Koch Brothers Skip Middleman to Weigh In on Senate RacesJulie Bykowicz and Greg Giroux
The central fundraising network of billionaire energy executives Charles and David Koch purchased its first batch of television ads in this year’s U.S. Senate races, public documents filed by broadcast stations show.
The ads booked yesterday by Freedom Partners, a business league based in Arlington, Virginia, knock Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Representative Bruce Braley of Iowa for their support of President Barack Obama’s health-care law.
Republicans are targeting Colorado and Iowa in their quest for a net gain of six seats to capture a majority in the Senate. Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats and are defending 21 of the 36 seats on November ballots.
Party strategists became more bullish on Colorado last month after Republican Representative Cory Gardner announced he would challenge Udall. In Iowa, Braley will face the winner of a multi-candidate Republican contest that includes state Senator Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs, a former Goldman Sachs managing director and energy executive.
“Congressman Bruce Braley voted for Obamacare. The government spent millions of taxpayer dollars to promote it,” a female narrator says at the start of the 30-second Iowa spot. It concludes: “For Iowans, it’s canceled policies and higher costs. That’s not right.”
Udall’s campaign has denounced the Koch brothers for having helped “usher Tea Party extremists like Representative Cory Gardner into Congress.”
Braley’s campaign said the ads were “misleading” and that his opponents supported policies “that would hurt Iowa’s economy.”
The Freedom Partners ads represent an escalation in TV warfare among outside groups intervening in the Iowa and Colorado contests. In both cases, Americans for Prosperity, another Koch organization, began by attacking the Democratic candidates for backing the health-care law.
Then, Senate Majority PAC, which aids Democrats, put up response ads defending Braley and Udall as fighting corporate interests. The Freedom Partners spots say the two took campaign contributions from health-insurance companies that benefited from the law.
James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners, said in an interview today that his group plans more activity in other races to “point out that kind of cronyism and hypocrisy.”
Lawmakers who backed the health-care law “had an opportunity to stand up against the health insurance special interests when it mattered, and they didn’t,” he said in a statement yesterday. “Now, it’s time for them to stand with their constituents and stop supporting Obamacare.”
Freedom Partners raised $255 million in its first year, which began Nov. 1, 2011, its tax filings show. It spent most of that by making grants to other groups. Annual membership in the league costs at least $100,000, Freedom Partners’ spokesman James Davis has said. The group’s website claims more than 200 members.
Until now, the league has primarily served as a conduit for money between donors who share the Kochs’ support for smaller government, and organizations aligned with the brothers. The three-year-old group keeps its donors secret.
Freedom Partners has been merging with other outside groups and plans to take a more direct approach this year, rather than focusing entirely on grant-making, Davis has said.
The Daily Caller, a web-based publication founded by Republican Tucker Carlson, first reported the Freedom Partners ad buy, saying the group spent $1.1 million on it between the two states.
Americans for Prosperity has been the primary vehicle for the Koch brothers’ political activity. The group, which does not disclose its donors and says more than 90,000 people have contributed to it, has run 20,000 ads since October -- more than any other outside group, political party or candidate, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG.
The three-week run of Freedom Partners commercials in Denver includes advertising during the game shows “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” TV station documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission show.