PNNM EXCLUSIVE: Koch Brothers to Shut Down NM Operations Ahead of 2014 Election

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PNNM EXCLUSIVE: Koch Brothers to Shut Down NM Operations
Ahead of 2014 Election

[Jan 13, 6:45 am] Read and comment on this story at Huffington Post and HuffPo live here.

[Jan 13, 11:44 am] The right-wing think tank “Rio Grande Foundation” agrees with us (that’s pretty big news, all by itself).  Here’s how the right-wing sees AFP’s NM abandonment:

Rio Grande Foundation: Let the wild, left-wing rumpus begin! Posted by  - January 13, 2014 -

Liberals and conservatives rarely agree on anything, but the fact that Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity is leaving New Mexico is bad news for conservatives and good news for left-wing liberals like George Soros.

While this is unfortunate news for advocates of the free market and limited government throughout New Mexico, we at the Rio Grande Foundation aren’t going anywhere. We’ll continue to advocate for the free market and against the far-left agenda that has led New Mexico to the bottom in economic freedom and the top of so many bad lists when it comes to poverty, overall economic performance, and education.

ALBUQUERQUE – A new ProgressNow New Mexico investigation has discovered that only a little over a year after setting up shop in our state Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the far-right special interest front group bankrolled by the Koch brothers, is saying “adios” to the Land of Enchantment.

Pam Wolfe, AFP NM FAILresources elsewhere” and will no longer have any “boots on the ground” in New Mexico.

News of the Koch brother-backed organization’s downsizing their investments in a critical state for the conservative movement is the first news of any reconsideration or pulling out of any state by the billionaire right-wing funders.  It raises questions of whether similar pull backs are also underway in other states.

Following a brutal year for New Mexico conservatives that saw numerous progressive victories across a range of issue areas, the group that has been called “one of the most powerful conservative organizations in electoral politics” has decided to shut down their New Mexico operation. AFP’s decision to pull their money and shut down their New Mexico chapter comes right at the start of an important election year where the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Auditor, one US Senate seat and every NM House seat is up for grabs.

What is AFP and what have they been doing in New Mexico?
AFP is based in Virginia and claims to have chapters in 34 states. Founded by the billionaire Koch brothers in 2004, AFP has gained notoriety in recent years as it ramped up its involvement in all manner of conservative causes across the nation.  Most notably, AFP has attempted to generate grassroots support and in-person attendance at events sponsored by allied organizations including the State Policy Network’s Koch-funded ‘think tank’,  the Rio Grande Foundation.

AFP has funneled millions of dollars into anti-union policies, efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, climate change denialism, propping up the Tea Party, attacking President Obama, and directly supporting conservative politicians like Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

Check out this amazing map of Koch interests from WaPo and the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group spent $6.1 million in key battleground states, including New Mexico, on false attack ads during the 2012 elections. AFP is also heavily involved with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). (For more information on AFP and their activities, click here.)

A 2013 report by the Center for Public Integrity found that in addition to direct spending on AFP programs in the state:

Americans for Prosperity awarded smaller grants to …  two groups that have opposed measures to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage.

NM Telegram similarly reported that the Koch brothers’ group and others spent more than $500,000 on TV ads and AFP organizing to defeat a 2012 increase in Albuquerque’s minimum wage.  Despite that influx of conservative cash, the measure passed with 2/3 support.

AFP fancy themselves a “grassroots” political advocacy organization that simply promotes conservative policies through their “21,000 activists” in New Mexico. However, a ProgressNowNM investigation found that the truth is much different from the friendly façade.

In addition to investing almost $25,000 in campaign and PAC contributions for Governor Martinez, her PAC and Republican Campaign PACs, the Koch brothers also targeted New Mexico for their new “grassroots” movement building organization, Americans for Prosperity.  New Mexico was one of just 34 states where a chapter was founded to shore up Tea Party-style politics.

AFP opened up shop in New Mexico in the middle of 2012 with two staff members – Pam Wolfe, a field representative, and Joe Montes, the state director – and though they claim to be a grassroots organization supported by over 20,000 New Mexicans, barely over a year later they’re shutting down.

