A screengrab from a recent California event that featured former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, several GOP congressmen, and right-wing media tycoon Andrew Breitbart. (Screengrab: Think Progress)
On Saturday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) held a large “Victory Rally,” which ThinkProgress attended, just outside Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was the highlight of event, while RNC Chairman Michael Steele, several GOP congressmen, and right-wing media tycoon Andrew Breitbart also gave speeches to the excited, mostly-elderly crowd in a hotel ballroom. Notably absent were Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, California’s GOP Senate and governor nominees.
But curiously present was the conservative “grassroots” astroturfing outfit Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which held a “No Jobs Fair” to encourage people to vote yes on Proposition 23, a referendum on the ballot this year that would essentially scrap California’s landmark global warming law. Interestingly, AFP appeared to be the only group aside from the RNC and candidates’ campaigns with any major presence at the event, entirely occupying a large room across the hallway from the rally in the Anaheim Marriott. The only other room being employed, aside from those for the rally itself and AFP, was a small space adjacent where attendees could register to volunteer for GOP campaigns.
Because federal election law would prohibit groups like AFP from coordinating with the RNC, AFP California Communications Director Meridith Turney told ThinkProgress that the two groups did not coordinate. But, she added, AFP had to “ask for their permission to use the room” and paid the RNC for its use. Watch a compliation of AFP’s fair, and ThinkProgress’ interview with Turney and AFP California Chairman David Spady:
Turney couldn’t really explain why, of all the countless ballot initiatives across the country — California alone has 10 — her group had invested so heavily in Prop. 23. But AFP and the Yes on 23 campaign are a natural fit. The campaign pushing Prop. 23 portrays itself as a broad coalition of Californians concerned about jobs, but it is in fact funded almost exclusively by a small handful of out-of-state oil companies concerned about their bottom line if the state’s global warming law is allowed to be fully implemented. Texas-based Valero and Tesoro, along with Kansas-based Koch Industries alone have provided about 80 percent of the financial backing.
Koch, the country’s second largest privately held company, is owned and operated by brothers Charles and David Koch. Coincidentally, David Koch is the chairman of AFP. In corporate documents, Koch Industries has explicitly stated that California’s global warming law would hurt profits and “be very bad news for our industry.” With the AFP fair, and countless other events, the Kochs seem to be using the astroturfing arm they founded and fund to defend the profits of the corporation they own, all the while disguising their effort as an altruistic “jobs initiative” for average Californians.
This is typical of AFP, which has played a central role in incubating the tea party movement to drum up populist support as a smokescreen to push their self-serving interests. The Koch brothers have repeatedly tried to distance themselves from the tea party movement to protect its guise of independence, but even AFP’s own Meridith Turney has touted her organization’s and David Koch’s involvement in the movement. Last year at a national AFP meeting led by Koch, she proudly told him AFP California “helped organize huge tea parties all throughout the state,” including “one of the largest tea parties in the country.” Recently released video even shows David Koch touting his role in supporting AFP and the tea party movement. At the fair Saturday, AFP offered free cocktails to anyone who enlisted in the effort to push the dirty energy referendum that will preserve their profits.
What was unusual about AFP’s fair Saturday was the fact that it occurred during an official RNC event, underscoring the growing nexus between the Republican establishment, the tea party movement, and the secretive corporate backers that bakroll both.
Notably, when asked by ThinkProgress whether their organization would join increasing calls for electoral transparency by disclosing its donors, both Turney and Spady dismissed the idea, even if progressive groups like MoveOn.org were also required to disclose. In defending their secretive donors, Spady trotted out the familiar excuse employed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others that their backers would be subject to “retribution” of some kind if their contributions were made public. He also said he supports unlimited donations to individual candidates.