Americans for Prosperity Foundation
Americans for Prosperity Foundation was the 501(c)(3) sister organization of Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the Koch brothers’ network. AFPF’s mission was to educate “men and women about the principles of freedom and how those apply to their everyday lives” and to “provide people with the knowledge and tools to use these principles to thrive at work, home and in their communities” by programs which “enable Americans to understand why freedom is the key to long-term success, happiness and wellbeing. In practice this is accomplished through two main programs: the Bridge to Wellbeing program, and the Grassroots Leadership Academy.
In addition to those two programs, AFPF makes available a series of “two-pagers” on “Policies Impacting You.” AFPF writes, “Each memo offers a brief, fact-based overview and commentary aimed at introducing Americans for Prosperity Foundation activists, policymakers and others to the issues of the day.” As of November 2015, there were 80 such memos ranging everything from common issues like “The Minimum Wage” to more obscure topics like “Sarbanes-Oxley.”
In each case, the memos almost shamelessly present a skewed version of the facts to promote the Kochs’ view. For instance, the “Endangered Species Act” memo (which is categorized under “Property Rights”) argues that “too often ESA regulations go much too far in putting the interests of plants and animals above economic growth.” AFPF also offers an Agenda 21 memo, for those interested in what the Southern Poverty Law Center identified as a “Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory.”
- The “Food Stamps” memo argues that SNAP is “ballooning in size and cost” due to “excessive easing of the program’s eligibility criteria,” while quoting the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks arguing that “Restrictions on food stamp purchases have been lightened dramatically” and “we must take care to avoid teaching dependence and encouraging behavior that reduces one’s ability to delay gratification and earn success.”
- The “Death Tax” memo argues that the estate tax is “imposed on those who have merely achieved the American dream.” Given that the estate tax applies to .2 percent of American estates, it’s unlikely that, as AFPF claims, this is one of the “Policies Impacting You.”
- The “Hydraulic Fracturing” memo argues that fracking is less dangerous than toothpaste.
- The “Minimum Wage” memo says that “forced wages depress freedom” and that the government should let “businesses freely decide what wage levels are appropriate.”
- The right-to-work memo claims that right-to-work laws fight against “forced unionism” and makes a blanket claim that “employers can no longer create sustainable private sector jobs in states where workers are forced by law to join and financially support unions,” which would presumably be surprising to the half of the country which doesn’t have RTW laws.
Bridge To Wellbeing
Bridge to Wellbeing is an educational and policy program run by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The program is “dedicated to educating people on the value of freedom in their everyday lives” and claim to “help people leverage the opportunity to pursue happier, healthier, and more successful lives.”
AFPF presents its programs as useful to helping families on a tight budget, but the programs also extoll the virtues of the Koch brothers’ conception of government. For instance, the course on couponing teaches “the basics of couponing” while also explaining, in AFPF’s conception, that “government policies are causing food and grocery prices to rise.” Another course on becoming a small-business owner promises to teach you how to “ensure the government doesn’t interfere with entrepreneurial freedom” and will “help you navigate the regulations that may stand in your way.” In the words of Montana Deputy Secretary of State Eric Stern, “The Kochs have invented a whole new type of philanthropy, whereby a poor person can achieve ‘wellbeing’ simply by learning how liberal policies have caused his or her plight.”
Additionally worth noting was the course “Speaking Up and Speaking Out” which is a grassroots lobbying course for those “tired of politicians and special interests being the only ones making the decisions in our community and our nation.” As Stern writes, “Who knew that wellbeing could be achieved simply by lobbying for Americans for Prosperity?”
An important question is raised by the Koch network’s behavior: when Koch front-group LIBRE Initiative hosts drivers-ed classes or health fairs or other community events, the contact information it gathers is shared with the Kochs’ for-profit voter data company, i360. Is the same true of AFPF’s events?
Grassroots Leadership Academy
AFPF’s Grassroots Leadership Academy (GLA) billed itself as “a state-of-the-art training program for citizen activists who want to make a difference at the federal, state, and local level” which will “build the leadership skills you need to fight for freedom and against the progressive policies and false narratives of the left.” The program promises to teach the “basics” of “how the left operates,” “social media best practices” and “working with legislators” among other areas. The program also offers “grassroots certifications”
GLA also offers a series of Insight to Action Field Forums, which were billed as “a perfect opportunity to learn something new on a topic or subject area that is relevant to the pursuit of economic freedom and well-being.” Such offerings include:
- “Anita MonCrief’s Lessons from the Left: Anita MonCrief, known as the ‘ACORN Whistleblower,’ shares her experiences working with the liberal/progressive movement, and describes her personal journey to embracing economic freedom.”
- “Righteous Indignation: Breitbart’s Rules for Fighting the Culture War: Participants have the opportunity to explore the life, times, and impact of the policies and politics of Andrew Breitbart, and discuss lessons conservative activists can take away from his work.”
- “A Night with Saul: Participants will watch and discuss the documentary, ‘Saul Alinsky Went to War’ and discuss his story and its impact on community organizing. By studying Alinsky attendees will further understand tactics of the left.”
While AFPF purports to be a strictly charitable organization, the political history of its staffers makes its political nature even more clear – in most cases, the staff migrated to AFPF from AFP or other political groups, or else the staffers continue to work for both AFP and AFPF. According to AFPF’s 2013 990, AFPF paid AFP $3,977,753 for “sharing of paid employees.”
Danielle Cyr, Outreach Director, previously worked as a Field Director with AFP New Jersey and a Grassroots Director for AFP Pennsylvania and AFP New Jersey. Marketing manager Justine Fink was related to AFP leaders Rich and Chris Fink, and previously worked on the Tax and Fiscal policy Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Field Activity Director Lindsay Matlock “oversaw the planning components of AFP’s annual summit, bus tours, and large events,” and, prior to that, served as Political Director of Susan B. Anthony’s list, a far-right anti-choice group. Foundation Associate Glori Foster previously served as an intern with AFP and participated in get-out-the-vote operations with AFP Kentucky.