Koch Brothers' Right-Wing Powerhouse, Americans For Prosperity, Opens Up A Connecticut Franchise
By Gregory B. Hladky
October 21, 2011
It’s not too surprising that Americans For Prosperity, a national conservative activist group begun with lots of seed money from right-wing mega-billionaires David and Charles Koch, has now opened up a branch in Connecticut.
After all, Connecticut is always at or near the top of the list of states with the wealthiest citizens and has been a happy hunting ground for money-hungry candidates and campaigns of every philosophical hue.
The only odd thing about the arrival of Americans for Prosperity is that it took them so long to get here. Conservative Republican candidates had a poor showing in Connecticut in 2010. No Republicans were elected to any statewide office (like governor) or to any U.S. House or Senate seat. Maybe that convinced AFP strategists to try a more hands-on approach in this state.
AFP announced the creation of its Connecticut chapter last month and named former state Republican Party political director J.R. Romano as its state director. Romano says the group started out with a Connecticut membership base of 6,500 that has already expanded to 10,000 in less than two months. The group claims a national membership of 1.6 million.
Romano’s most recent political adventure in Connecticut was as campaign manager for financier/author Peter D. Schiff’s failed attempt to win last year’s Republican U.S. Senate nomination away from former WWE CEO Linda McMahon.
(Perhaps the Schiff campaign’s most memorable contribution to Connecticut political history was its attack ad featuring video clips from an old WWE program showing McMahon kicking a man in the crotch in the middle of a wrestling ring. The brief ad replayed that tiny clip about seven times in the space of 30 seconds.)
According to Romano, the AFP won’t be contributing to any candidates in Connecticut or elsewhere. “We will do some advertising, but it won’t be candidate specific,” he says.
“I’m here to educate the people of Connecticut about how harmful the current tax structure is,” Romano explains. “Oftentimes, people don’t realize how harmful even smaller taxes can be.”
Romano says the Connecticut AFP branch is right now a one-man show operating out of Romano’s home, but he’s now looking for office space in Hartford and adds he’s planning to hire some staff. He declined to talk about what his salary is or what the national organization plans to budget for its new Connecticut operation.
A recent Politico article on fundraising and spending by major conservative groups reported that the two largest of those right-wing organizations — AFP and FreedomWorks — are planning to spend a total of $156 million in 2011 and 2012.
Americans For Prosperity was launched with cash from the Koch brothers in 2004. Politico’s study of tax records for the nonprofit group shows its fundraising jumped from $14.5 million in 2008 to $38.6 million last year. In 2010, AFP spent $5.4 million on payroll and $6.5 million on communications, ads and media.
The group has a fundraising target of $50 million for this year and $61 million in the 2012 presidential election year.
Romano downplays the connection between the Koch brothers and Americans For Prosperity. “It wasn’t just the Koch brothers,” he says of the group’s origins, “but they often get all the attention.”
Jon Green, director of Connecticut’s left-wing, pro-union Working Families Party, hadn’t heard that the AFP had opened a Connecticut branch.
“Any time folks with the resources of the Koch brothers ... decide to start writing seven-figure checks, we all have to be concerned about the political impact.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Citizens United case has opened the door to unlimited campaign spending by corporations, unions and issue-oriented groups like Americans For Prosperity.
Green says he believes 2012 will see such organizations “flooding the landscape” with cash in an effort to influence voters and the election, and that it remains to be seen how much such spending will influence Connecticut’s voters.