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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

American Future Fund

Political leanings: GOP/Conservative

Spending target: Unknown

American Future Fund has its roots in Iowa. It was founded in 2007 by Nick Ryan, longtime adviser to former U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa). Its first president, Nicole Schlinger, was a finance director of the Republican Party of Iowa, and its current president is Iowa Republican state Sen. Sandra Greiner, who is also a farmer. In 2011, Ryan was also hired as an adviser for the presidential campaign of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

AFF says it is “a multi-state issues advocacy group designed to effectively communicate conservative and free market ideals,” according to the website. A 501(c)(4), it doesn’t have to disclose donors and can receive unlimited donations.

The group spent $25.5 million during the 2012 election cycle, most of it in support of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and against President Barack Obama. Just over half of the 29 candidates the group supported were elected in 2012, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.

The group had said it planned to spend $20 million to $25 million in the 2010 election, and a spokeswoman confirmed that AFF spent about $25 million total. Data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show nearly $7.4 million spent against Democratic candidates and $2.2 million spent on electioneering communications, which are ads that refer to a candidate without expressly advocating for or against that person. AFF also has a political action committee, which spent $85,203 in the 2010 elections — including $44,400 in contributions to the campaigns of 20 Republican House and Senate candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

By at least one measure, AFF spent well in the 2010 midterm elections: The New York Times found that the group “won” in 76 percent of the 25 House and Senate races it spent on, “giving it the highest winning percentage among the biggest-spending Republican-leaning groups.”

Although AFF does not have to disclose its donors, a nonprofit called the Center to Protect Patient Rights reported to the IRS that it contributed about $11.7 million to American Future Fund in 2010. The Center for Responsive Politics first reported in May 2012 on the large contribution — a fraction of the $44 million in all that the “mystery health care group” gave conservative causes in 2010. The Tribune Washington bureau reported that the Center to Protect Patient Rights has ties to conservative businessmen David and Charles Koch, the co-owners of Koch Industries. David Koch is also the founder of the conservative Americans for Prosperity.

As for individual donors, Bruce Rastetter, CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, an ethanol company, acknowledged to the New York Times through his lawyer that he had provided seed money for the organization. Rastetter gave $5,000 in 2009 to the American Future Fund PAC, which also received $5,000, the maximum annual contribution, from Nick Ryan in 2010 and $4,800 in 2009. In 2011, Rastetter was appointed to the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees state educational institutions, by Gov. Terry E. Branstad. The Associated Press said that Rastetter has emerged as “one of the most sought-after GOP donors by presidential candidates.”

We found false and misleading claims in several AFF ads about the federal health care legislation in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the group has run TV and radio ads about government spending, one of which criticized Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and a print ad applauding the work of Republican governors.