In Unprecedented Assault, Koch Brothers Aim for Anti-Choice Senate in 2014

Pro-choice Democrats in vulnerable U.S. Senate seats are under attack as never before by Americans for Prosperity, the flagship organization of the Koch brothers' sprawling network of spending groups.

Pro-choice Democrats in vulnerable U.S. Senate seats are under attack as never before by Americans For Prosperity, the flagship organization of the Koch brothers' sprawling network of spending groups. bravenewfoundation / YouTube

Were there one—and only one—thing the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch would seem to want between now and November, a safe guess would be to return the U.S. Senate back into the hands of the Republican Party. Should that wish come true, both chambers of Congress would have anti-choice majorities.

As Rewire and others have reported, the largesse of groups funded by the Kochs’ donor network extends to such anti-choice organizations as the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life Action, and the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.

Thanks to a handful of organizations either founded by or linked to the Kochs, the campaign for the mid-term congressional elections came early this cycle, with a barrage of advertising, much of it based on discredited assertions, lodged against Democratic candidates in vulnerable Senate seats. Because these nonprofit groups are defined under the tax code as “social welfare” organizations, they do not have to disclose their donor lists.

Already, according to the New York Times, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), founded by the Kochs and funded through the brothers’ network of high-powered donors, has spent some $30 million on advertising and other activities hammering Democratic incumbents in Senate and House races—a figure fast approaching the $36 million that AFP spent in total on federal elections in the 2012 election cycle, which included the presidential election.

As of March 4, nearly half of this year’s spending by Americans for Prosperity and other Koch-linked groups—$14.5 million, according to the Washington Posthad targeted Senate races. The Republican primaries for these races are still months away, and the general election not for another seven months.

The flood of negative advertising against Democratic senators prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to denounce the Kochs in several fiery speeches from the floor in March, calling them “un-American” and accusing the duo of trying to buy Congress. In response, Republicans have stepped up to defend the pair, who are principles in Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned corporation in the United States.

As Rewire reported, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asserted that those billionaires that Reid was bashing are “great Americans”—in the same speech he used to establish his anti-choice credentials before the right-wing audience. (In 2012, David Koch was reportedly keen on the prospect of a Christie presidential run, and the Garden State governor is believed to be considering a go at the White House in 2016.)

“I think the Koch brothers are two of the most patriotic Americans,” Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) told the audience at a town hall in his home state, where television ads by Americans for Prosperity targeting Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) have been airing. Like the ads running against her fellow Senate Democrats up for re-election in other states, the television spots decry Landrieu’s support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The most recent ad, which features a woman actor who appears to be in her 40s quietly telling the camera that she doesn’t like political ads, was rated “mostly false” by PolitiFact. (Of a total of 12 AFP ads assessed by PolitiFact over the last four years, the fact-checking operation sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times found ten to be either “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” The other two were rated “half true.”)

The ad campaigns targeting incumbent senators, most of which attempt to stoke fear over Obamacare and tar Democratic Senate candidates with the program’s bad press, is just one part of a much larger gambit, AFP President Tim Phillips recently told the New York Times. The larger aim is to create doubt in the ability of government to do good things, in order to stave off the kind of environmental and financial regulations the Kochs oppose as executives in a corporation with operations in the petroleum, chemicals, and timber sectors.

From the March 20 New York Times report by Carl Hulse and Ashley Parker:

“We have a broader cautionary tale,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. “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.”

In order to effect their anti-environmental agenda, the Kochs will need senators willing to make it happen. But people who fear Obamacare are likely to be the same people who fear Obama himself—people who also fear the fading demographic of a non-Hispanic white majority, as well as equal rights for women. In other words, they’re anti-choice. And if a raft of anti-choice senators is what it takes to win the right to pollute at will, it appears the Kochs are fine with that.

Just take a look at some of the candidates vying for a chance to defeat the senators targeted by those factually challenged AFP ads. In Michigan, where Rep. Gary Peters is likely to win the August 5 Democratic primary for the chance to compete for the seat of retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D), Americans for Prosperity had already spent $2 million by February 24, according to The Hill, for attack ads targeting Peters, including one famously debunked by the Washington Post, in which cancer patient Julie Boonstra says that Obamacare is making her treatment unaffordable. “Congressman Peters, your decision to vote Obamacare jeopardized my health,” Boonstra says toward the end of the television spot. (Glenn Kessler of the Post’s Fact Checker blog found that Boonstra is actually saving money—$1,200 per year—under her Obamacare plan, and awarded the ad three “Pinocchios.”)

Benefiting from the barrage against Peters is likely Republican nominee Terri Lynn Land, an anti-choice candidate who has nonetheless declined to state her opinion on the controversial law passed in Michigan that prohibits the inclusion of abortion coverage in health-care plans sold on the state’s ACA exchange. (The law allows insurance companies to sell abortion “riders” privately but, as Rewire’s Emily Crockett has reported, it appears that none of the health insurance companies in Michigan plan to do so.)

Peters pressed Land to weigh in on the law, and issued a statement that read:

As the father of two daughters, I struggle with how to tell them that the state we love and where our family has been for generations is now unfairly discriminating against them and makes health care less affordable.

Michigan Right to Life responded with a page on its website describing Peters’ pro-choice positions with a heading that said the Democrat “wants to make sure abortion is accessible and cheap for his daughters.” Land has not condemned or distanced herself from that comment, despite calls from Peters and others to do so.

In North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan, is also enduring an onslaught of negative advertising by Americans for Prosperity, which, as of February 12, had spent a whopping $8.2 million in ad buys against the pro-choice Democrat, mostly harping on her support for Obamacare. One ad depicts Hagan and President Obama as “best friends,” complete with an image of the president with his arm around Hagan’s shoulder, and another of the two in amiable conversation, the face of the shorter Hagan upturned as she smiles at Obama. As the video begins, the concept of “best friends” doing the same thing as each other is illustrated by a photo of a young man and a young woman with opposite ends of the same spaghetti strand in their mouths.

Taking the top two spots in North Carolina’s Republican primary polls for a chance to run against Hagan are Thom Tillis, the Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives, who shepherded through the state legislature a motorcycle regulation bill that was actually laden with anti-choice measures, and Greg Brannon, an obstetrician and gynecologist who, according to The Raw Story, “refuses to advise his patients on contraception or abortions.”

Brannon also contends that Roe v. Wade is not the law of the land, and wants abortion patients to be told that there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer, even though there is no scientific evidence of such a link. He also asserted at a recent North Carolina town hall meeting, as shown in a video obtained by the progressive research organization American Bridge, that Planned Parenthood seeks to kill newborn infants up to three months of age.

An average of recent polls calculated by Real Clear Politics shows Tillis with 21 percent, and Brannon with 14.5 percent, among a field of six candidates. Americans for Prosperity’s ad buys against Hagan dwarf its spending in all of the other Senate races combined. If the ads succeed in damaging Hagan’s candidacy sufficiently, either Tillis or Brannon could be the new U.S. senator from the Tar Heel State. Already, they seem to be having an effect. A March 11 survey by Public Policy Polling (PPP) showed Hagan ahead by two points in a prospective match-up with Tillis (45-43), and tied with Brannon (43-43).

In other races targeted by AFP, the contrasts are not quite so stark, but they remain significant. In the Louisiana race for U.S. Senate, where as of February 12 the organization had spent some $2.6 million on advertising buys, Democrat Mary Landrieu has a “mixed choice” rating from NARAL, apparently for her support of parental notification laws and the ban on the intact dilation and extraction (IDX) abortion procedure passed by Congress in 2003, and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.

But that’s in contrast to Landrieu’s likely opponent, Republican Bill Cassidy, a medical doctor whose website biography states that he “works to promote the culture of life and protect the unborn,” and has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

It also shows him in lockstep with the Koch brothers’ energy policies, and their opposition to environmental regulation. From the “About Bill” section of Cassidy’s campaign website:

Dr. Cassidy knows the road to better jobs with better wages and benefits runs through developing our domestic energy resources. He has proposed legislation promoting natural gas as a transportation fuel, supports hydraulic fracturing, and building the Keystone XL Pipeline.

It goes on to say that Cassidy has “introduced legislation requiring greater review of EPA regulations and their impact on job creation.”

Likewise, Arkansas incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor (D), who also has a “mixed choice” NARAL rating, is facing an onslaught of negative advertising from AFP, which has so far, according to Politico, spent $1.4 million in his race against Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who is staunchly anti-choice and a favorite of such “free-market” groups as the Club for Growth. Last June, Cotton voted for HR 1797, the ban on abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, which passed the House under the misleading title the “Pain Capable Infant Protection Act.” The bill has no chance of passage in the current Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, but a shift in control to Republicans supported by such Koch-linked groups as Americans for Prosperity could change all that.

Other pro-choice senators targeted by AFP, and who will almost certainly face off with anti-choice Republicans, include Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Udall of Colorado.

A bit late to the party, a Democratic-aligned political action committee, the Senate Majority PAC, is stepping into the fray, running ads against Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Cory Gardner in Colorado.

Whatever the disparity in resources for advertising between Democratic PACs and the Koch brothers’ massive outlays through their network of opaque nonprofits such as AFP, Democrats are taking some consolation in the resonance that running against the Koch brothers finds among both their base and swing voters, according to Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.

“[O]ur research has shown pretty clearly that once voters recognize the source of the attacks, they tend to discount them substantially,” Garin told the New York Times. That suggests that Harry Reid’s Koch-themed floor speeches could be inspired by more than personal frustration.

In the meantime, though, Americans for Prosperity isn’t counting on advertising alone to win the 2014 mid-term congressional races for its favorite Republicans. In a recent special election for the U.S. House seat vacated when Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) died in October, AFP saw an opportunity to try out its new get-out-the-vote methods. Alex Sink, the Democrat in the race, lost to Republican lobbyist David Jolly in a close race.