Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker flew to DC over the weekend to thank the Americans For Prosperity astroturf group for its help with the Wisconsin recall. Walker headlined AFP's 2012 "Defending the American Dream" Summit two months after winning his June 5 recall battle -- with a $10 million assist from the organization that was founded and is funded and led by billionaire David Koch. (The $10 million spent by AFP was $3 million more than what was spent by Walker's opponent.)
Walker's headlining slot at the annual event's "Tribute to Ronald Reagan" dinner could be seen as a celebration of how Koch money and D.C. consultants managed to steamroll Wisconsin's people-powered uprising. AFP was at Walker's side from the beginning, sponsoring poorly attended counter-rallies and TV ads almost as soon as protesters began occupying the Wisconsin Capitol in February 2011. As recall proponents began gathering signatures in November 2011, AFP poured millions into a slick "It's Working!" spin campaign -- a series of TV ads and town hall meetings asserting that Walker's severe budget cuts to education, health care and local aides were working to improve Wisconsin's economy and job growth, contrary to monthly statistics that repeatedly ranked Wisconsin worst in the nation in job growth. In the weeks and months before the election, AFP implemented an expert ground game, flying-in around 70 staffers to knock on some 75,000 doors, busing tea partiers across state lines, and organizing phone banks and canvassers to get-out-the-vote.
Walker Sticks to Well Worn Talking Points
Walker began his speech by repeating one of his favorite claims: "the novelty was that after I was sworn in, I actually went out and fulfilled those promises I made on the campaign trail." This assertion has been thoroughly debunked with respect to his most controversial bill, which stripped public workers' of their collective bargaining rights. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and others have documented that he never discussed his plans with regard to public sector workers on the campaign trail. Walker also promised to create 250,000 jobs, but is falling far short of his goal. Even though final official jobs numbers for Wisconsin from December 2011-2012, indicate Wisconsin added 20,000 that year, Wisconsin ranks 41st in the nation in terms of job growth and the economy is in a dead stall. New Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Wisconsin lost 13,000 jobs in June.
The fact that Wisconsin's economy is dead in the water is of no concern to Walker's friends at AFP who hailed him for "making the great state of Wisconsin more prosperous and providing a shining example to the rest of the country." Now AFP wants to take this "success" national.
"Battlefront Wisconsin: What Worked, and How to Repeat It"
AFP held a breakout session at the summit titled "Battlefront Wisconsin: What Worked, and How to Repeat It." AFP-Wisconsin director Luke Hilgemann touted how AFP combined technology, high-tech voter lists, on-the-ground-organizing, and careful messaging to help Walker survive the recall.
As a nonprofit organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, AFP can participate in some partisan political campaign activities, but they cannot be its primary purpose. Its 501(c)(3) AFP Foundation wing is a "charity" entirely prohibited from political campaign intervention -- but it nonetheless spent millions on ads in Wisconsin that appeared to support Walker, which pushed the envelope on tax and election law.
Now they want to put the same strategy to work in an effort to defeat President Obama.
In the constellation of Republican third party groups and Super PACs spending hundreds of millions on TV ads, AFP is carving its own niche. AFP is investing millions on a get-out-the-vote ground war. According to Bloomberg News: "Americans for Prosperity plans to spend $100 million this year, only about a third of it on costly television ads that lack the personal connections strategists in both parties agree are more effective in swaying voters. AFP has opened offices in 34 states, hired 200 employees and armed hundreds of volunteers with digital devices -- deploying more than 4,000 mobile phones and tablets so far."
AFP is not holding back on the ad war either. The group has announced a $25 million ad buy attacking President Obama in 11 key states. This is in addition to the $17.6 million they have already spent influencing the outcome of the presidential election. The new ads, which focus on U.S. debt, are expected to run from August 8 until September 11.
Democrats frequently tout their volunteers and their "groundgame" as one of the strengths of the party. AFP is hoping to give them a run -- with their money.