Americans for Prosperity
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|Predecessor||Citizens for a Sound Economy|
|Type||Non-profit political advocacy group|
|Purpose||Educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process.|
|2.3 million (2013)|
Chief Operating Officer
(FYE December 2012)
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is an American conservative political advocacy group headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Americans for Prosperity played a key role in the achievement of the 2010 Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives.
Americans for Prosperity had 240 employees in 32 states, as of June, 2014. AFP had 2.3 million members and chapters in 34 states, as of November 2013. It had a staff of 116 in September 2012, according to AFP president Tim Phillips. AFP may be considered "the third-largest political party in the United States," according to a June, 2014 analysis of staffing, number of states targeted, and spending in The Washington Post. "Americans for Prosperity has emerged as one of the most influential conservative issue advocacy groups on the national and state political scene," according to the non-profit, non-partisan consumer advocacy website FactCheck.org.
"AFP seeks to support free markets and entrepreneurship by advocating lower taxes and limited government spending and regulation," according to FactCheck.org. AFP's stated mission is "educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process." AFP has its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
Americans for Prosperity was founded in 2004 when internal rivalries caused a split in the conservative political advocacy group Citizens for a Sound Economy, dividing it into Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Citizens for a Sound Economy was renamed "Americans for Prosperity." The founding of AFP was funded by businessmen and philanthropist brothers David H. Koch and Charles Koch, both of Koch Industries. “Right from the beginning, it was David’s vision that launched our organization,” said AFP president Tim Phillips on October 3, 2009, in introducing David Koch at AFP's 2009 "Defending the Dream" summit in Arlington, Virginia. "Five years ago, my brother Charles and I provided the funds to start Americans for Prosperity. It is beyond my wildest dreams that AFP has grown into this enormous organisation. The American dream of free enterprise and capitalism is alive and well," David Koch reflected. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation is David Koch’s primary political advocacy group. Slate magazine called AFP "the Koch brothers’ flagship political operation."
From 2004 to 2007, AFP was led by Nancy Pfotenhauer, who had been a lobbyist for Koch Industries. Pfotenhauer left AFP to become an adviser to Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. The Koch brothers hired political strategist Tim Phillips to work at AFP in 2005.
AFP issued mailings and funded radio advertisements criticising the Detroit River International Crossing bridge, a public works project which competes with the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge. In June 2011, AFP placed fake eviction notices on doors in the Delray neighborhood of Detroit, angering residents. The flyer stated, "their properties could be taken by the Michigan Department of Transportation to make way for the New International Trade Crossing bridge project." The Michigan state director of AFP said that AFP's intent was to motivate residents to lobby against the building of the bridge.
AFP Foundation mailed "voter history report cards," which included the voting history of the addressee and neighbors from public records, a get out the vote technique that has been described as "voter shaming," in 2013 in Virginia and in 2014 in Arkansas.
In April, 2014, AFP mailed voters in at least eight West Virginia counties “misleading and confusing” material that may led them to believe they were ineligible to vote, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State. In September 2014, the AFP was investigated by the state board of elections of North Carolina for a voter registration mailing labelled “official application form” containing inaccurate information including an incorrect filing deadline. AFP said the mistakes in the North Carolina mailings were "administrative errors."
Americans for Prosperity helped transform the nascent Tea Party movement into a political force. Within hours of CNBC financial reporter Rick Santelli's remarks criticizing President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan and calling for a "Chicago tea party," broadcast live from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on February 19, 2009, AFP registered the domain name "TaxDayTeaParty.com" and launched a website calling for protests against Obama. AFP helped organize Taxpayer Tea Party rallies in Sacramento, Austin, and Madison in April, 2009. AFP helped tea party groups organize voter registration drives. An AFP website offered "Tea party Talking Points." AFP provided education on policy, training in methods, and lists of politicians to tea party activists. AFP and FreedomWorks were "probably the leading partners" in the September, 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington, also known as the 9/12 Tea Party, according to The Guardian. In October 2010, AFP sponsored a workshop on the political use of the internet at a tea party convention in Virginia. Bloomberg Politics reporter David Weigel wrote in the online magazine Slate that AFP "in the Tea Party era evolved into one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics." "As the Tea Party movement grew in the aftermath of Obama’s election, the Kochs positioned Americans for Prosperity as the Tea Party's staunchest ally," according to Bloomberg News. AFP was a "major force behind the Tea Party movement," according to FactCheck.org.
Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times reported that in the 2010 midterm elections AFP played a major role in achieving a Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives. AFP supported tea party groups and purchased negative advertisements. During the 2010 election cycle, AFP claims to have spent $40 million on rallies, phone banks, and canvassing. Of the six freshman Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2010, five benefited from AFP advertisements and grassroots activity.
National conservative groups AFP, FreedomWorks, and DontGo led the tea party movement in April, 2009, according to The Atlantic magazine. In February, 2010, AFP and the AFP Foundation were among the twelve most influential groups in the Tea Party movement, according to the National Journal.  In September 2010, AFP was one of the top five most influential organizations in the Tea Party movement, and the largest in terms of membership and spending, according to the Washington Post.
AFP has been a major supporter of Wisconsin Republican politician Scott Walker. In 2009 and 2010, AFP helped raise the state-wide profile of Walker, then Milwaukee County Executive, by inviting him to address its rallies throughout the state. AFP bussed in hundreds to counter-protest at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Walker's agenda of reduced spending, cuts to union benefits, and limits on collective bargaining had drawn opposition in the streets. AFP president Phillips said,
We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation...This is a watershed moment in Wisconsin. For the last two decades, government unions have used their power to drive pensions and benefits and salaries well beyond anything that can be sustained. We are just trying to change that.
In favor of Walker's legislation, AFP published a website "standwithwalker.com" which featured an online petition, and spent $320,000 on television advertisements. AFP sponsored a "Stand With Walker" bus tour. On April 16, 2011, former governor of Alaska and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was the keynote speaker at an AFP annual tax day tea party rally at the capitol in Madison.
AFP spent $3 million in support of Walker's Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election campaign in late 2011 and early 2012. AFP sent 75 trained canvasers to Wisconsin. Days before the recall election, AFP sponsored the "A Better Wisconsin” bus tour of ten Wisconsin cities. On the first anniversary of Walker's signature legislation, the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, which limited collective bargaining rights for most public employees, AFP staged town-hall meetings called "It's Working Wisconsin!" AFP's role in promoting Walker's agenda and recall election campaign was the subject of the 2013 documentary Citizen Koch.
In August 2011, AFP mailed absentee voter applications to Democratic voters in at least two recall elections in Wisconsin that included a filing deadline two days after the election. The return envelopes were addressed to an "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center" with the Post Office box number of Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage group. Responding to charges of voter suppression, AFP said the incorrect date was a "printing mistake" and was only intended for voters in the two districts where Democrats are set to face recalls on a later date. The Wisconsin state board of elections opened an investigation.
In the context of Walker's 2014 re-election campaign, AFP purchased $866,000 in television issue advertisements in support of Act 10.
Campaign finance watchdogs and Democrats criticized AFP as an example of politically active nonprofit organizations that did not need to disclose their contributors. On August 9, 2010, President Barack Obama said:
Right now all around this country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are 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...They don't want you to know who the Americans for Prosperity are, because they're thinking about the next election.
The Obama re-election campaign website described AFP as a "special-interest front group run by the oil billionaire Koch brothers." Obama senior advisor David Axelrod said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.” AFP president Phillips called the idea that AFP is taking money from foreign sources "ludicrous" and claimed that AFP saw an increase in financial contributions after Obama's statement. In August 2010, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service charging that the AFP Foundation had funded political advertisements in Kansas, Missouri and Michigan in violation of a law applicable to the foundation's tax-exempt classification; AFP replied that the charges were without merit. Journalist Lee Fang wrote that the Obama reelection campaign erred in challenging the AFP rather than confronting the Kochs directly.
