Submitted by Nick Surgey on
Freedom Partners (FP) -- a funding group previously unheard of before it shared exclusive and highly selective details about itself with Politico last week -- has extensive hidden connections to Koch Industries and to charities connected to Charles Koch, according to new research by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).
Politico reporters Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei were given an advance copy of FP's first tax filing, which detailed grants and other spending by the group from late 2011 through the months leading up to the 2012 election.
Some of the grants (listed below) were staggeringly large. For example, FP made a $115 million grant to the 501(c)(4) "Center to Protect Patient Rights" (CPPR), another Koch-connected outfit whose misleading name suggests it is concerned about healthcare, but which actually exists to launder funds to other right-wing dark money groups, some of which then spent funds on election ads.
In 2010, for example, CPPR funneled nearly $55 million to a variety of other dark money groups that spent at least $46 million running ads attacking Democrats in the 2010 elections. In 2012, an investigation by California's elections board revealed that CPPR was involved in a shell game where $11 million was shuffled between three different groups to influence two California ballot initiatives. The Freedom Partner grant to CPPR appears to be a case of one Koch-connected group funneling money to another Koch-connected group, which will in turn launder those funds to yet other groups, none of which disclose their donors -- making the money trail very difficult to track.
The very existence of FP was largely unknown until the Politico article appeared on September 11, 2013, although several reporters had written about the same group in February under its initial name, the "Association for American Innovation" (AAI). At that time, based on incomplete information, AAI was believed to have been created in response to the Republican losses in the 2012 elections. However, the materials recently shared with Politico show that the organization spent about a quarter of a billion dollars in that election year. Although the total amount of money spent to influence the elections is unknown, FP/AAI could be one of the highest spending groups on various activities during that election cycle.
New Research Shows Extensive Koch Ties to Staff, Not Just the Board
As both Politico and Talking Points Memo have reported, the FP's board is stacked with long-time Koch operatives: Wayne Gable is the Managing Director of Federal Affairs at Koch Industries; Richard Fink is a top Koch leader and president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation -- from which many of the new staff are drawn; and Kevin Gentry is known as a longtime Charles and David Koch confidant, and is Vice President at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Under IRS rules, an organization's board must be disclosed to the public, and so this information would have come out once FP filed it annually required tax forms.
But it appears that FP gave Politico the names of only three of the 48 employees of the quarter-billion dollar operation: Marc Short, Richard Ribbentrop and James Davis. Short, FP's president, is a Koch insider, who according to a previous Politico article, was tasked by the Kochs' in 2012 with overseeing "the spending of funds raised at the summit(s)" that they hold twice yearly, where they strategize with fellow billionaires and Republican Party insiders. That task now appears to be coming to fruition through FP.
However, the other two staffers named by Politico, Richard Ribbentrop (Executive Director) and James Davis (Vice President, Strategic Communications) do not have documented histories with the Kochs. Research by CMD, however, has uncovered additional ties between FP and the Kochs.
Freedom Partners Employees Include Additional Key Koch Operatives
Research by CMD has identified nine additional FP staffers, seven of whom have strong ties to the Kochs, including its top leadership. They are:
- Alan Cobb, Vice President
- Nick Dunn, Vice President, Communications
- Peter Lipsett, Vice President, Special Projects
- Daniel Jorjani, General Counsel
- Beth Nank, Project Manager
- Alanna Ream, Events Associate
- Will Moyer, Development Associate
- Carolyn Needham, Non-Profit Research Analyst
- Stephen Zimmer, Development Intern
Alan Cobb was until recently Vice President for State Operations at the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. Previously, he was Director of Kansas Public Affairs for Koch Industries.
Nick Dunn has also worked for the Kochs. He has been employed by the Charles Koch Foundation since 2008 in various positions, most recently as "Program Coordinator of Policy." Earlier in his career, Dunn was in the Koch Associate program from 2007 - 2008. This is the year-long Charles Koch Institute program that trains young conservatives in the principles of the Kochs' "Market-Based Management" curriculum, and then puts them to work at a "partner" non-profit for the year. Typically these non-profits also receive funding from the Kochs' foundations. The current list of partners includes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation. It is not known at which group Dunn spent his associate year.
Until recently, Peter Lipsett worked for the Koch lobbying operation in Washington D.C., called Koch Industries Public Sector. He formally held the position of "Senior Development Associate", but Lipsett also acted as "Director, Special Projects." This position sounds strikingly similar to the "Vice President, Special Projects" title that he now holds at FP.
In 2011 IRS filings, Daniel Jorjani is listed as one of the highest paid employees at both the Charles Koch Institute, where he was Director of Research, and the Charles Koch Foundation, where his title was Program Officer, Research. A key Koch employee, his time appears to have been split working between the two groups.
As of September 14, Alanna Ream was still listed on her own LinkedIn page as "Manager, Educational Programs and Admissions" at the Charles Koch Institute. This is one of four positions that she lists since 2009 -- all at either the Charles Koch Institute or the Charles Koch Foundation. Like Dunn, Ream was a participant in the Koch Associate program from 2009 to 2010.
Carolyn Needham held previous positions at the Charles Koch Institute and the Charles Koch Foundation, and has worked at the Koch-funded National Center for Policy Analysis.
Not much is known about the two junior staffers on our list, Stephen Zimmer and Will Moyer. Both are likely at the beginning of their careers, although Zimmer was until recently a Market-Based Management Intern at the Charles Koch Institute. Moyer, a former junior staffer on the hill, is also the co-founder of "Free Think U," whose funders are unknown; his co-founder and classmate is a former Koch Fellow.
Beth Nank is the wife of Timothy Nank, who lost his bid for election to the Virginia assembly in 2012 as a Republican. She has been involved with the promotion of charter schools. Any connections to the Kochs are not known for her, although she is listed as a member of the Koch Associate Program group on LinkedIn.
Kochs Downplay Ties in PR Release; CMD Finds Them Paying the Phone Bill
In a statement on its "Koch Facts" website, posted the same day that the FP publicly announced its existence via the Politico article, the Kochs dismissed suggestions that the FP organization is actually just another Koch front-group, stating that it operates "independently of Koch Industries." Although FP is technically a separate legal entity, the extent of the Koch connections suggests that it is hardly independent of the Kochs as a practical matter.
It is also possible that some of the staffers listed above are -- as at least one of their own LinkedIn profiles suggests -- still actually employed by the Charles Koch Institute or other Koch-related entities.
Regardless, the Koch-trained, Koch-funded staffers at FP wont have to go far to bump into their "old" colleagues at the Charles Koch Institute and the Charles Koch Foundation. According to records associated with the new group's 401k-pension plan, they are housed in the same office building in Arlington, Virginia as both of the other Koch groups.
It also looks like the Kochs might be picking up some of the bills too. According to a telephone record check conducted by CMD, the phone used by Nick Dunn in his new role as FP's Vice President of Communications, is directly paid for by Koch Industries in Washington DC.
The fact that FP successfully kept its activities in the 2012 presidential election year -- and even its own existence -- secret until now, is testament to the growing power of the Kochs' secretive network. It is also Exhibit A for the relatively slack disclosure rules under which non-profits operate, allowing groups -- particularly newly formed organizations -- to operate in the shadows through entire election cycles before having to file with the IRS. If there were ever an example of how a tax-exempt group might be able to spend big to influence policy without being noticed, then this is it.
Documents filed with the Delaware Department of State show that FP was incorporated there in November 2011. