Koch-Tied Group's Arrival Points to Increased Interest In Kentucky State-Level Races
The well-funded non-profit Americans for Prosperity's hiring of a Kentucky state director signals to many political observers outside donors' intense interest in this fall's state House races and beyond.
In a news release on Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity announced that Julia Crigler, a former political director for the Kentucky House Republican Caucus, would lead its efforts in Kentucky.
Democrats maintain a narrow majority over Republicans in the state House, 54-46.
AFP was founded in 2004 and originally helmed by—and maintains ties with, David Koch—a billionaire libertarian industrialist known for his political and financial support for conservative causes alongside his brother, Charles.
The organization is known for supporting traditionally pro-corporate and conservative issues, and has been a fervent critic of the Affordable Care Act, climate change and, more recently, net neutrality.
"We're not interested in specifically getting behind one candidate or another candidate, we're looking to move forward our policy initiatives," Crigler said in a phone interview Tuesday.
"If there are candidates or legislators who we feel are on the right side of those issues, we're certainly happy to educate the public and the grassroots across the state on who those folks are."
Crigler said her organization will conduct advertising in this fall's state House races, the 2015 gubernatorial race, and even down-ticket races like city council and school board elections across the state.
"We're kind of looking at the long haul," she said.
AFP's New Effort in Kentucky
In 2010, AFP was instrumental in flipping control of the then-Democratically controlled U.S. House, spending $40 million to that end. According to Politico, AFP's budget for congressional races in the 2014 election cycle is $125 million.
Crigler said AFP Kentucky will focus on "policy initiatives" such as lowering corporate tax and income tax rates, and plans to help push charter school legislation, which remains popular with many Republicans and some Democrats in the Kentucky General Assembly. She says it will also seek to engage grassroots supporters.
She said the group will look at legislators' records and make "sure that the folks at the grassroots level are educated on what their legislators are doing in Frankfort."
She did not say how much money the group plans to spend in Kentucky this election election cycle.
Crigler managed "more than 25 key legislative races in Kentucky" in the 2012 election cycle, according to an official AFP biography. She most recently worked for Commonwealth Capitol Group, a lobbying firm, for two years.
Her husband, Chase, is a Northern Kentucky field representative for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Crigler's hiring has been met with harsh criticism by Kentucky Democrats.
“Kentuckians won’t be fooled by the Koch brothers, radical Republicans with a right-wing agenda," House Speaker Greg Stumbo said in a released statement. "We average Kentuckians may not have as much money as they do, but we have a lot more common sense.”
Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Steve Robertson declined to comment for this story. Joe Burgan, a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner, also declined to comment. Heiner's super PAC New Direction Kentucky is also focusing on House races. A spokesman for House Republican Minority Floor Leader Rep. Jeff Hoover did not immediately return a request for comment.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, the only Democrat running in the 2015 governor's race so far, said that AFP wants to "buy" this fall's House election.
"The Koch brothers have decided they want to write one big check from Texas or wherever they are, and flip the Kentucky House. That ought to make Kentuckians mad," Conway said.
When asked if he would decline the support of Democratic or progressive-leaning super PACs or other 501 groups in order to maintain a competitive fundraising edge, however, Conway was coy.
"We'll have to wait and see what the landscape looks like," he said.
Conway said his super PAC, JACK PAC, has disbursed checks to Democratic House candidates this spring, and will do so again in the fall.
Classified as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare organization" by the IRS, AFP has benefited handsomely from recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings expanding the ability of such organizations to raise large sums of money without disclosing its donors until after an election.
The organization cannot directly give to candidates, nor explicitly support or oppose a candidate. And they are prohibited from coordinating with political parties and specific campaigns.