Koch-Tied Youth Group Weighs In on Senate Races

Generation Opportunity (Gen Opp), the "millennial" group behind the "creepy Uncle Sam" ads which attempted to scare America’s youth away from health care coverage, is weighing in on the fight for control of the U.S. Senate in a big way. The "nonpartisan" group, which has received almost all of its funding from two conduits tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, has dropped nearly $2.3 million on TV ads since mid-June. The ads, attacking Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Udall (D-CO), indicate that the front group is going to spend a lot of money in the fight for control of the Senate.

"Nonpartisan" Group Bashes Democrats

For now, the group has shifted off its almost exclusive focus on the horrors of affordable health care to an old fashioned bashing of "tax and spend" democrats.

One slick ad, running in North Carolina and Colorado, depicts a young woman criticizing Hagan and Udall. After four years of college, "why is it harder than ever to start a career?" the actress laments. Rather than blaming the unacceptableyouth unemployment rate on the big banks that crashed the economy, the young woman blames unspecified "massive spending bills that cripple [the] economy." The overall message -- "stop spending our generation’s future".

Another, even more generic ad, attacking Udall and Landrieu, drops the characters portraying the Senators in a shopping cart slamming "Washington politicians" with "a spending problem." Gen Opp spent a total of $900,000 against Udall, $825,000 against Hagan, and $550,000 against Landrieu, bringing the ad buy to $2.275 million.

The ads are clumsy attempts to convince American youth that government spending is more of a threat to their future than the slow recovery or student debt, when the opposite -- more government spending on education and Pell grants, plus jobs programs for youth would greatly improve their economic outlook.

Bankrolled by Billionaires

In 2012, Gen Opp received $5 million from Freedom Partners, a key part of the Koch political apparatus which raised some $256 million for the 2012 election cycle from deep pocketed donors many of whom have donated a million or more to the Koch network. It was almost a year after the election that tax filings first revealed that Freedom Partners had bankrolled almost the entirety of the "grassroots" opposition to "Obamacare." The group also received over $2 million from TC4 Trust another Koch-tied conduit in 2012. 

Tim Phillips, the head of the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity group, tipped his hand when he told the New York Times that Koch opposition to the Affordable Care Act was mere prelude to the looming showdown over climate change.

"We have a broader cautionary tale," said Phillips. "The president’s out there touting billions of dollars on climate change. We want Americans to think about what they promised with the last social welfare boondoggle and look at what the actual result is."

Polling shows that young people, both Republicans and Democrats, are hugely concerned about climate change and the future of the planet. Not only is climate change a big problem say 66 percent of youth, 80 percent want the President to take executive action to tackle it. 79 percent want to vote for politicians who share these views. Now Obama’s EPA is cracking down on emissions from coal fired power plants. Team Koch knows that to continue to pollute the planet and reap huge rewards from fossil fuel industry, it has to convince young people to look the other way.

Are America’s youth buying what Gen Opp is peddling? Hard to say. Gen Opp has only 1,961 followers on Twitter. The group boasts millions of followers on Facebook, but it was caught using a variety of deceits to swell its Facebook followers, including creating pages with generic names such as "Being American." After all, who doesn’t like Being American?

The astroturf youth group brings back fond memories of "The Can Kicks Back," the front group bankrolled by Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson’s Fix the Debt gang that thought a man in a tin can suit and grassroots road tours in a Mercedes van (not kidding) would foment grassroots enthusiasm for austerity.

Will there be more mascots, road shows, wrapped tour buses, student chapters, and other fun gimmicks as Gen Opp reaches out to the masses? One can but hope.

CMD’s Sean Hoey contributed to this article.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is a reporter for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation and is a two-time recipient of the Sidney Prize for public interest journalism from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.