In April, 2011, AFP sponsored an informal gathering of Republican presidential candidates in New Hampshire. Candidates who participated included Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain.
Political strategist Mark Block, during his years as state director of the Wisconsin chapter of AFP, set up a series of independent tax-exempt charities, including Prosperity USA, which allegedly made contributions to the Herman Cain presidential campaign which were not included in the Cain campaign's disclosures. As a tax-exempt charity, Prosperity USA was prohibited from contributing to a political campaign. AFP had financial transactions with Prosperity USA. A charity may not use intermediaries to contribute to a political campaign. AFP said the transactions were reimbursements of travel expenses for Cain and a staff person to attend AFP or AFP Foundation events, expenses incurred before Cain launched his campaign.
AFP offered tea party groups $2 for every new AFP member their volunteers signed up at polling places in the February, 2012 Florida Republican primary. In its voter canvassing operations, AFP utilized a online voter database of millions of Americans called "Themis," funded by the Kochs in competition with the Republican National Committee's "Data Trust" voter database. AFP employed methodologies developed in its efforts to thwart the recall of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, including deploying a smartphone application called "Prosperity Knocks" to canvassers. AFP president Phillips said their canvassing support application offered field operatives the previous voting history of voters integrated with Census data and consumer data including purchases, magazine subscriptions, and favorite web sites.
In August, 2012, AFP spent $25 million on television commercials attacking Obama. AFP said the commercials were voter education. AFP purchased a bus, painted "Obama's Failing Agenda Tour" on the side, and sponsored a nationwide bus tour condemning Obama's policies. Solyndra, a manufacturer of solar panels, was the first recipient of a U.S. Energy Department loan guarantee under Obama's economic stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and went bankrupt. From 2011–2012, AFP spent $8.4 million ($2.4 in 2011 and $6 million in 2012) in swing states on television advertisements that criticized Obama and the loan. In September 2012, the Washington Post reported that AFP planned to spend $125 million on the 2012 United States presidential election. AFP spent $122 million in 2012, more than in the previous eight years since its founding combined. AFP spent more than $33.5 million in 2012 on television advertisements advocating voting against Obama. AFP raised $140 million in the 2012 election cycle, including more than $44 million from Koch-related funds.
Programs and advocacy
In August, 2009, Mother Jones magazine identified Americans for Prosperity as "one of the most prominent groups opposing the Obama administration's two key domestic policy goals: health care reform and cap and trade."
Energy and environment
AFP helped defeat proposed U.S. legislation embracing cap and trade, a market-based approach to control pollution by providing economic incentives, which in 2008 had the support of both presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama and in 2009 was pending in Congress as the American Clean Energy and Security Act. AFP opposed President Obama's efforts to address global warming. "January of ‘09, we had a president with 60 votes in the Senate and then Speaker Pelosi with a 50-plus seat majority. And cap-and-trade was at the top of their agenda. And in the end, they were beaten," said AFP president Phillips on Frontline, a public television program that produces in-depth documentaries, for the 2012 documentary Climate of Doubt.
In 2008, AFP circulated the "No Climate Tax Pledge" to government officials at the federal, state, and local levels. Elected officials and political candidates who signed the pledge vowed to oppose any legislation including spending relating to climate change unless it also included an equivalent amount of tax cuts. By July 2013, 411 lawmakers and candidates, including a quarter of the senators and more than a third of the representatives, primarily Republicans, signed the pledge. Prominent signers included Republican Senators Pat Roberts of Kansas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Representatives Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Fred Upton of Michigan, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Of the 12 Republicans on the committee in 2011, nine signed the pledge.
