Charles Koch’s political operation had a rough year. Despite the billionaire’s huge investments in Americans for Prosperity (AFP), his political and advocacy organization, and its super PAC, AFP Action, scored few electoral gains in the midterms and suffered major legislative defeats in Congress. As the year comes to a close, the longtime political operative has reason to be disappointed on both counts.
Koch’s astroturf operation failed to keep Congress from passing much of President Biden’s legislative vision for building back better. It failed to stop increased military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It failed to get any of its other federal legislative priorities—relating to employment, taxes, and healthcare—through Congress. And AFP failed to squash a ballot initiative in South Dakota that expanded Medicaid coverage in that state.
On the flip side, AFP Action proved to be a bit more effective—though not much. Of the $68.8 million it spent on federal races during the 2022 election cycle, it invested almost $45 million in four competitive Senate races, more than half of which went into losing contests in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
AFP Action invested $11 million in the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, betting that the $9.5 million it spent to back Trump-endorsed candidate Mehmet Oz and the $1.5 million it spent against Democrat John Fetterman would pay off for the GOP. Instead, Pennsylvania voters gave Democrats a pick-up seat in the Senate.
A similar scenario played out in the once solidly red state of Georgia, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock pulled off a close win over another Trump-endorsed candidate, Herschel Walker, in the Dec. 6 run-off election.
AFP Action spent a total of $13.5 million in this race on both the general election and the run-off together, investing more than $12 million to back the former football player and $1.5 million attacking the pastor. With Warnock’s win, Senate Democrats now have a slightly safer 51-49 majority during the 118th congressional session that begins in January.
AFP Action had better luck in the Senate races in Wisconsin and North Carolina, two seats the GOP expected to retain.
In Wisconsin, incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson beat the state’s Democratic Lieutenant Gov. Mandela Barnes. Here again, AFP Action spent a total of $11.2 million—$9.7 million backing Johnson and $1.5 million attacking Barnes. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) previously reported on the group’s wide use of door-to-door canvassing in that race.
In North Carolina, GOP incumbent Sen. Ted Budd narrowly held on to his seat with 50.5% of the vote over Democratic challenger Cheri Beasley. AFP Action spent almost $9 million to make sure he did and added another $378,000 to keep her from taking the lead.
On the House side, AFP Action won most of the races it bet on in the midterms, but very few of these were competitive.
Of the $68 million the super PAC spent, $17 million came from Charles Koch’s conglomerate, Koch Industries, and $11 million from the Koch-funded Stand Together Chamber of Commerce.
Lobbying Efforts Fizzle
With affiliates in 38 states, AFP’s advocacy and legislative arm works to oppose public-sector unions, expanded healthcare, and environmental protections.
AFP’s budget—more than half of which came from the Stand Together Chamber of Commerce in 2020—was $97 million in 2021. Unlike its super PAC, AFP’s advocacy group is not required by law to disclose its funding sources, but the Stand Together Chamber of Commerce is required to disclose the groups it funds.
In addition to its in-house lobbyists, AFP spent $1.4 million on outside federal lobbying in 2022, with its top legislative priority being to stop passage of any version of Biden’s Build Back Better bill. However, much of that package eventually got incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, which passed Congress with bipartisan support and Biden signed into law on August 16, 2022.
The new law, which represents the largest U.S. investment ever to address the climate crisis, will raise $738 billion and authorize $391 billion in spending on energy and global warming mitigation efforts while providing $238 billion in deficit reduction, three years of Affordable Care Act subsidies, prescription drug reform to lower prices, and tax reform. The provisions in the IRA are meant to ensure that the U.S. will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The revenue called for in the IRA will be raised by establishing a minimum corporate tax, making changes to Medicare drug pricing, and giving the Internal Revenue Service the ability to better monitor and enforce existing regulations.
AFP’s primary targets in its fight against passage of the IRA were Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Krysten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona at the time of the vote, now declaring herself an independent. In addition to direct federal lobbying, the group ran social media ads that called out the two senators, encouraging them to oppose what it called a “$739-billion tax hike.”
One ominous-sounding ad targeted at Manchin said: “Senator Manchin can stop it. Come on, Joe… Say NO for West Virginia.” Another ad aimed at Sinema was almost identical, saying: “Senator Sinema can stop it. Come on, Kyrsten… Say NO for Arizona.” In the end, both senators voted in favor of the massive package, a pared-back version of the original $1.7-trillion Build Back Better bill.
Fighting Funding for Ukraine
In 2022, AFP was also unsuccessful in keeping Congress from approving multiple emergency aid packages for Ukraine: $13.6 billion in March, followed by $40 billion in May, $13.7 billion in September, and an additional $37.7 billion request still pending from November.
AFP argued that the U.S. is already carrying too much debt, writing, “At a time when Ukraine’s government is preoccupied with defending the country, U.S. lawmakers should demand stronger oversight protections over American aid before passing any more.” It also warned that “U.S. policymakers should take care that our good intentions in sending aid don’t drive cultures of corruption that ultimately cause Ukraine serious internal harm longer-term.”
This year AFP had also lobbied Congress on two dozen other federal bills, most having to do with employment, taxes, and healthcare. But with Democrats controlling the House, none was passed.
Medicaid Keeps Expanding
At the state level, AFP continued its resistance to Medicaid expansion. Despite opposition from AFP’s Missouri operation, in 2021 the state became the 38th to expand Medicaid, which allows individuals to earn more and still qualify for insurance coverage under the program. Once Missouri voters approved Medicaid expansion, the state Supreme Court ruled that the expansion amendment was constitutional, and a state trial court ordered Missouri to allow enrollment.
In 2022, despite losing in Missouri the previous year, AFP tried to prevent South Dakota from becoming the 39th state to expand Medicaid. Throughout the year, it attempted to derail the measure. In South Dakota’s June primary, it pushed Amendment C, which would have required 60% of voters to approve the Medicaid expansion measure rather than the simple majority required for state ballot initiatives. However, primary voters rejected the amendment by a 2–1 margin.
Despite continued opposition from AFP, the initiative passed in November with 56% of the vote. More than 40,000 people who would otherwise not have access to healthcare are expected to join the program once the new law takes effect.
In 2022, North Carolina’s state Senate passed a bill authorizing Medicaid expansion, but since the GOP-controlled state House objected to it, the bill is expected to be reintroduced in 2023. AFP lobbied against Medicaid expansion there as well.
In 2023, AFP is expected to oppose Biden’s and the Democrats’ federal spending plans, along with Medicaid expansion in the 11 remaining states that have yet to adopt it.
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