It’s “National Prosperity Action Day.” Tea Partiers, Republican volunteers and conservative activists are being summoned by Americans for Prosperity—the group founded and financed by several large corporations, and led by the billionaire Koch brothers—to begin mobilizing to defeat President Obama and Congressional Democrats.
They’re gathering in newly set up offices in critical swing states. Some of the locations have a tinge of irony for a supposedly grassroots, ordinary citizens-led organization: In Saddlebrook, Arizona, they’ll be meeting in a country club; in Clearwater, Florida, the local AFP field director rented space from an outsourcing company called TAC Worldwide. But the work the AFP machine is doing is no laughing matter for liberals. The Koch network has a sophisticated targeting system, as well as an army of experienced Republican campaign hands to guide the effort. The volunteers even receive Samsung Galaxy tablets to quickly log information and move on to the next potential Romney voter.
It’s the beginning of an extremely well-planned get-out-the-vote effort that duplicates what an entire national party would attempt. And it’s been four years in the making.
In 2009, the Koch network created a model called the Wisconsin Prosperity Project to move the state to the far right. After witnessing the Democrats’ stunning 2008 ground game, the operatives in Wisconsin were determined to out-organize liberals. They hired Tea Party organizers, invested heavily in front groups (like the MacIver Center), ran constant advertising and coordinated with employers to hold propaganda meetings with workers. Tea Party bus tours in the state, fully financed by AFP, were “designed” to help elect Republicans.
And in 2010, Wisconsin turned harder to the right than almost any other state in the nation during the midterm elections. At least from the Koch perspective, the investments worked. (The Koch theory of change was also reinforced by the savvy Scott Walker recall campaign, in which Koch operatives bused seventy-five canvassers to the state to out-perform the unions.)
Koch’s unique, outside-the-GOP voter mobilizing system is called Themis, named after the Greek god of divine order. It carries a similar name to the Themis project by the US Chamber of Commerce’s partners exposed for planning to hack and sabatoge liberals and some union groups, but it is not related.
Rather, Themis is a master database built with information purchased by the Koch brothers, as well as survey information gathered through its network of paid organizers. During the Republican primaries, as Mother Jones reported, AFP paid Florida residents to survey Republican activists as they voted for the various candidates. Tim Phillips, the Koch political deputy, explained Themis this way to USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten: “Our geo-targeting looks at everything from voting data to Census data to consumer-purchasing information.” Phillips also said, “We know their magazine subscriptions. In some cases, we know the websites they prefer to surf.”
Koch is now financing more than 200 organizers and paid political staff in thirty-one states. Its likely much of the money Koch now donates to the NRA and groups like the Faith and Freedom Coalition (run by Tim Phillip’s longtime business partner, Ralph Reed), will also be spent on organizers on the ground. Using the Wisconsin model, Koch hopes to partner with local conservative groups to build a rapid mobilization system that can compete on Election Day, in every critical state.
Too much attention is given to the television ads. The Koch network, which is actively training Tea Partiers, via a partnership with True the Vote, to harass and intimidate voters, may tip the scales in this election. And you won’t see their work on television, or through FEC disclosures (they refuse to register their grassroots electioneering as independent expenditures). Like Wisconsin, liberals might see the ground shifting beneath them, and wonder what happened.