An almost completely unknown group with strong ties to the Koch brothers has identified itself as the secret source of almost a quarter of a billion dollars received by conservative political groups in 2012.
The group, Freedom Partners, raised $256 million in the year following its creation in November 2011, and made grants totaling $236 million to conservative groups, according to Politico, which was shown a draft of an IRS document the group plans to file shortly. As Politico put it, the upshot of Freedom Partners’ revelation is that “a totally unknown group was the largest sugar daddy for conservative groups in the last election, second in total spending only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.”
The list of groups that benefited from Freedom Partners’ funding is a roster of conservative organizations large and small: $115 to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, $32.3 million to Americans for Prosperity, $15.7 million to the 60 Plus Association, $13.6 million to the American Future Fund, $8.2 million to the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, $3.5 million to the National Rifle Association, $3.1 million to the LIBRE Initiative, $2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And that’s just the start.
Originally named the Association for American Innovation, Freedom Partners is organized as a 501(c)6 tax-exempt chamber of commerce. The designation allow it to keep its donors secret (but is different from the 501(c)4 “social welfare” group status that became popular after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.) On its website, which was registered in early September, Freedom Partners claims to have over 200 members. And according to Politico, those members are drawn from the semiannual conferences hosted by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire businessmen and conservative donors. Each member of Freedom Partners pays at least $100,000 in annual dues.
“Other than payment of dues, the only requirement for membership is sharing our mission,” Freedom Partners states on its site.
Freedom Partners was able to remain in the shadows during an election year because many (if not all) of the groups it gave money to in 2012 also keep their donors secret. But while dark money groups don’t have to disclose many details about the money they take in, they do have to tell the IRS more about the money they give out in the form of grants. Hence the IRS filing that the group shared with Politico.
“There’s a mystery around us that makes an interesting story,” Freedom Partners’ President Marc Short told Politico in an interview. “There’s also a vilification that happens that gets exaggerated when your opposition thinks you’re secretive. Our members are proud to be part of [the organization].”
Short has spent his career working for prominent Republicans. He was chief of staff of the House Republican Conference when it was chaired by Mike Pence, now governor of Indiana. Other members of Freedom Partners’ five-person board have strong ties to the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Dr. Richard Fink is an executive vice president and member of the board of directors of Koch Industries, as well as the CEO of Koch Companies Public Sector, which provides “legal, government, philanthropy, and community relations services to Koch companies.” Wayne Gable is a former managing director of international government affairs at Koch Industries. Kevin Gentry is vice president at Koch Companies Public Sector. And according to Politico, Freedom Partners’ vice president of strategic communications is James Davis, who served as communications director of the 2012 Republican National Convention.
According to KochFacts.com, a website maintained by Koch Industries, Freedom Partners operates “independently of Koch Industries, and educates the public about a broad range of issues.” On its website, Freedom Partners lists four key issues: cronyism in America, federal spending, energy policy, and health care reform.
“Freedom Partners’ principal goal is to educate the public about the critical role played by free markets in achieving economic prosperity, societal well-being, and personal happiness,” the group states. “Freedom Partners awards grants to organizations to conduct nonpartisan issue advocacy and bring these important societal and economic issues to the public’s attention. These relationships give Freedom Partners an opportunity to reach across the country to build coalitions that advance our mission.”
While the extent of Freedom Partners’ spending was unknown until this week, both Politico and The Huffington Post had previously caught wind of the group’s existence while it was known as the Association for American Innovation.
In articles earlier this year, both outlets suggested that the association was formed in response to the results of the 2012 election. In February, Politico reported that Koch Brothers had “blessed the formation of a new secret money nonprofit group, the Association for American Innovation. … [It] will wage a behind-the-scenes push in state capitols for reforms consistent with the brothers’ small-government, free-enterprise philosophy, including possibly curbing union power and abolishing income taxes.” In April, The Huffington Post reported that the Association for American Innovation “is expected to ultimately funnel millions of dollars to other dark money groups nationwide.”