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Koch Brothers' Americans For Prosperity Goes All Out in Wisconsin Recall--And Denies It!

The spokesperson for the Koch Brothers' anti-union crusade claims their efforts are not on behalf of any candidate.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker


DC-based special interest group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is busing-in out-of-state Tea Partiers and spending millions on advertisements, rallies, and phone banks in the weeks before recall elections for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and four state senate seats. But the group founded and funded by New York-based oil billionaire David Koch insists its activities have nothing to do with the Wisconsin campaigns or elections.

"We're not dealing with any candidates, political parties or ongoing races," said Scott Hilgemann, the director of AFP's Wisconsin operations, about AFP's four-day, ten-city bus tour taking place the week before Wisconsin's June 5 election.

"We're just educating folks on the importance of the reforms," he said.

The "reforms" Hilgemann is referencing include Governor Walker's contentious attack on public sector collective bargaining and his austerity budget, which AFP touts as having saved taxpayers money -- but which Walker's critics say have crippled public schools and led to Wisconsin being dead last among all 50 states for job growth. Those controversial reforms also compelled over 900,000 people to sign petitions for Walker's recall.

Since at least November, AFP has staged an aggressive pro-Walker campaign while claiming to be focused merely on promoting Walker's "reforms" rather than the candidate himself or the recall election. The group has been one of Walker's top allies since he introduced his divide-and-conquer legislation in February of 2011, and even before that in putting Walker on the AFP stage in his earlier campaign for governor.

Continuation of AFP "It's Working!" Campaign

Just as Governor Walker's opponents started collecting recall signatures in November 2011, AFP began running a series of slick TV and web ads claiming “It’s Working!”, and alleging that Walker's fiscal policies have been good for the state (while ignoring all the bad news). The campaign has reportedly cost at least $2.9 million so far -- nearly three times as much as Walker's opponent Tom Barrett has raised.

The ads come from the "charitable" side of AFP -- the AFP Foundation -- which as a charity organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, has an absolute prohibition against intervening in political campaigns. The ads were produced in collaboration with another 501(c)(3), the Bradley Foundation-funded MacIver Institute, which has the same prohibition. As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, the ads push the envelope on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules about nonprofit participation in political campaigns, never mentioning Walker or the election but advancing a message consistent with Walker's electoral strategy.

The AFP-Foundation and MacIver "It's Working!" campaign has also included a series of townhall events across the state in November and December to have a "respectful discussion on why we must maintain the reforms that have saved hundreds of millions for Wisconsin taxpayers," according to an AFP press release. The implication is clear -- the election of a governor other than Walker would threaten the "reforms," and his reelection would maintain them. And according to AFP, "we must maintain the reforms."

But, AFP claims the campaign is not about the elections -- indeed, if it were, the organization could lose its nonprofit status.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign believes the AFP / MacIver ads really are about the elections, and filed a complaint with the IRS accusing the groups of violating IRS rules.

"Stand With Walker"

In February and March of last year, hundreds of thousands of people occupied and marched on the capital in protest of Governor Walker's policies, including his Act 10 proposal to limit public sector collective bargaining. At the start of the uprising’s second week, Walker accepted a phone call from a person he believed to be David Koch, who asked how the governor’s efforts to “crush that union” were going. The caller was actually Buffalo Beast blogger Ian Murphy, who recorded and publicized the conversation.