Kenneth P. Vogel reports new details at Politico today on how the billionaires David and Charles Koch provided indirect financial support to Joni Ernst’s 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate. Politico’s headline “How the Kochs created Joni Ernst” (changed after a few hours to “How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst”) overstates the case somewhat. Arguably, the dark money employed to attack Ernst’s main rival for the GOP Senate nomination would have been less effective if either 1) Mark Jacobs hadn’t chosen to live outside this state for 30 years. fatally wounding his candidacy in my opinion; or 2) the other Republicans in the race had raised enough money to become credible alternatives to Jacobs themselves.
Still, money funneled through the Kochs’ network was a big help to Ernst. We already knew that the Kochs invited her to their 2013 summer “seminar” a few weeks after she kicked off her Senate campaign. We already knew that in the summer of 2014, the Koch brothers front group Concerned Veterans for America kicked off what became a sustained attack on Bruce Braley’s Veterans Affairs Committee hearings attendance. Vogel has shown that Ernst got more assistance before winning the primary than was previously known.
I enclose below excerpts from Vogel’s article, but I recommend clicking through to read the whole piece. Vogel concentrates on the Trees of Liberty PAC, which raised funds through the Koch network and spent most of that money to air a tv ad attacking Jacobs. You can view that ad here. It masquerades as non-election communication by ending with the line, “Call Mark Jacobs. Tell him Iowa families can’t afford higher energy costs from Washington,” instead of urging viewers not to vote for Jacobs.
Vogel does not address the role of American Heartland PAC, a single-candidate super-PAC supporting Ernst. American Heartland PAC piled on with more tv ads targeting Jacobs less than a week after the Trees of Liberty statewide ad buy ended on May 2, 2014. The super-PAC did disclose its donors (longer list here). The largest contributors were Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans football team, and hedge fund operator Robert Mercer.
P.S.-It’s worth recalling on “Throwback Thursday” that Governor Terry Branstad helped launch Ernst when he picked the little-known Kim Reynolds as his running mate in 2010. Reynolds’ election as lieutenant governor that year opened up the Iowa Senate seat Ernst won two months later. If Branstad had chosen a different running mate, Reynolds would have stayed in the state legislature, and Ernst would likely still have been the Montgomery County auditor in 2013–not a promising springboard for a statewide candidate.
From Kenneth P. Vogel’s November 12 article for Politico, “How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst”:
In the Ernst race, the Koch support included hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of television ads funded by undisclosed donors and tens of thousands of dollars in direct campaign contributions. The spending would have been difficult to trace back to the Koch network during Ernst’s campaign, but details are expected to emerge this week when the central Koch nonprofit, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, files its tax disclosures. […]
A low-profile operative named Karl Crow, who’d worked for years in the Koch network, created a nonprofit group called Trees of Liberty. Within weeks, the group launched an advertising blitz [in April 2014] that included a $257,000 statewide television ad buy and a complementary Web campaign [realMarkJacobs.com] attacking Ernst’s most competitive GOP rival, Mark Jacobs, a retired energy executive. […]
Little has been known about where Trees of Liberty got its cash or how it spent it. […]
But sources tell POLITICO that Trees of Liberty got its cash from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. That grant likely will be revealed in Freedom Partners 2014 tax form, due to be filed with the IRS in coming days ― more than 1½ years after Trees aired ads in the Iowa Senate primary. According to a source who reviewed Trees of Liberty’s 2014 tax documents, they show that it spent $347,000 ― about 80 percent of all the cash it brought in ― on “advertising,” all of which went through i360, a data analytics and ad buying company owned by Freedom Partners.
Trees of Liberty carefully tailored its ad campaign to avoid triggering rules that would have required more financial disclosure during the campaign. It pulled down the television ads just before the calendar reached the one-month election countdown. […]
And according to the source who reviewed Trees of Liberty’s 2014 tax filing, Trees of Liberty indicated that the group did not “engage in direct or indirect political campaign activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office.” It listed a mission statement that would fit the IRS’s social welfare definition [for 501(c)4 groups]— “to advance the principles of limited government, fiscal solvency and economic freedom by educating the public.” […]
Around the same time that Trees of Liberty launched its ad campaign hitting Jacobs, Freedom Partners began a $1 million-plus ad campaign attacking Braley, the Democrat waiting to take on the winner of the GOP primary.