AFP held more than 80 events in opposition to cap and trade. AFP created the nationwide "Hot Air Tour," which involved floating hot air balloons in protest of what AFP described as "global warming alarmism" and included webcasts from the United Nations meetings COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and COP16 in Cancun in 2010. The side of the balloon read "Cap and trade means: higher taxes, lost jobs, less freedom." AFP flew its balloon over Al Gore's house in Tennessee. AFP sponsored a "Regulation Reality Tour" to foment opposition to climate change legislation and federal regulation of carbon emissions. AFP described cap and trade as “the largest excise tax in history.” The tour involved "carbon cops" with fake badges in green Smart cars with flashing lights who wrote citations for carbon "crimes."
In 2011, AFP launched their "Running on Empty" website and national tour featuring a 14-foot inflatable gas pump to link rising gas prices to the Obama administration’s regulation and to promote expanding permitting of offshore drilling.
In Kansas AFP led a campaign to overturn a mandate that 20% of the state's electricity come from renewable resources. AFP's campaign compared the mandate to the Affordable Care Act. The repeal passed the Kansas Senate in May 2014 but failed in the Kansas House of Representatives.
In May 2009, AFP launched Patients United Now, which opposed a single-payer health care system and a government-funded health insurance option. It purchased television advertisements warning of "government-controlled health care" or a "Washington takeover" of health care. In one Patients United Now television advertisement, a Canadian woman, Shona Holmes, said she could not get timely treatment in Canada and ultimately was treated in the U.S. Patients United Now staged more than three hundred rallies to oppose the Obama administration's proposed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA.
In summer 2009, Patients First, described as an "arm" of AFP, sponsored a six-week "Hands Off My Health Care" bus tour. "Hands Off My Health Care" events included rallies protesting against the health care plan and collected signatures in an effort to raise awareness about free-market-based health care reforms. AFP held "Hands Off My Health Care" events in more than 250 cities, according to AFP president Phillips.
After the ACA became effective, Americans For Prosperity worked for its repeal, taking part in a campaign to block states from accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid, an effort described by AFP president Phillips as "trench warfare" and "a crucial aspect of the overall long-term effort to roll back Obamacare.” In opposing Medicaid expansion, the organization targeted Virginia state senators Emmett Hanger and John Watkins, both Republicans; for example, it bused in volunteers to attend a hearing in the state capital and oppose the Medicaid expansion and to call constituents, distribute flyers, and send mailings.
In early 2014, Americans for Prosperity released nationwide advertisements targeting legislators who supported the Affordable Care Act and relating stories about people whose health care, the ads said, had changed because of the law's requirements. One television spot targeting Democratic Representative Gary Peters of Michigan, a candidate for the Senate, featured leukemia patient Julie Boonstra and stirred controversy regarding her claim that she could no longer afford the cost of her treatment. The Washington Post, however, reported that the advertisement had "significant factual errors and/or obvious contradictions." Boonstra would save at least $1,000 a year under the Affordable Care Act, according to The Detroit News. AFP releasing another television advertisement in which Boonstra said Peters was “trying to silence me.” AFP apologized for another television advertisement that attacked the Affordable Care Act and Democratic Senator Mark Udall, a candidate for re-election, using images of a somber Obama and Udall from their visit to Aurora, Colorado in the wake of the 2012 Aurora shooting.
In February, 2009, Americans for Prosperity launched a website "nostimulus.com" which featured an online "No Stimulus" petition addressed to US Senators, notifying them that the vote on the "so-called" American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would be included in the AFP's Congressional rankings and urging a "no" vote. The petition characterized the Act as "dramatically increasing federal debt and spending" "under the pretense of stimulus or recovery." Internet traffic overwhelmed the website.
In 2013 AFP launched a “Spending Accountability Project” which supported letting the $85 billion in automatic cuts to federal spending required by the budget sequestration take effect. "Government overspending is the greatest threat to economic prosperity," according to AFP. AFP opposed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, also known as the Ryan-Murray deal, which proposed $40 billion in spending in excess of the sequestration. AFP called the deal "not just bad policy, it is bad politics" and noted the loss of the "hard-won bipartisan spending limits set by the sequester."