With so much “support” from the community, how could this be? That’s because AFP is well-known for “astroturf” – that is, apparently citizen-based groups that are actually conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms. AFP parachutes into states across the nation, pretends to have a large grassroots following, and then proceeds to pump tons of money into efforts aimed at benefitting corporations, industry lobbyists, and conservative politicians.

During the 2012 elections, for example, AFP brought their Obama’s Failed Agenda bus tour to New Mexico to try and

AFP's 'Failed Agenda" bus tour failed to turn out supporters in New Mexico in Sept. 2012

AFP’s ‘Failed Agenda” bus tour failed to turn out supporters in New Mexico in Sept. 2012

weaken Obama here. Their rallies drew a few dozen people at each stop but nothing close to the turnout they should have been able to produce with so many thousands of “grassroots” supporters across the state.

AFP’s decision to shut down their operations in New Mexico shows just how thin their claims to “grassroots” support are.

Parade of Progressive Wins in 2013 Show Ineffectiveness of Right-Wing Strategy
In contrast to AFP, PNNM is the state’s largest non-profit, non-partisan progressive advocacy network. We have over 100,000 subscribers located across all 33 New Mexico counties. In 2013 alone, our work was supported by over 1,000 grassroots donors – real people who gave modest sums of their own money to make sure we’re able to have a small, dedicated staff on the ground throughout New Mexico holding politicians and their corporate special interests accountable.  [Want to join our movement?  Our grassroots donors provide the support we need to do investigative reports like this.  Learn how you can help here.]

In 2013 alone, New Mexico progressives achieved marriage equality through an historic grassroots effort outside of the legislative process.  Conservatives in the state legislature, including many supported and promoted by AFP, took weeks to organize a legal challenge and news reports frequently noted the lack of organized public protest or opposition to equality efforts.

Similarly, in October 2013 and January 2014, progressives organized to defeat the nation’s first two attempts to ban abortions at the municipal level.   ProgressNow New Mexico was a partner in each of these efforts.

Unlike the astroturfed operations of front-groups like AFP, PNNM’s work gets results and has real support from the community – we’re not going anywhere. AFP? Not so much…

PNNM, unraveling the right’s New Mexico networks
At PNNM, we’ve been leading the charge to expose how the right’s shadowy network of money and power tries to exert influence in New Mexico.

AFP has close ties to the State Policy Network – a group of right-wing “think tanks” of which the Rio Grande Foundation is our state’s cookie-cutter version – and to the Franklin Center – which funds the right-wing blog New Mexico Watchdog. AFP’s sister organization in New Mexico is the LIBRE Initiative which is run by Elisa Martinez. Martinez was the Executive Director of Protect ABQ Women & Children, one of the main organizations that supported the unconstitutional abortion ban recently defeated by Albuquerque residents. (You may also remember last year when the Koch brothers held a secret meeting with Gov. Martinez, Rep. Eric Cantor, Rep. Paul Ryan and a slew of high-dollar conservative donors at the Tamaya Resort in Bernalillo.)

Patrick Davis, Executive Director of ProgressNow New Mexico:

“This is a big shift for the Koch brothers and their attempts to buy elections across the country. They spent millions to astroturf support and manipulate a Tea Party faction into advancing their selfish bottom-line agenda.  But in the end, progressive values of fairness and equality are actually moving real voters to stand up and fight back.

“I think other conservative funders and organizations are going to take a second look at New Mexico after this news. I can imagine the leaders of those organizations asking themselves ‘Well, if the Koch brothers couldn’t buy New Mexico, how will we?'”

Even though the Koch network is giving up on their astroturf campaigns, they have shown no sign of backing off of direct donations to conservative candidates, campaigns and PACs.

Monday’s news on the exit of AFP is the first of a series of reports unraveling the Koch brothers’ network across New Mexico.  AFP isn’t their only tool in the state and if you care about democracy in New Mexico, you’ll want to read our next report.

As always, breaking news is posted first on our Facebook and Twitter pages [@ProgressNowNM].  Like/Follow to be the first to read it.