The Koch's 'secret bank' takes another step out of the shadows

For the first time, Freedom Partners puts its name on political ads

Koch Industries executive VP David Koch, left and Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, right. (AP/Getty)

Eight months ago, Politico tagged a little-known trade association called Freedom Partners as “the Koch brothers’ secret bank.” The Arlington-Va.-based organization, founded in 2011, had been bankrolling a sprawling network of conservative advocacy groups with the assistance of billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch.

This week, as the Koch brothers remain a high-profile Democratic obsession, Freedom Partners took its biggest step forward out of the shadows, announcing the first ad buy in its three-year history to bear its own name. The $3 million Freedom Partners television ad buy will target Democrats running for reelection in five states over their support of the Affordable Care Act.

The decision to put its name on the ads represents a massive shift in Freedom Partners’ strategy, which previously saw it quietly playing Daddy Warbucks for member groups competing for grants and financing ad campaigns through more public organizations.The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity in recent years was the Koch's go-to vessel for attack ads, dropping $122 million on spots in 2012 and shelling out another $30 million during the current midterm election cycle. But AFP has faced a media backlash to recent ads against Obamacare in which fact checkers say include dubious claims.  

The Freedom Partners ads, which will run for three weeks against Sen. Mary Landeiu in Louisiana, Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado, Rep. Gary Peters in Michigan, Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska and Rep. Bruce Braley in Iowa, aim to tie Democrats who supported Obamacare to insurance companies that donate to their campaigns.

"Begich took thousands from the health insurance industry and he supported Obamacare, which gave health insurance companies billions," a female narrator says in the ad running against the Alaska Democrat. The other spots follow a similar script.

The donors who fund Freedom Partners remain secret, but the group has played a more direct role in political advocacy since last November.

During this time, Freedom Partners has undergone a period of consolidation, bringing services in-house that it had previously contracted out. In January, the polling firm Public Notice, once a Freedom Partners grant recipient, officially became part of the association’s operations. Freedom Partners has also escalated its working relationship with the data-gathering firm Themis, (publicly known as i360). And Freedom Partners launched a website that provides limited information about the group and makes public its 43-page IRS 990 tax form, which nonprofits must reveal.

All of this ads up to a major shift for the publicly taciturn trade group used to tasking other groups with actions -- with the result that it's now emerging as a standalone brand willing to put its name behind millions of dollars in ad spending.

“We’ve expanded quite a bit,” Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis told Yahoo News. “I think it’s just an evolution and growth of Freedom Partners, and we’ll continue to grow.”

Freedom Partners’ release of its first branded ads comes at a time when Democrats are leading a massive public relations effort against the Kochs, who are instrumental in facilitating the donor network that bankrolls Freedom Partners’ network of conservative groups.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has led the charge against the Kochs since February, calling them “un-American…shadowy billionaires” who “pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent.” Other Democratic Party groups have followed suit with their own attacks on the billionaire brothers who run Koch Industries, the largest privately owned company in the country. The Senate Majority PAC for instance, a Democratic group with ties to Reid, is currently running its own $3 million ad campaign that targets the Kochs.

Davis told Yahoo News that Freedom Partners is planning to play more of a role in the 2014 elections after the current ad buy finishes later this month.

Pressed for specifics, he said, “TBD.”