Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, in 2013. AFP is backed by David H. and Charles G. Koch and has been pouring millions of dollars into competitive Senate races to the rising alarm of Democrats. Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press

By CARL HULSE and ASHLEY PARKER
20 March 2014

WASHINGTON (The New York Times) – Americans for Prosperity — the group backed by David H. and Charles G. Koch that has been pouring millions of dollars into competitive Senate races to the rising alarm of Democrats — was also among the politically active groups on the ground in this month’s special House election on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

But its agenda had little to do with the fate of David Jolly, the Republican candidate who won that race. The group’s ground troops — including those who knocked on doors, ran phone banks and reached out through social media to gauge ways to motivate voters — were part of a much greater project, with a prize much larger than a congressional seat.

Americans for Prosperity turned the Florida contest into its personal electoral laboratory to fine-tune get-out-the-vote tools and messaging for future elections as it pursues its overarching goal of convincing Americans that big government is bad government.

As the group emerges as a dominant force in the 2014 midterm elections, spending up to 10 times as much as any major outside Democratic group so far, officials of the organization say their effort is not confined to hammering away at President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. They are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.

“We have a broader cautionary tale,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. “The president’s out there touting billions of dollars on climate change. We want Americans to think about what they promised with the last social welfare boondoggle and look at what the actual result is.”

Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.

Democrats say their own research has shown that voters are skeptical about candidates who benefit from political spending by superrich businessmen with an antigovernment ideology.

“The notion that two billionaires are bankrolling Republican candidates because they support an agenda that is good for the Koch brothers and bad for middle-class families is very persuasive to voters,” said Matt Canter, the deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The little-noticed Florida field operation and a similar one in Virginia during the governor’s race last year were part of the group’s effort to apply the well-honed, data-centric business practices of the Koch brothers, as well as undisclosed donors, to devise an approach that is not only smarter, sleeker and sprier, but also one that provides more bang for the big bucks. [more]

Koch Group, Spending Freely, Hones Attack on Government

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