MADISON -- David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity conventions in Wisconsin over the past two years may have helped lay the groundwork for the state's controversial battle over labor rights and budget cuts. The conventions featured leading figures in the right-wing's attack on workers, and may also have skirted disclosure rules in the process. Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appeared when they were running for office, and both conventions featured Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David T. Prosser, Jr., whose race with challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg will come to an end with Tuesday's state-wide election.
David Koch and Americans for Prosperity
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is chaired by billionaire David Koch, one of the richest men in the world, and co-owner of Koch Industries with his brother Charles. Koch Industries is the second largest privately-held energy and chemical company in the country, and the Kochs are one of the largest sources of funding for America's right-wing agenda. The Kochs, sons of a founding member of the radical right-wing fringe group the John Birch Society, have been major funders of climate change denial and have pushed an anti-tax agenda that would slash the social safety net and spending on public education, as well as limit government regulation, which would further increase their unimaginable wealth. David Koch has also invested in a grassroots veneer for this agenda by funding and chairing Americans for Prosperity, which in turn has cultivated the small-but-loud Tea Party movement.
Most recently, AFP has gained greater notoriety by supporting Governor Walker's extreme agenda, and for the ties between Koch funding and union-busting efforts nationwide. Before this year, AFP spent $40 million on last fall's elections with "issue ads" blanketing voters with misleading messages -- ror example, with erroneous claims about healthcare reform and the stimulus package. This spending looks like a good investment: on the federal level, for example, most new members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee benefitted from Koch spending on their campaign, and 9 of the 12 GOP members of the Committee signed an AFP pledge to oppose climate change regulation.
AFP Investment in Wisconsin
Wisconsin legislators appear to be advancing AFP's anti-tax policy agenda by dismantling unions and slashing spending on public education, among other measures. For at least two years, Koch and AFP have been working to get GOP leaders and activists to push spending cuts and related issues. According to news reports, AFP's Wisconsin conferences in 2009 and 2010 gathered several hundred Tea Party activists "at a posh resort to discuss strategy, hear from national and state conservative leaders and office holders, and look ahead to how they can influence the 2010 elections." Listed speakers included Walker, Van Hollen and Prosser, as well as Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) and Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), plus Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann and a handful of state representatives.
In both the 2009 and 2010 conferences, AFP invited activists to attend a closing "reception" with "invited candidates for elected office" that was "fully sponsored and hosted" by the Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity (WCEP), a Political Action Committee (PAC). AFP added a disclaimer to the 2010 political candidate meet-and-greet reception, stating "the reception and corresponding activities are not sponsored or hosted by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, or the Wisconsin Prosperity Network." This disclaimer was likely aimed at avoiding restrictions on non-profit involvement in partisan political activities, such as funding a reception for federal and state candidates.
AFP's Mark Block and His History of Scandal in Wisconsin Politics
However, at the time of the conventions, WCEP shared leadership with AFP. Federal filings showed that at least one of WCEP's checking accounts was in the name of Mark Block, the president of Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin until 2011. He is now campaign manager for Tea Party presidential candidate Herman Cain.
This would not be the first time Block or AFP came close to violating election rules. Before Block headed AFP, he worked as campaign manager for former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox, and was charged with illegally forming an allegedly "independent" and "non-partisan" group to skirt campaign finance rules to rake in at least $200,000 of campaign activity from those trying to privatize public education. Block and his co-conspirators settled the charges by paying the largest election-related fine in Wisconsin history and acknowledging the state "may be able to prove" they violated the law.
Shortly after AFP and its Wisconsin affiliate were created, in 2007 Block and AFP came "dangerously close" to violating fair election laws, according to the Washington County District Attorney, when spreading misinformation about the costs of school construction in West Bend. In 2010, Block and AFP were also implicated in a vote-caging scheme designed to keep Wisconsin's African-American and student populations from casting ballots.
As a PAC, WCEP is supposed to report all expenditures to the federal government, as well as comply with state disclosure rules in state races. But it reported no expenses related to its "sponsorship" of the AFP receptions in 2009 and 2010. Block's WCEP has not been charged with wrongdoing, but it has received four "failure to file" notices from the Federal Elections Commission. Additionally, WCEP is one of three plaintiffs challenging Wisconsin's "Impartial Justice Act" that provides public financing of Supreme Court elections, a system designed to protect against the politicization of the state's highest court.
Do the Candidates Headlining the AFP Events Have a Koch Problem?
Among the many candidates running for office, why were these individuals selected to be featured at the Tea Party conventions that pushed the Kochs' avaricious agendas? We know that Koch Industries was one of Scott Walker's biggest campaign contributors, and that AFP worked behind the scenes to support his union-busting and budget-slashing schemes. (We also know that Walker is eager to accept a phone call if he thinks it is from AFP's funder and chair David Koch). What other plans does AFP have for the dairy state, and for America? And what do Governor Walker, Attorney General Van Hollen, Justice Prosser, and other candidates have to say about AFP's agenda? There are more questions than answers, but one thing is clear: elected officials with ties to the Koch agenda deserve an extra level of scrutiny.
Since its founding in 1994, the mission of the Center for Media and Democracy has been to research PR activities funded by corporations, CEOs, and special interests, and expose their attempts to influence public policies. Please see our special report on these conventions for more information about the participants.