The rate at which the Koch Industries funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) churns out front groups to promote its right-wing corporate agenda sets the organization out among similar conservative “think tanks.” This week, AFP created their latest front group called “Patients United Now,” an entity set up to defeat health care reform. Patients United follows a familiar pattern AFP has used for their other front groups: create a new stand alone website, fill it with lines like “We are people just like you” to give the site a grassroots feel, and then use the new group to recruit supporters and run deceptive advertisements attacking reform. This “astroturfing” model has been used by AFP to launch groups pushing distortions against other progressive priorities:
— The “Hot Air Tour” promoting global warming skepticism and attacking environmental regulations. — “Free Our Energy,” a group promoting increased domestic drilling. — The “Save My Ballot Tour,” a group that pays Joe the Plumber to travel around the country smearing the Employee Free Choice Act. — “No Climate Tax,” a group dedicated to the defeat of Clean Energy Economy legislation. — “No Stimulus,” a group launched to try to stop the passage of the Recovery Act.
Notably, AFP was also instrumental in orchestrating the anti-Obama, anti-tax tea party protests in April.
With nearly 70 Republican operatives and former oil industry spokesmen working behind the scenes of AFP’s various fronts and disclosures that point to ever increasing oil and corporate donations to the group, one must wonder, who is guiding this massive front group factory? The answer is Tim Phillips, the President of AFP who has built a long career of inventing fake grassroots causes. In Phillips’ official biography, there appears to be over a 10 year gap — but that period was when Phillips developed his very first astroturf groups to do everything from smearing his opponents with anti-Semitic attacks to laundering money for criminal lobbyists.
Click More To Read The WonkRoom’s Investigation Of AFP’s Tim Phillips
As a Virginia-based political consultant, Phillips got his first big break managing the campaign of Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). After serving as Goodlatte’s chief of staff for four years, Phillips joined former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed in 1997 to create an astroturf lobbying and campaign consulting operation called Century Strategies. The firm promised to mount “grassroots lobbying drives” and explained its strategy as “it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard — and by whom.”
After being recommended by Karl Rove, Century Strategies signed its first major corporate client — Enron. Phillips and Reed were paid $380,000 to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation in Congress and on the state level, a policy shift that led to the energy crisis and economic meltdown of 2001. The Washington Post reported that the pair informed Enron that they had leveraged their relationships with members of Congress and “placed” articles in prominent papers like the New York Times.
Part of Phillip’s role at Century Strategies was to manage the firm’s direct mail subsidiary, Millennium Marketing. In 1998, now disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff hired Phillips’ firm to pressure members of Congress to vote against legislation that would have made the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands subject to federal wage and worker safety laws. A federal report “found that Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.” Nonetheless, Phillips sent out mailers claiming Chinese workers “are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ” while on the islands, and many “are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.” The mailers then encouraged the recipients to contact lawmakers and ask them to oppose the Marianas labor reform legislation.
The Marianas stealth lobbying effort was not the only time Phillips worked with Abramoff. Reed and Phillips conspired to generate conservative Christian outrage towards gambling at Indian casinos in a cynical plot to encourage those same tribes to hire Abramoff to lobby on their behalf. In some cases, Phillips’ anti-gambling crusade would simply be part of an effort to kill off competition to Abramoff’s clients. And while Phillips and Reed postured to be motivated by anti-gambling Christian values, the pair helped launder lobbying money from an Abramoff Internet gambling client called eLottery.
Though Phillips and Reed are best known in the campaign consulting world for engineering the dual victories of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Republican Gov. Sonnie Perdue in Georgia (by associating images of Osama bin Laden with the incumbent Democratic senator), the pair can also be credited with the most below the belt tactics ever seen in modern Republican primaries. The duo “spearheaded” the telemarketing and direct mail efforts for George Bush against John McCain in the 2000 primaries. It is widely believed that Century Strategies executed the mass mailers and robo-calls which accused McCain of fathering an illegitimate child with a black woman, using the image of McCain’s adopted daughter from Bangladesh.
Phillips’ brass knuckled hits on fellow Republicans almost prevented the only Jewish Congressman in the GOP caucus from ever being elected. Phillips set up a 527 called “The Faith and Family Alliance,” a group supposedly designed to support conservative and Christian causes. But like his other front groups, Phillips used the Family Alliance to simply slime his political opponents with an organization that appeared to represent a grassroots community. The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that Phillips was hired by State Sen. Stephen Martin to manage his direct mail campaign against State Del. Eric Cantor in the 2000 Republican primary for the Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA). Phillips used his Family Alliance to blast robo-calls and mass mailers claiming Cantor did not represent “Virginia values” and that his opponent was the “only Christian in the contest.”
Larry Sabato, a political analyst and the director of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, noted:
A despicable, underground campaign that was unquestionably anti-Semitic nearly beat Cantor in the GOP primary for U.S. House to succeed Tom Bliley in June 2000. Cantor had been heavily favored over state Sen. Steve Martin, but in the end he won by a couple hundred votes. Now the national and state GOP appears grateful for its lone Jewish House member — but the Republican base and some Christian groups almost insured his defeat. I’m amazed that Democrats and even Republicans haven’t raised this matter.
Indeed, after the Phillips’ anti-Semitic attacks, Cantor went from being high in the polls to barely winning the primary by a mere 264 votes. Phillips still holds rallies — under the umbrella of AFP — to boost his old client Sen. Martin.
Phillips managed to escape most of the controversy that eventually embroiled his partners Reed and Abramoff. Working under the slush fund provided by oil baron David Koch — with a salary approaching $300,000 a year and at least a $7 million annual budget — Phillips continues to lead AFP in building front group after front group to advance his radical right wing agenda.