By Mary Spicuzza of the Journal Sentinel
Nov. 29, 2015
A multimillion-dollar effort aimed at winning over Latinos funded by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is looking to expand in Wisconsin.
The Libre Initiative is now hiring a state field director to be based in the Milwaukee area. It will be the first full-time paid staffer the group has had in the state, with the exception of its national spokeswoman — Rachel Campos-Duffy, the wife of U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.).
"Are you looking for an exciting opportunity to promote free-market principles?" the job description reads. "The Libre Initiative is seeking a Wisconsin Field Director to develop, implement, and manage a statewide outreach strategy to ensure an effective grass-roots operation to support the organization's vision and mission."
Libre is a nonprofit organization that promotes economic freedom and small government principles. The group, which was founded in 2011, says its goal is "to empower the U.S. Hispanic community so it can thrive and contribute to a more prosperous America."
Brian Faughnan, a Libre spokesman, said the group isn't focused on specific political races, but rather issues like school choice and immigration reform.
Libre also opposes government "overregulation" as well as the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, describing it on its website as "a tax in disguise that forces citizens to purchase insurance plans and threatens our small businesses with penalties."
While the group has specific initiatives targeting young people, Faughnan said it's working to empower Latinos of all ages.
"We try to reach out across the board to help people become more prosperous and self-reliant," he said. "We believe in the power of free markets and limited, constitutional government to increase opportunity and empower people to make their lives better — and help them achieve their American dream. Our goal is to carry that message into the Hispanic community nationwide."
Democrats accuse Libre of essentially being a shadow group aimed at pushing the Kochs' conservative message.
"This is another example of the Koch brothers' willingness to say or do anything to buy Wisconsin's elections to support their out-of-touch agenda on the backs of Wisconsin middle-class families and workers," said Kory Kozloski, executive director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
Libre is not required to disclose its donors, because it is a 501(c)4 organization. But it has received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers as the Latino outreach arm of the brothers' sprawling political network. Libre has received about $15.8 million from Freedom Partners, a group that serves as the hub of Koch-backed political operations.
Wisconsin had about 135,000 Latinos eligible to vote in the 2014 midterm elections, according to the Pew Research Center.
Nationally, conservatives and Republican candidates have struggled to win over Latino voters.
Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 71% to 27%, an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center found.
Wisconsin Republicans have made an effort to change that in recent years.
At least two local millionaires underwrote a six-figure radio campaign aimed at persuading Latino and black Milwaukee residents to vote Republican in the fall of 2014, when Gov. Scott Walker faced an unsuccessful challenge from Democrat Mary Burke. The advertising campaign, which focused on taxes, abortion, education and gun rights, was launched by Americas PAC, a conservative organization based in Iowa.
It's unclear how much Libre plans to spend in Wisconsin, as Faughnan said the group doesn't disclose its spending plans. But a recent report by The New York Times said Libre is expected to spend more than $9 million nationally during this election cycle.
The group also recently spoke out about federal immigration policy in the wake of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's comments calling for an end to birthright citizenship and deportation of the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
"Such proposals are not in line with our principles and are not in the best interest of the country," Daniel Garza, Libre's executive director, wrote in an open letter released in September.
Faughnan said Libre isn't pushing for specific legislation but supports immigration reform that would include a path to legal status for minor children.
Faughnan said Libre's focus is on states with a "significant" Latino population, adding that the group has paid staffers in Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio, as well as Campos-Duffy in Wisconsin.
Libre, which shares the voter information gathered at its events with the Kochs' i360 data operation, hopes its staff and volunteers make 3 million phone calls and knock on 1 million doors this election cycle, Faughnan said.
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Mary Spicuzza covers politics and breaking news for the Journal Sentinel