Trees of Liberty
- Location: Arlington, VA
- Tax-Exempt Status: 501(c)4
Trees of Liberty was a short-lived 501(c)(4) front group funded by the Koch brothers’ “secret bank,” Freedom Partners, and set up by a political strategy firm affiliated with the Koch brothers, Aegis Strategic, to intervene in the 2014 Iowa Senate Republican Primaries. ToL supported now-Sen. Joni Ernst, running ads attacking her opponent, businessman Mark Jacobs. A spokesman for the organization claimed its mission was “to educate and engage citizens on national and state economic policy issues.” However, the group was active very briefly, and in that time its only activities were attacks on Jacobs – via a website and a significant ad buy.
The ad purchase was for $257,000, although only a few thousand dollars’ worth of ads are documented in the FCC databases, and aired throughout the state, focusing on Jacobs’ supposed prior support for cap-and-trade legislation to combat climate change. This spending reportedly came from and went back into the Koch network – according to Politico, “sources tell POLITICO that Trees of Liberty got its cash from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce… it spent $347,000 ― about 80 percent of all the cash it brought in ― on ‘advertising,’ all of which went through i360, a data analytics and ad buying company owned by Freedom Partners.”
On the group’s website – www.RealMarkJacobs.com – further attacks were made on Jacobs’ position on Common Core, as well as the implication that he “helped enable passage of Obamacare through his personal support of… Arlen Specter.” Additionally, a twitter account @Real_MarkJacobs listing the ToL website as its URL claimed to be “The Official Account of the Real Mark Jacobs. Give Me A Call” and listed Jacobs’ actual campaign contact number. This would appear to have been in clear violation of Twitter’s rules governing parody or commentary accounts, which require both the account bio and name to identify the account as a fake.
The only individual publicly associated with the group was the spokesman, identified as Mark Pfeifle. According to the Quad City Times, Pfeifle was “a former national security official in the George W. Bush administration” as well as “president of Off The Record Strategies.” OTR Strategies, in turn, was a secretive political consulting firm – the website features the quote: “If we told you exactly what we do, we’d have to go on the record,” and the firm’s Twitter profile picture is a folder marked “Confidential.”
Despite Pfeifle’s firm’s secrecy, there are clear political and personal ties to the Koch brothers’ network, which pushed hard for the election of Sen. Ernst. In fact, Politico confirmed that Trees of Liberty was set up by a Koch-backed for-profit consulting firm, Aegis Strategic, which similarly set up a dark money group in Kentucky to attack opponents of Hal Heiner’s gubernatorial bid. Trees of Liberty shares an address with Aegis Strategic, which reportedly receives most of its revenue from a contract with Freedom Partners.
Besides the likely contract with Koch-backed Aegis, there are additional reasons to suspect that OTR works closely with the Koch network. OTR Strategies followed 57 accounts on Twitter as of November 9, 2015; of those, 11% belonged to groups affiliated with the Koch network, including an Americans for Prosperity state affiliate, Freedom Partners, Generation Opportunity, LIBRE Initiative and its head, Daniel Garza, who also worked in the Bush White House. OTR has retweeted LIBRE, and Pfeifle called LIBRE’s Florida State Director, Cesar Grajales a “fella [Pfeifle was] proud to have worked with.”
Pfeifle, whose firm promises “private counsel and public results” spent 2014 and 2015 writing several articles attacking the Export-Import Bank, a Koch priority. One of those articles was retweeted by the Freedom Partners’ Ex-Im Exposed account. In one Wall Street Journal op-ed, Pfeifle’s language closely mirrored arguments made against Ex-Im by Freedom Partners and AFP officials. In an even stranger op-ed for RealClearPolitics, Pfeifle attacks anti-Koch political ads and rhetoric without ever mentioning the name “Koch,” despite referencing specific comments made about the Brothers and jokes made on the pronunciation of their last name. Pfiefle has also served as a lecturer for the Independence Institute, a grassroots-training organization in Colorado which received significant Koch funding through DonorsTrust, Donors Capital Fund and the State Policy Network.
His work at Trees of Liberty in Iowa also helped compliment the work of a major Koch donor, Bob Mercer. Mercer was the financial force behind the American Heartland PAC, which also ran anti-Jacobs ads. Bloomberg referred to Mercer as the man who “out-Koched the Kochs,” since he contributed $2.5 million to the Freedom Partners Action Fund, compared to Charles and David’s $2 million apiece.
1 transaction on record as a recipient.
|Freedom Partners||Trees of Liberty||$400,000||2014||+|