During a closed-door gathering of major donors in Southern California on Monday, the political operation spearheaded by the Koch brothers unveiled a significant new weapon in its rapidly expanding arsenal -- a super PAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund. The new group aims to spend more than $15 million in the 2014 midterm campaigns -- part of a much larger spending effort expected to total $290 million, sources told POLITICO.
The relationship between Republican candidates and their billionaire benefactors, Charles and David Koch, can be a little awkward at times. On the one hand, GOP politicians welcome the massive amounts of campaign cash the Koch brothers are willing to spend. On the other hand, Republicans sometimes struggle to defend the idea that voters should support candidates backed by billionaires trying to buy elections.
Alaska, for example, is home to a very competitive U.S. Senate race, where Koch-financed operations have been attacking incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D). The senator's top rival, Republican Dan Sullivan, was recently asked whether he wanted the Kochs' support. Sullivan "paused for 25 seconds" before dodging the question.
In any conversation, 25 seconds of silence is an extremely long time.
Nevertheless, the Koch brothers are not only undaunted by the controversy surrounding their efforts, they're actually expanding their political operation.
At this point, you might be wondering why the Kochs would bother. After all, they already have a massive operation, which by some measures, rivals the campaign committees of the two major parties. If the billionaire brothers already have Americans for Prosperity and other affiliated groups heavily engaged, what's the point of creating a new super PAC?
There quite a few reasons, actually.
It's important to remember that much of what we think of as the Kochs' political operation is comprised of entities that claim to be non-profit groups. Many assume that they're partisan political outfits, but at least technically, these are tax-exempt groups that never come right out and tell voters who to support. The series of often-ugly attack ads are, according to the lawyers, "issue ads," not commercials intended to influence the outcome of elections.
Among other benefits, this allows the Koch brothers and their donor allies to block some public scrutiny -- contributions to non-profit organizations are kept private and do not need to be disclosed to anyone.
The downside is, these entities have to be careful about crossing certain legal lines, while devoting a portion of their resources to non-political endeavors.
By financing a super PAC, the Koch brothers can be more explicit in their backing of like-minded Republicans, while devoting more of their campaign dollar to actual campaign activities. It will also have to disclose more information to the FEC, but apparently, the Kochs don't seem to mind anymore.
Also keep in mind, the new super PAC is "linked to another organization, called Freedom Partners, that is organized as a trade association of business executives, most of them attendees of the twice-yearly donor conferences hosted by the Kochs."
Democrats already seem to realize the 2014 cycle poses real challenges. With the Koch brothers creating a new super PAC with an eight-figure budget, the Dems' hurdles just got higher.