Koch network plans its biggest election-year effort in 2020
Posted January 16, 2020 6:02 a.m. EST
CNN — The conservative political network affiliated with billionaire Charles Koch intends to launch its widest election effort in 2020 and could engage in nearly 200 federal and state races this year, top Koch officials tell CNN.
In recent years, the network has signaled it is moving away from partisan issues and has begun to back a handful of Democrats who side with Koch's views on issues such as trade, immigration and overhauling the criminal justice system. In an interview with CNN, top Koch official Emily Seidel said the new focus doesn't mean the group will retreat from politics.
"The people who thought that we may have been backing down from politics are going to be surprised, because the reality is we've been strengthening our capabilities to go bigger than ever before," said Seidel, who is CEO of Americans for Prosperity, the main grassroots and political arm of the sprawling network associated with the Kansas billionaire.
In the 2018 midterm elections, the group and its political action committee, AFP Action, were active in 64 races. It is looking to double or triple that number in 2020, Koch officials said. Last year, they were active in 38 races in four states, their largest off-year engagement, officials said.
Koch officials would not disclose how much they plan to spend in 2020.
On Thursday, AFP Action will announce its endorsement of four House Republicans: Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Steve Chabot of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.
The group previously announced support for five GOP Senate incumbents: John Cornyn of Texas, Steve Daines of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
It also is backing Republican Wisconsin state Sen. Tom Tiffany in next month's special election to fill the US House seat once held by Republican Sean Duffy, who announced last August that he would step down from Congress.
Koch officials previously announced that they would not engage in this year's presidential race.
In previous elections, the network has rivaled spending by the National Republican Committee, plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into federal and state contests.
But in recent years, the network has engaged in a major reset of its priorities and has worked to distance itself from the Republican brand in the era of President Donald Trump. As part of that shift, Seidel announced last year that Americans for Prosperity would back incumbents of any political party, including Democrats, "who lead by uniting."
Koch officials last year endorsed a Democrat, Mississippi state Sen. Juan Barnett, who worked on a criminal-justice overhaul, a top network priority. Previously, the group ran an ad praising then-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, for supporting legislation easing bank regulations. She lost to Republican Kevin Cramer in the 2018 midterms.
In the interview with CNN this week, Seidel said, "We're not looking for Democrats. We're not looking for Republicans. We're looking for people who are committed to driving on these policies that we believe will help improve the lives of all Americans."
During the Trump administration, Koch officials have both clashed and collaborated with the President and his top aides. They worked with the White House and Congress to pass the First Step Act, which overhauled prison and sentencing laws, and spent heavily to promote Trump's $1.5 trillion tax overhaul, which granted a 40% permanent tax cut to large corporations.
But they have broken sharply with Trump's immigration and trade policies.
Americans for Prosperity operates in 35 states and claims an activist army of more than 3 million. The group contacted more than 1 million voters in 2019 and already has contacted more than 250,000 voters so far to help its favored 2020 candidates, Koch officials said.
"We feel like we are really well-positioned to bring a unique permanent grassroots infrastructure to the playing field," Seidel said.
Koch -- who runs Koch Industries, one of the largest privately held companies in the country -- launched the network in 2003 with help from his late brother, David Koch.