Election 2016

Free Gas! Americans For Prosperity Tries to Buy Public's Support With an Offer Few Can Refuse

The astroturf organization founded by petroleum magnates Charles and David Koch seeks to fuel allegiance with a giveaway.

One of the oldest strategies for getting people to come to a political event is to feed them. But for Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded by petroleum pasha David Koch and his brother, Charles, that would be small potatoes. In these tough times, what better way to ensure a turnout than to give away gasoline?

In states across the country, that’s what Americans For Prosperity is doing: hosting events at gas stations where the first 150 people in line can purchase 15 gallons of gas for a mere $1.84 per gallon. In a place like Meriden, Conn., where AFP will sponsor a cut-rate gas event on Thursday, October 18, that amounts to a savings of more than $2 per gallon, which is kind of like getting eight gallons of gas for free -- well, actually, it’s exactly like that.

In a fundraising email sent to AFP supporters this afternoon, AFP President Tim Phillips said they have sponsored similar events “everywhere from Colorado, to Ohio, to Iowa.” Note that, unlike Connecticut, those are battleground states in the presidential election. (Connecticut, however, is the site of a fiercely fought battle for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Joseph Lieberman, where World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Linda McMahon, a Republican, is the Tea Party favorite facing off against Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat.)

“And we might even be coming somewhere near San Francisco --but only if we can count on your support today to keep this project alive,” the fundraising e-mail states.

Accompanying the e-mail text is a photo of the sign for a Marathon gas station (location not identified) bearing the $1.84 price. AFP chose the particulars of that price for its symbolism: Phillips says it’s what gas cost consumers in January 2009, just before President Barack Obama took the oath of office. Never mind that there’s no way a president -- any president -- can control gas prices.

As my colleague Tara Lohan reported in 2010, Marathon Petroleum joined with Flint Hill Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, in a coalition of other oil companies to try to overturn California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 through a referendum known as Proposition 23. The referendum was defeated by California voters, but not for lack of money fueling the measure.

Americans For Prosperity, according to news reports, has sponsored similar free-gas events at Marathon stations in Ohio and Michigan. Attendees of one event in Byron Center, Mich., according to reporter Zane McMillin of the MLive.com Web site, arrived to find a bus emblazoned with an image of Obama, and a message about his purportedly “failed agenda.” While they waited in line, customers were handed pamphlets carrying AFP’s energy message, which, you may have guessed, is all about deregulation and no restraints on the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

At the Byron Center event, Americans For Prosperity Michigan director took special aim at the Obama administration’s decision to delay approval for the Keystone pipeline, falsely claiming that it would bring down gas prices. (Here’s Bloomberg News on how the pipeline would actually raise gas prices in Michigan and other states.)

When you have a ton of money to spend, it’s not so hard to create a captive audience, such as Americans For Prosperity is doing with its own gasline project -- as in, line ‘em up for free gas, and then ply them with propaganda.

From McMillin’s report:

Annie Patnaude, deputy state director for Americans for Prosperity of Michigan, which subsidized the price difference, said the group pumped 1,000 gallons of gas in the first hour and 2,100 in the second.

Try that, liberals.

Adele M. Stan is a weekly columnist for The American Prospect. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.