What can you buy with a few hundred million dollars? Americans are slowly learning that answer to that question. But the lesson isn't over yet.
Americans For Prosperity—the rightwing advocacy group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers Charles and David—is prepared to spend $125 million (and likely much more) this year as it begins execution of a long-term strategy to win back the electoral map at all levels of government in this year's election and beyond.
According to an internal strategy memo obtained by Politico, AFP has detailed plans to "beef up its field operation in key counties" across the country as it consolidates its entire national network of organizations and chapters and prepares to operate "more like a national political party" than a disparate network of private nonprofit groups.
In fact, said one AFP associate who spoke to Politico, the $125 million figure is a "very conservative estimate" of the amount of money the group is likely to raise and is prepared to spend, which would give it more spending power than all of the traditional party-affiliated campaign committees.
The entire AFP strategy, the memo shows, is a response to previous electoral defeats and the new financial outlay is designed to correct for failures and shortcomings the organization found as a more organized Democratic Party was able to outperform Republican and Tea Party-backed candidates at the polls in 2012.
AFP identified “three key areas where the Left outperformed our efforts in the field,” according to the memo, which conceded they were “tough and painful lessons — but it’s important to remember that AFP is run like a business”:
• “Our data system was insufficient” and failed to quickly process information fed into it by thousands of canvassers and phone bankers contacting voters, causing “delays in updates, leading to some data inaccuracies during a critical phase of our organizing efforts.”
• “We were outmanned” by the left generally and Obama’s campaign, specifically, which, the memo notes “had 770 field staff on the ground” in Florida alone. By contrast, the memo notes that AFP and “other network partners” had about 300 total field staff nationwide.
• “The Left had a superior messaging strategy and implementation that effectively identified their demographic targets, determined which issues resonated best with which groups, and delivered specific messages over TV, radio and online ads for those audiences.”
To remedy the messaging disadvantage, AFP developed “a sophisticated new media message-testing strategy to target specific demographics in specific locations we need to move on our issues,” according to the memo.
The resulting advertisements increasingly have used personal stories, often told by regular folks looking directly into the camera, to critique Democratic policies like Obamacare, and the politicians who support them. They’re part of a broader effort to project a kinder, gentler tone in espousing libertarian-infused government-slashing policies that sometimes risk coming across as coldhearted.
Another key aspect of the AFP strategy is expansion of its 'Freedom Partners' program, which was detailed in a Washington Post exposé last year and which Politico describes as "technically a business league" and receives $100,000 dues payments from its corporate members to fund on-the-ground political operations for state chapters or affiliates of the group.
By focusing on state-level races and policy fights, the memo makes clear that the Koch brothers and their allies at AFP think the future of big-money spending in elections is not necessarily at the national level.
As Politico quotes the memo: "AFP’s most significant near-term opportunity to advance policy is on the ground in the states, particularly those where the citizens, Legislatures and Governors are more supportive of free market issues.” The state battles, it concludes, have “a ‘ripple effect,’ influencing broader national policy.”
In this final tactic, the AFP is not alone among rightwing organizations. In addition to the well-known work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—which perfected the model of crafting and pushing state-level legislation through its network of convservative lawmakers and groups, billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, as the Washington Post reported earlier this week, is also "deploying a state-level political network" to do his political bidding.
They say: 'All politics is local.' There's also this famous phrase: 'Follow the money.'