prosperity began lobbying in Wisconsin in 2005, it has spent nearly $1.5 million. Much of that spending has come during the past two legislative sessions when it spent about $684,800 in 2015-16 and about $507,200 in 2017 alone.

Among the proposals backed by the group over the years that have become law are:

2011 Act 10, severely restricts public employee collective bargaining rights;

2017 Act 134, ends Wisconsin’s ban on mining gold, silver, copper and other precious metals;

2017 Act 57, allows the legislature to delay, change or permanently block state rules to protect the environment, consumer rights and public health and prevents a state agency from creating any new rules and regulations that cost business or industry more than $10 million without legislative approval;

2013 Act 1, loosens several state environmental safeguards for mining. The measure was requested and largely developed by Gogebic Taconite, a subsidiary of an out-of-state mining company that wanted to develop a massive open-pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin;

2015 Act 150 – changes the state’s pioneering civil service system by replacing merit exams for most civil service positions with resume screening by the partisan Department of Administration, and makes it easier and faster to fire state employees;

2015 Act 344 – repeals Wisconsin’s 33-year-old ban on nuclear power plant construction;

2015 Act 117 – doubles the previous limits on contributions, enables unlimited contributions to PACs, allows candidates’ committees to coordinate with outside advocacy groups, allows corporations to donate to political parties, and deletes the requirement that candidates identify the employers of their large campaign contributors;

2015 Act 118 – dismantles a strong national model of nonpartisan oversight and enforcement of state ethics and elections laws and replaces it with two boards composed of mostly partisan appointees with less authority, independence, and resources to conduct investigations.

2015 Act 1 – prevents unions from requiring an employee to be a union member in order to reap the benefits of contract provisions the union has negotiated in bargaining on behalf of its members.