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How Koch manipulates the media
On Sunday, Americans for Prosperity Action (AFP Action), one of the principal political organizations controlled by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, released a memo to the media. The memo claims that the "Republican Party is nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles." Now, AFP Action "is prepared to support a candidate in the Republican presidential primary who can lead our country forward, and who can win." AFP Action will "invest the necessary resources to empower millions of citizen activists and voters to turn the page on the current political era and help the American people to write a new chapter for our country."
Although the memo doesn't mention Trump's name, the clear intention is to signal a break between the Koch political network and MAGA Republicans, particularly Trump. The media responded with a flood of credulous coverage.
What is not mentioned in any of these stories is that, for years, Koch has repeatedly announced he was reorienting his political strategy away from far-right Republicans, including Trump — with no discernible change in his actual political activity. After each media-assisted rebrand, Koch quietly resumed business as usual.
The reality is that few individuals have spent more money to legitimize Trump and his allies than Charles Koch.
In a November 13, 2020, profile in the Wall Street Journal, Koch claimed that he would no longer engage in partisanship. Instead, he would devote his resources "to building bridges across partisan divides to find answers to sprawling social problems." He described his political network's efforts to elect far-right Republicans as a "screw-up" that created "a mess." Moving forward, Koch said, he would "work together with Democrats and liberals."
After 147 Republican members of Congress voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, the Koch network announced that the vote would "weigh heavy in our evaluation of future support." And Koch would "support those policymakers who reject the politics of division and work together to move our country forward."
Instead, over the next two years, AFP Action spent $63,401,608 supporting Republican candidates for federal office, $5,576,858 opposing Democratic candidates, and zero dollars supporting Democratic candidates. 86.7% of AFP Action's spending bolstered candidates who were endorsed by Trump, according to a review of campaign finance data by Popular Information.
And almost all Trump-endorsed candidates endorsed Trump's false claims about voter fraud. For example, AFP Action spent $13.5 million supporting Herschel Walker, Trump's hand-picked candidate for Senate in Georgia. Walker called on the Supreme Court to change the results of the 2020 election, pushed for seven states to throw out their results, and argued that "state officials who certified Joe Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump should go to jail."
AFP Action also spent $11.3 million supporting Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) in his campaign for reelection. Before the January 6 insurrection, Johnson "held a hearing on election fraud in an attempt to legitimize former president Donald Trump’s false allegations of voting irregularities." On January 6, Johnson not only voted to overturn the election but "Johnson’s chief of staff tried to deliver to Vice President Mike Pence a slate of fake electors backing Trump." He has been described as "one of Congress’s most prominent election deniers and [January] 6 apologists."
Overall, AFP Action spent 95% of its money on Republican candidates who were formally endorsed by Trump or who actively campaigned as a Trump supporter. AFP Action spent just $3.5 million on candidates not aligned with Trump. In addition, Koch Industries PAC, which is also controlled by Charles Koch, was the top corporate supporter to members of Congress that voted to overturn the election.
The tens of millions of dollars that AFP Action spent supporting Trump loyalists helped legitimize Trump and sets the table for his 2024 campaign. The House of Representatives, in part due to the Koch network's support, is controlled by Koch acolytes who are using the body's investigative power to advance Trump's conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, Charles Koch is pushing the narrative that he is the person who will save the party from Trump and other extremists. And the media is amplifying these claims without any context. It's not the first time.
2018: Koch says he is "frustrated" with Trump, open to supporting Democrats
In July 2018, Charles Koch generated extensive media coverage by claiming he was "frustrated" with Trump and expressing an openness to supporting Democrats. "Charles Koch seeks to declare independence from the Republican Party," USA Today reported, reflecting the tenor of the coverage.
Specifically, Koch said he was looking for candidates that promoted free trade and immigration reform. Plenty of Democratic candidates fit that mold. But, in the 2018 cycle, AFP Action spent $3,948,640 supporting Republicans and $2,835,924 opposing Democrats. AFP Action spent zero dollars supporting Democrats.
2016: Koch says he will not support Trump's candidacy
In August 2016, Koch generated headlines for saying he would not financially support Trump, who had secured the Republican nomination. Charles Koch said that he "can't support either candidate." A member of his political network told NBC News that if Charles Koch financially supported Trump he "would never be able to hold any politician accountable."
Charles Koch, however, ended up providing critical financial support to Trump's successful campaign. He spent millions on ads that, while formally opposing Democratic Senate candidates, savaged Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton. In Wisconsin alone, "Koch groups spent $4.3 million… eclipsing the $3 million spent by the Clinton campaign." That pattern was "repeated in other crucial swing states."