by Max Brantley
Internal network plans call for AFP to expand into several more states by the end of next year, sources tell POLITICO, leaving only Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington without an outpost. While the group’s stated mission is to advocate small-government policies, its evolution has been strategically tailored for maximum political impact. In recent years, the network has channeled more spending into red states where it can influence GOP governing majorities rather than fighting for swing votes. That strategy was shaped by Charles Koch’s longtime right-hand man, Rich Fink, who is considered the network’s “grand strategist” and who had privately advocated “owning” conservative states, according to network sources. Indeed, AFP has taken credit for major policy victories — including enacting tax cuts, fighting Obamacare and restricting union power ― in Republican-controlled states where it has a major presence, such as Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Likewise, it has shuttered chapters in deep blue states such as Connecticut, Oregon and Washington, where conservative reforms seem unlikely.
As the network has grown, though, internal audits at times have raised concerns about its management culture, spending and lack of coordination among core groups that compose the network. Insiders have questioned huge staff bonuses, fancy restaurant meals, purchases of Twitter followers and sporting event-related costs, as well as contracts directed to firms connected to top network operatives.
To address its growing pains, the network has tapped into a powerful resource unavailable to traditional parties, POLITICO’s investigation found ― the talent and management philosophies developed by the brothers’ giant multinational industrial conglomerate, Koch Industries.
In the post-Citizens United era of relaxed campaign finance laws, the Kochs and their megadonor allies, more than any other group of affluent political partisans, have leveraged their financial clout to do things that traditional party and political committees can’t or won’t do, as POLITICO’s investigation has shown. It revealed that the Koch network quietly launched sophisticated initiatives to recruit like-minded candidates, collect intelligence on rivals and win converts among the disadvantaged.