- Net neutrality
AFP has been an active member of the Internet Freedom Coalition, a group that opposes net neutrality. Kerpin, AFP's Vice President for Policy, called Net Neutrality a clear example of the White House's abuse of regulatory power and rallied a series of writing and broadcast efforts against the policy.
AFP lauded January 2014's DC Appeals Court ruling against net neutrality while pressing Congress to use its legislative authority to preempt regulatory schemes that could infringe on the open internet.
- Property rights
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AFP lists the protection of property rights as one of its most important goals. They have, in conjunction with similarly-minded organizations, supported legislation in the House and Senate regarding federal protections for Property Rights
AFP has hosted or co-hosted a number of events to promote its agenda.
Defending the Dream
Since 2007, the AFP Foundation has hosted the Defending the American Dream Summit, which is now the second largest annual gathering of conservatives in Washington, DC (the first is the Conservative Political Action Conference). Topics have included government spending and taxation, health care reform legislation, economic policy, and proposed energy legislation. Presidential candidates who attended the inaugural event included Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson. 2,000 people attended the 2011 summit. US Senator from Florida, Republican Marco Rubio has been a frequent speaker.
In conjunction with the July, 2008 Netroots Nation conference in Austin, Texas, AFP hosted RightOnline, a conference of conservative bloggers and activists that aimed to develop conservative social media strategies. RightOnline has since become an annual event, with 1,500 attendees in 2011.
Leadership and structure
David H. Koch chairs the board of directors of the AFP Foundation. AFP Foundation board members include Pfotenhauer, Richard Fink, an executive vice president of Koch Industries, and George Mason University professor of economics Walter E. Williams, a guest host of The Rush Limbaugh Show. The AFP Foundation is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a U.S. national network of free-market oriented think tanks.
"Americans for Prosperity is the political arm of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation," according to the Los Angeles Times. The AFP board of directors includes former Federal Trade Commission chair and Ronald Reagan Budget Director James C. Miller, former mayor of Ann Arbor, Michigan James E. Stephenson, Frayda Levin of the Moving Picture Institute, Koch Industries executive Richard Fink, and former AFP president Nancy Pfotenhauer. Policy analyst Phil Kerpen was AFP's vice president for policy and a contributor to Fox News and the National Review.
AFP files with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) organization; as a non-profit "social welfare" organisation, AFP is legally required to operate as non-partisan, neither endorsing nor opposing political candidates; its primary purpose may not be political. The AFP Foundation files with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization; as a charity, contributions to the AFP Foundation are tax deducible, but charities are largely prohibited from political activity. Questioned by a reporter from Patch Media before the 2012 Wisconsin recall elections, AFP's Wisconsin director said "We're not dealing with any candidates, political parties, or ongoing races. We're just educating folks on the importance of the reforms." As of 2014, the IRS is engaged in rule-making to clarify limits on the political activities of social welfare non-profits, including AFP.
AFP is supported financially by the Koch brothers. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, one of the Koch family foundations, granted over $3.17 million to the AFP Foundation from 2005 to 2007, which was one fourth of the AFP Foundation’s revenue and one fourth of the Lambe Foundation's dispersements in that period. AFP and the AFP Foundation were granted $1 million from the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation in 2008 and $67,556 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation in 2009. The non-profit Freedom Partners granted $32.3 million to AFP in 2012 and $1.5 million in 2013.
In 2010, the AFP Foundation received a $7 million grant from Donors Trust, the conservative donor advised fund, nearly half of AFP Foundations's revenue that year. AFP received $11 million from Donors Trust between 2002 and 2010. As of 2013, AFP received $4.2 million in grants from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a nonprofit based in Arizona. According to AFP, 90,000 people across 50 states have made a donation of under $100 to AFP or the AFP Foundation.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Americans for Prosperity.|
-  Americans for Prosperity website
-  Americans for Prosperity Foundation website
-  Tax information on Americans for Prosperity, Pro Publica
-  Tax information on Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Pro Publica