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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Americans for Prosperity

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Conservative/libertarian

Spending target: At least $125 million

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 James Miller, an economist, former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and a budget director under President Ronald Reagan, and Frayda Levin, a former Reagan administration official who also sits on the boards of Club for Growth and the Foundation for Economic Education.

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), a designation that allows donations to be tax-deductible but has restrictions on political activity.

David and Charles Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries, have been major contributors to AFP. However, it is unclear how much money the brothers funnel directly into AFP and their larger network of libertarian advocacy groups. The Kochs have defended the anonymity of their political activities as “fundamental liberties protected by the First Amendment.” And the groups say that more than 90,000 donors from all 50 states contribute to AFP and its sister organization, AFP Foundation.

On May 9, 2014, Politico reported that AFP “intends to spend more than $125 million this year on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives, according to a memo distributed to major donors and sources familiar with the group.” It’s an amount, Politico noted that would be “unprecedented for a private political group in a midterm, and would likely rival even the spending of the Republican and Democratic parties’ congressional campaign arms.”

AFP has been one of the primary outside spending groups attacking the Affordable Care Act — self-naming itself the “nation’s largest grassroots champion for health care freedom.” According to the New York Times, the group has spent at least $20 million since September 2013 on television ads targeting Democrats running for reelection for their support of the health care law.

Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat from North Carolina, has faced an onslaught of attack ads criticizing her stance on the ACA. According to the Times, AFP issue ads against Kagan aired 3,535 times from June 1, 2013, to Jan. 12, 2014, and the group has spent about $5 million against her. On Feb. 4, AFP announced that it would be spending $1.4 million on new television ads attacking Hagan, and that figure doesn’t include additional digital ads, radio ads and grassroots actions. As of early May, the group had spent $35 million on ads targeting Hagan, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and other Democrats deemed vulnerable in key Senate and House races, Politico reported.

On June 11, Americans for Prosperity launched it latest ad buys, for which it spent over $1 million, attacking Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley for shifting his position on the Keystone XL pipeline and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for supporting the Affordable Care Act.

In the 2012 election cycle, AFP reportedly raised $140 million — with more than $44 million of that coming from a donor network organized by the Koch brothers. In total, the Koch-backed political donor network — identified by the Washington Post and Center for Responsive Politics — raised at least $407 million in the 2012 elections.

Fact-checking Americans for Prosperity ads:

ACA Hurts ‘Struggling Families’? Jan. 16, 2014

In Florida Ad: Recycled Quote Still Wrong, Feb. 11, 2014

AFP Distorts Begich’s Carbon Tax Stance, Feb. 28, 2014

Misleading Anti-Obamacare Ad in Michigan, March 31, 2014

How Not To Use a Survey, April 24, 2014