Right-Wing Cash Flows Into Florida, Turns Up Heat

09/03/2010 01:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, there they go again. In this case, "they" are the brothers Koch, billionaire oil tycoons David and Charles, operating through their tax-exempt organization, innocuously named Americans for Prosperity. As soon as the results from Florida's primary were in, they opened their wallets and bought $1.4 million in attack ads in Florida, Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In Florida's case, $261,000 was funneled into races for three congressional seats Republicans desperately want back, two of which they lost only two years ago in the Obama sweep. The ads are running until Sept. 8.

The ad blitz is a strong indicator of how zealously the far right wants to return Congress to the GOP. For the Kochs, there's a difference. They usually leave few fingerprints on their efforts to misinform voters on everything from health care reform to global climate change. This time, they're brazenly taking credit.

That may be because their empire has been much in the news lately. New Yorker's Jane Mayer did a detailed investigative report tracing the history of the family's wealth and right-wing activities, funded in large measure by their Kansas-based oil and manufacturing conglomerate, Koch Industries, makers of Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups, among other things.

President Obama also called public attention to the Koch empire. In his Austin, Texas, address August 9 he declared:

(T)here are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity...running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates all across the country. And they don't have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are. You don't know if it's a foreign-controlled corporation. You don't know if it's a big oil company, or a big bank. You don't know if it's an insurance company that wants to see some of the provisions in health reform repealed because it's good for their bottom line, even if it's not good for the American people.

The Florida incumbents AFP is targeting are a disparate group -- one "Blue Dog,"
one "moderate," and one liberal. The Blue Dog is the panhandle's seven-term Rep. Allen
Boyd (District 2). Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (District 24 on the "Space Coast") was ranked
by National Journal among the ten most moderate in Congress. And Orlando's Rep. Alan Grayson (District 8) is the unabashed liberal who described Republicans' health care reform plan as "Don't get sick...and if you do, die quickly."

All three are tarred with the same AFP brush. In the panhandle ad, four unnamed people that Florida AFP Director Apryl Marie Fogel assures me are AFP members and registered District 2 voters complain about "Nancy Pelosi's liberal agenda," insisting that Boyd supported "Pelosi's trillion dollar health care plan...(and) $787 billion stimulus...(while) unemployment climbed and millions more jobs were lost..., (then) supported higher energy taxes that would kill thousands of Florida jobs."

For Central Florida's ad, simply replace Boyd's name with "Grayson" and "Kosmas," trot out five more unnamed AFP voters and repeat the script verbatim, except without mentioning health care. Might it be that issue is not so scary for the more affluent, informed, urbanized folk on the Space Coast that it is in the more rural panhandle? (Both AFP ads can be viewed on AFP's YouTube page.)

Among the inconvenient truths the ads ignore: the stimulus pulled the nation back from the brink of what could well have become a second Great Depression; unemployment did drop before flattening, thanks to insufficient stimulation; and health care reform will reduce the deficit -- by $143 billion in its first ten years and $1.2 trillion in its second. It should also be noted that Boyd voted against "Pelosi's" original House health plan, but for the Senate version that met his criteria: reducing health care costs, increasing patient access, allowing choice, and paying for itself in a fiscally responsible way, as he
explained to The Tallahassee Democrat.

All three Democrats are being challenged by state legislators, Boyd by term-limited Sen. Al Lawson, Grayson by former Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster, and Kosmas by state Rep. Sandra "Sandy" Adams.

Marc Goldberg, spokesman for the Kosmas campaign, pushes back. Adams and AFP, he says, have "an agenda that encourages companies to ship jobs overseas and gambles seniors' hard-earned Social Security benefits on Wall Street. All the attack ads in the world...won't change the fact that their reckless agenda is wrong."

AFP has long advocated privatizing Social Security, called an effort to fund education by ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas a "bailout," and opposed closing tax loopholes that encourage outsourcing jobs.

AFP is not to be confused with its sister organization, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which only 10 days earlier had rained $4.1 million in TV ads on 24 House races in 11 states. AFP is a 501(c)4. Its Foundation is a 501(c)3. Both are tax exempt as not-for-profits and not required to identify donors or how much they contribute. Both also are forbidden to endorse individual candidates, but the 501(c)4 has latitude to engage in issue advocacy. And there's the rub.

"Americans for Prosperity is not interested in America's prosperity," Democratic Congressional Committee Chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) charged in a Friday National Press Club speech, USA Today reported. "They're interested in the prosperity of the corporations and individuals who benefited greatly from the Bush economic agenda."

The Democratic Party followed up with an official complaint to the IRS alleging AFP's
ads violate tax-exemption rules.

"None of the ads endorse any candidates," counters Fogel. "They are strictly for the purpose of educating the public" about the records of the targeted members of Congress.

True, the ads don't mention the names of the Republican candidates they are intended to help, which is probably why National AFP President Tim Phillips said he is "confident the complaint is without merit." Democrats, he said, are only "attacking us" because they "are scared of the impact AFP is having...The ads are genuine issue ads that expose (their) big government policies."

With all this heat a full week before the traditional Labor Day campaign season kick-off,
the political forecast for Florida's autumn is for even more heat, lots more.