Koch Group shuts down TV as it pushes personal campaign approach

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The Denver suburbanite had little time for politics when she opened her door to Jesse Mallory, the head of the Colorado division of the political arm of a libertarian political network founded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

Still, the undecided voter took the opportunity to ask Mallory about interference by Democratic outside groups in a GOP primary for a competitive House race, where the Americans for Prosperity Super Political Action Committee was bolstering the candidacy of State Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer (R) for the nomination.

The visit was part of efforts by the Koch Group to target voters individually rather than relying on more expensive television ad campaigns to shape the Republican conference in Congress next year.

“Anything you do should complement a ground game because that’s where you can actually talk to people and hear what they’re thinking,” Mallory said as he strolled between single-family homes in Westminster, in Colorado at the end of last month.

Photo by Zach C. Cohen

Americans for Prosperity Action Colorado director Jesse Mallory, right, talks to canvassers in Westminster, Colorado, June 27.

At a time when the airwaves are saturated with political advertisements, the well-heeled conservative group says it has found a more effective way to reach key voters. Group executives say they have refocused on paid canvassing, digital ads and direct mail because human contact is the best way to convey a political message in an environment cluttered with competing and confusing messages. The congressional primaries and general election in November, when control of both chambers is up for grabs, will test the effectiveness of this approach.

“Assault” of political ads prepared for markets across the United States

“Distrust of political parties and the media is growing faster than ever,” said Emily Seidel, executive director of Americans for Prosperity and senior adviser to AFP Action. “But Americans always listen to their neighbors and members of their communities — especially when we engage on an issue that matters to them.”

Nothing replaces a one-on-one connection, Seidel said in an emailed statement.

The AFP and its super political action committee, AFP Action, have spent nearly $130 million to influence federal elections over the past decade, according to information provided to the Federal Election Commission. Until recently, this included tens of millions spent on television commercials.

In the current election cycle through early July, the group reported no spending on television ads. The group has handed out more than $8 million for House and Senate races, independent expense reports filed with the FEC show. He still had more than $14 million in cash left to spend in early June, according to his latest FEC disclosure.

Its biggest donor – giving a total of $6.5 million so far this cycle – is Koch Industriesthe company run by billionaire Charles Koch, who, together with his late brother David, founded AFP.

(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon for The Washington Post via Getty Ima

Charles Koch, who with his late brother, David, founded Americans for Prosperity

AFP’s outreach draws on i360, a company wholly owned by Koch Industries Inc. that has been experimenting for years in crafting messages that move voters. Michael Palmer, president of i360, said the highest return on investment comes “from direct contact with voters through individualized grassroots and layered marketing efforts.”

Canvassers use i360 data to strategize which homes to reach, even when it means visiting more than once. They’re able to identify voters to target — for example, Republican and unaffiliated voters who may be in the GOP primary but haven’t submitted their ballots — and get step-by-step instructions in a district. If they reach a voter at their doorstep, the canvasser script appears with messages based on issues that the voter is concerned about.

AFP’s strategy contrasts with other groups and candidates who have doubled down on TV ad purchases, the Wesleyan Media Project reported last month. Mid-term 2022 TV advertising is breaking records again, the research project launched in 2010 at Wesleyan University in Connecticut has revealed.

“The bulk of the evidence shows that TV ads are always persuasive,” said Travis Ridout, professor of government at Washington State University who directs the Wesleyan Media Project. There’s a lot of ad inventory, especially on local TV, and TV demographics are good for finding persuasive voters, Ridout said.

“Older people who watch television are most likely to vote,” Ridout said, “and this is especially true for those who watch local news: people interested in politics and very likely to vote.”

Approval of candidates

AFP Action has backed five Senate candidates and nearly two dozen House candidates across the country – all Republicans, according to a list provided by AFP spokesman Bill Riggs.

The group has been critical of Donald Trump and backs the GOP primary candidates the former president has sought to defeat. He favors Rep. Pierre Meijer (R-Mich.), who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising and now faces a primary opponent the former president backs in the Aug. 2 primary. representing Nancy Mace (RS.C.) defeated a Trump-backed challenger in the June 14 primary with AFP backing. It is also helping Nick Begich (R) during the August 16 primary against the Trump-backed candidacy of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) to replace the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

The AFP super PAC has been working since November to help elect state Attorney General Eric Schmitt in Missouri’s crowded Republican Senate primary. The group said Schmitt has been a key ally in reducing taxes and regulation and allowing public funding for private schools.

AFP Action’s endorsement of Kirkmeyer of Colorado, who won the Republican nomination last month for the state’s new competitive House district, was his first in a congressional primary in that state. To persuade undecided voters, the super PAC knocked on 42,000 doors, made 72,000 calls, sent 342,000 letters in total, and spent about $15,000 on digital advertisements.

Colorado’s Most Competitive Home Neighborhood Could Be ‘Bellwether’

Mallory said getting involved in a primary gives the group a better understanding of a candidate’s worldview early on and opportunities to make their case after the recipients of their support have been elected.

“This actually gives us a unique opportunity to not just add another lineman to the Colorado delegation, but to really start reshaping what Congress looks like,” Mallory said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zach C. Cohen in Denver at zcohen@bloombergindustry.com; Kenneth P. Doyle in washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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