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.