Donald J. Trump shakes hands with  Joe Biden
In this photo illustration, President Donald J. Trump shakes hands with Former vice president Joe Biden as Former president Barack Obama looks on at the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump on January 20, 2017.
(Photo:Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Pay Attention as Koch Network's Big Money Targets Trump

Trump may be up against the level of opposition he has so far only faced from Democrats—but now its coming from the libertarian billionaires.

Even before the Justice Department announced the federal indictment of former President Trump last week, Koch’s group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and its super PAC, AFP Action (AFPA), had spent $347,022 in May to discredit his presidential bid in 2024. AFP joins Club for Growth as the first right-wing super PACs to openly oppose Trump’s candidacy, according to The Washington Post.

The initial election spending was for digital attack ads in four states to test various political messages with GOP primary voters. One 15-second spot claims that the only way Biden can win is if Trump is the nominee, and points out that 60% of voters oppose the ex-president running again. A second AFPA ad uses the same 60% statistic and claims that Trump “has done a lot of good things,” but that he can’t win in 2024 since swing voters won’t support him. The 15-second ads on YouTube are straightforward, making use of still photos and graphics.

In its disclosures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for May, AFP Action reported that it spent $86,880 in Iowa, $59,714 in Nevada, $69,714 in New Hampshire, and $130,714 in South Carolina on “media placement–message research.” So far, it has not reported a paid media buy to the FEC.

Drew Klein, an adviser to AFPA’s Iowa operation, told the Des Moines Register that the group is “getting involved earlier than ever in the presidential primary process,” and the ads as evidence of their “commitment to support a candidate in the Republican presidential primary who can… win.”

All four states hold early presidential primaries—or in Iowa’s case, caucuses—and although the Koch group has not yet announced its support of any of the many GOP candidates who have announced so far, its message is clear: never Trump again.

AFP Positioned for Action

In early February, AFP CEO Emily Seidel noted in a memo to staff and activists that “the country is in a downward spiral, with both parties reinforcing the bad behavior of the other.” She added that many “people are frustrated. But very few people are in a position to do something about it. AFP is.”

Although the Koch group has not yet announced its support of any of the many GOP candidates who have announced so far, its message is clear: never Trump again.

AFP claims more than 4 million members and announced last month that it now plans to expand its presence from its current 36 states to all 50 in order to “reignite the American dream.”

Seidel reports that during the midterms AFP and AFP Action engaged in a record-breaking 457 state and federal races, knocking on more than 7 million “highly targeted” doors, delivering over 100 million pieces of mail, and reaching millions more voters through phone and email.

Its messages are in sync with those of other Koch-funded groups that work against progressive or Democratic initiatives, including protections for workers and the environment. AFP routinely opposes labor unions, healthcare reform, stimulus spending, and any efforts to combat climate change.

AFP Action spent $69.5 million on federal races during the 2022 election cycle, investing more than $45 million in five competitive U.S. Senate races, with almost half of that spent on candidates who lost in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Of the funds AFPA spent on the midterms, $20 million came from Charles Koch’s conglomerate, Koch Industries, and $26.5 million from the Koch-funded Stand Together Chamber of Commerce.

Club for Growth is Anti-Trump Too

In its latest FEC filing, Club for Growth Action reported spending $55,837 in the past month on field organizing in Iowa. Over the years, the group has had an inconsistent relationship with Trump, both supporting and opposing his endorsed candidates in GOP primaries.

Most of the approximately $69 million it spent on the 2022 midterms came from just three individuals, and its early investments in Iowa this election cycle may signal that billionaire donors like Jeffrey Yass, Richard Uihlein, and Diane Hendricks are searching for someone other than Trump to carry the MAGA mantle.

Since 2018, Uihlein has donated $1.4 million to the gubernatorial campaigns of Florida governor and recently announced presidential candidate Ron DeSantis; Yass contributed $100,000 to the governor’s 2022 reelection campaign; and Hendricks has never contributed to DeSantis.

Uihlein, who heads the shipping and packaging supply company Uline, lives in Illinois, while Hendricks owns ABC Supply, the country’s largest roofing supply company, and lives in Wisconsin. Together, they spent a total of $110.5 million on the 2022 elections and bankrolled the reelection of Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) by donating $22.7 million to the super PAC Wisconsin Truth. Yass, a hedge fund owner from Pennsylvania, spent more than $56 million in the last election cycle.

Given that all three were among the top donors to outside spending groups in the 2022 midterms, they have the capacity to unleash massive spending against Trump in the 2024 primaries. Couple that with AFP’s early attack ads and formidable door-to-door operation and Trump may be up against the level of opposition he has so far only faced from Democrats—except that this round it comes from within his own party.

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