Swing-state conservatives reaped benefits
The conservative political network connected to the billionaire Koch brothers spent millions in Colorado in 2014, according to new federal tax records, playing a behind-the-scenes role to boost local organizations that played a prominent role in the election and public policy.
The Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a hub for businessmen Charles and David Koch's political activity, gave money to six state-based organizations, three of them in Colorado, the IRS filings show. The attention reflects the prominence of Colorado on the political map in 2014 — and offers a glimpse of what's to come when the spotlight returns in 2016.
The largest beneficiary in Colorado — where the Koch brothers own homes — is CitizenLink, the Colorado Springs-based political arm of Focus on the Family and a prominent anti-abortion and religious freedom organization. In 2014, the group received $1 million and an additional $1.3 million through Evangchr4 Trust, another Koch organization.
The two other local groups that benefited from Koch money: IACE Action, a political nonprofit run by Colorado Springs conservative activist Laura Carno, received $95,000, and the Colorado Women's Alliance, a conservative-leaning organization based in Greenwood Village, took $50,000.
The IRS tax records are the first indication the local groups were tied to the Koch organization.
Freedom Partners gave a total of $88 million in grants in 2014, and tens of millions went to national political organizations that played a significant role in Colorado's high-profile U.S. Senate race in 2014 between Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and Republican Cory Gardner.
The major players include limited-government advocates Americans for Prosperity, the Latino-focused Libre Initiative, business-centric U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the industry-backed American Energy Alliance, which alternatively organized supporters or aired TV ads designed to boost Gardner.
Freedom Partners also paid $1.3 million in consulting fees to Aegis Strategic, a firm run by Jeff Crank, a Colorado Springs political consultant and radio show host who worked for Americans for Prosperity.
The big money in the Koch political coalition makes it a target for Democratic-aligned organizations.
"In Colorado, the Koch network is bankrolling the far-right by sending hundreds of thousands to extreme groups at the federal, state and even local level — all in the interest of pushing their agenda that's good for billionaires like them but hurts Colorado families," said Regan Page, a spokeswoman for the Bridge Project, which is part of an organization that focuses on conservative groups and the Koch brothers. "Coloradans were kept in the dark until more than a year after the Kochs spent millions through shadowy front groups."
Freedom Partners, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit, did not disclose its donors in the tax filings because it is not required by federal law. A message sent to the organization Wednesday went unanswered.
CitizenLink president Paul Weber and the leader of the organization's local affiliate, Colorado Family Action, were not available for an interview.
Carno said the $95,000 that went to her organization, I Am Created Equal Action, helped pay for a pro-energy industry mailer to educate voters about Udall and his stance on oil and gas issues.
The money also helped pay for an intern through the Koch-funded Liberty at Work training program. The staffer helped Carno with general administrative support during the 2014 election season.
Debbie Brown, the executive director at the Colorado Women's Alliance, said the money her group received went to general support, not a particular purpose.
The organization, however, did advocacy work in 2014 to support Gardner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.
The Koch network's focus on Colorado makes sense to Brown, who is also an energy industry consultant.
"When you look at politics, naturally Colorado is a tier-one state ... for a lot of things," she said, mentioning oil and gas issues, ballot initiatives and national politics. "Colorado is a battleground state."