Kochs to spend unprecedented sum on midterms

Members of the "Save Our News'' coalition protest with images of billionaire brothers Charles and Bill Koch in Los Angeles Wednesday, May 29, 2013.
Members of the "Save Our News'' coalition protest with images of billionaire brothers Charles and Bill Koch in Los Angeles Wednesday, May 29, 2013.

The Koch brothers plan to spend $125 million, and perhaps much more, to help elect conservative candidates this fall -- offering a major boost to Republicans as they look to take total control of Congress.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch-backed non-profit, won’t just spend that money on ads, according to a strategy memo obtained by Politico. Learning from the experience of 2012 -- when conservatives spent lavishly on TV but had little to show for it -- AFP will also stand up an aggressive field and turnout operation, using the kind of data analytics that was central to the success of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Already, AFP has spent over $35 million on TV ads attacking Democrats in key Senate races. But over the last month or so, Democrats and their allies have substantially closed the spending gap, pouring money into those same crucial Senate races after party leaders expressed fear that Democratic candidates were being overwhelmed. The Senate Majority PAC, which has funded ads on behalf of Democrats in North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana, among other races, has spent over $11 million, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics, more than the top five conservative Super PACs combined.

In Arkansas, that spending appears to have helped prompt a revival for Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who earlier this year had been virtually written off by analysts. Two recent polls showed him in the lead over Rep. Tom Cotton, his Republican challenger.

Still, the planned campaign by AFP -- which is not a Super PAC but a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which need not disclose its donors -- could shift the playing field back toward the GOP again. No political group has ever spent as much as AFP plans to in a midterm race. And it will likely be more than the official campaign arms of either party.

The $125 million figure could be low. It doesn’t include money to be spent by AFP’s 501(c)(3) arm, which could be significant. And a source familiar with AFP’s plans told Politico the figure was “very conservative,” adding: “We’re on track for more than that.”

Of course, the news is not without some hazards for the GOP. Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have lately tried to make an issue of the Koch’s spending, charging that Republicans are “addicted to Koch,” and that the party puts the wishes of its wealthy backers over the concerns of ordinary Americans. Reid said this week that the Kochs are one of the “main causes” of climate change. The news about AFP’s plans could bolster that line of attack -- especially if Democrats can link Republican opposition to popular idea like raising the minimum wage to the Kochs’ influence.  

Within hours of the news breaking, American Bridge, a Democratic tracking group, blasted out an email to reporters with the subject line: “Koch Bros Effort to Buy an Election Spills Out into the Open.”