The Libre Initiative
The LIBRE Initiative was founded in 2011 in an attempt to “win the hearts, minds and votes of the fast- growing Hispanic community.” Dedicated to advancing “the principles and values of economic freedom” and “equip[ping] the Hispanic community with the tools they need to be prosperous,” the LIBRE Initiative has attempted through ad campaigns and field work to draw Hispanic voters toward the Republican Party. “In effect,” the AP explains, LIBRE “is a shadow GOP.” The group does not disclose its donors but nearly all of its known funding comes from two Koch-run outfits: Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce and the now-defunct TC4 Trust. Since its founding, LIBRE has taken in $7,105,000 from these two entities. The group has reported income of just $7,117,128 between August 2011 and June 2013, suggesting that it is almost entirely funded through the Koch Brothers.
LIBRE has also utilized so-called “disregarded entities” to obscure this flow of money. The Center for Responsive Politics points out that various Koch funding outfits have used limited liability companies with vague names like STN LLC, ORRA LLC, RDIST LLC, and SLAH LLC, in a “high-stakes game of hide-the-ball.” This account gimmickry makes disclosure more difficult and has enabled groups bankrolled by the Kochs to claim they have grassroots support. According to the Washington Post, “The tactic not only provides multiple layers of protection for the original donors but also allows the groups to claim they are spending the money on ‘social welfare’ activities to qualify for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.” In 2013, LIBRE reported receiving $4,970,000 in grants, but nearly the entire amount ($4,960,000) actually came to the organization through a “disregarded entity” called TDNA, a limited liability company set up in Delaware.
Koch connections go well beyond contributions, however. Although the group is headquartered in Mission, Texas, its office in Arlington, Virginia is in the same building as several Koch groups, including Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Freedom Partners Action Fund (a new super PAC created by the billionaire brothers in order to directly campaign for Republicans), and the Charles Koch Institute, a group that finds jobs for young conservatives. In yet another link, the same accountant who has prepared most Koch-run groups’ disclosure documents also prepared LIBRE’s 2012 and 2013 990 tax form.
Stating its intention to “align with organizations that support economic freedom,” the LIBRE Initiative has pushed strongly for immigration reform. This pro-reform campaign only goes so far, however. While Koch-funded advocacy groups have either backed immigration reform or stayed on the sidelines of the debate, Koch money has flowed to decidedly anti-immigrant politicians, including Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Lamar Smith, and Lou Barletta. So while Koch money funds LIBRE’s campaign to protect the children of undocumented immigrants, Koch money also helps Gohmert, who warned that unaccompanied children on the border might be bringing disease into the country, maintain his seat. In fact, the majority of contributions from the Koch Industries PAC go to Republicans who oppose reform. And though Americans for Prosperity, the largest Koch-funded group, has not taken a firm position on immigration, the group is spending millions to help elect Tom Cotton, a vocal opponent of immigration reform who has called for an “enforcement-first approach.”
Heading into the 2014 midterm elections, the group has devoted significant resources to opposing the Affordable Care Act and attacking Democrats who support the law. LIBRE has launched large ad campaigns targeting Democrats in “Hispanic-heavy districts,” spending about a half-million dollars attacking Rep. Pete Gallego (TX), more than $700,000 on ads hitting Rep. Joe Garcia (FL), and another $700,000 on defeating Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) and Ron Barber (AZ). LIBRE’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by community leaders, however. “In my view, they are political carpetbaggers,” Vince Rabago, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party Latino Caucus, told a local Arizona newspaper. “They are not from our community. They are not from Arizona. They are an out-of-state political organization doing these hit pieces.”
In fact, LIBRE has been criticized by Democrats and by Latino activists for hypocrisy on the issues of Immigration reform and Latino representation in Congress. The Executive Director of ProgressNow Arizona, Robbie Sherwood, noted that LIBRE’s ads in the 2014 midterms took aim “at Democrats who back immigration reform – an issue that the LIBRE Initiative strongly supports – and end[ed] up benefiting candidates who only support immigration enforcement.” In fact, in testimony before the Senate, Executive Director Daniel Garza repeated the Republican talking point that President Obama’s executive actions on immigration were “executive overreach”:
What’s more, Cristobal Alex, head of the Latino Victory Project, criticized LIBRE for airing ads against Reps. Joe Garcia of Florida and Pete Gallego of Texas, both Latinos. Alex said, “Instead of working together to increase our voice, LIBRE is literally attacking our candidates and trying to limit our voice.”
Despite its claims of nonpartisanship, the core of LIBRE’s leadership is comprised of longtime Republican operatives and staffers. Daniel Garza, executive director of LIBRE, was a White House aide to President George W. Bush, working in the Office of Public Liaison. Jose Mallea, the group’s National Strategic Director, was a Bush appointee at the Small Business Administration, an aide to Andrew Card, and later ran Marco Rubio’s campaign for Senate. Andeliz Castillo, LIBRE’s chief of staff, most recently worked for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and before that, did Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee. Communications director Brian Faughnan (a former lobbyist for the Electronic Industries Alliance) was a GOP Hill staffer for Rep. Dave Drier and Sen. Ron Johnson while Rachel Campos-Duffy, the group’s spokesperson, is the wife of Wisconsin Republican Congressman Sean Duffy.
1 transaction on record as a donor.
|The Libre Initiative||Hispanic Leadership Fund||$275,000||2014||+|