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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Americans for Prosperity

Political leanings: Conservative/Libertarian

Spending target: Reported to be $200 million, including money for allied groups

Founded by billionaire businessman and conservative/libertarian political activist David Koch, Americans for Prosperity has emerged as one of the most influential conservative issue advocacy groups on the national and state political scene. A major force behind the Tea Party movement, AFP seeks to support free markets and entrepreneurship by advocating lower taxes and limited government spending and regulation.

The group’s president is Tim Phillips, a Republican campaign strategist and early Tea Party organizer. Directors of the organization include Art Pope, a former North Carolina state legislator, and James Miller, an economist, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and a budget director under President Ronald Reagan.

Americans for Prosperity is registered under the IRS code as a 501(c)(4). As such, it is not required, nor does it, disclose its donors. It is allowed to advocate for political issues, but cannot solicit votes for a specific candidate. Its sister organization, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, is a 501(c)(3), which allows donations to be tax-deductible but has restrictions on political activity.

In August 2010, President Barack Obama singled out AFP as an example of the downside of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited corporate contributions for political ads to influence federal elections.

“Right now all around this country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates all across the country,” Obama said. “And they don’t have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation. You don’t know if it’s a big oil company, or a big bank. You don’t know if it’s a insurance company that wants to see some of the provisions in health reform repealed because it’s good for their bottom line, even if it’s not good for the American people.”

David and Charles Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries, have been major contributors to AFP. But according to a Koch Industries website posting (accessed from June 11, 2011), “with 65,000-plus donors, less than 10 percent of AFP and AFP Foundation’s funding was Koch-related in 2009.”

At a meeting of major donors sponsored by the Kochs’ company in June, attendees revealed that the Koch brothers “plan to steer more than $200 million — potentially much more — to conservative groups ahead of Election Day,” according to a Politico report.

The money from major donors — including the brothers’ own money — will be given to “Koch political advisers [to] distribute at their discretion to political and policy groups featured at their conferences, with more cash typically going to groups with the tightest ties, like Americans for Prosperity,” Politico reported.

AFP has sponsored a number of grassroots tours — bus rallies and town hall meetings — to promote various issues, including deregulation, a call for less government spending, increased oil drilling, opposition to the health care law, and efforts to defeat cap-and-trade legislation.

This summer, AFP embarked on its cross-country Running on Empty tour and media campaign to make the case that Obama’s regulatory and energy policies are responsible for higher gas prices.

In August, AFP spent $1 million on a nationwide ad campaign criticizing Obama for flipping his position on raising the debt ceiling (Obama voted against a debt ceiling increase as a senator in 2006).

The AFP Foundation also sponsors the annual RightOnline conference, a project that seeks to train activists on how to use new media online to forward its limited government/free market agenda.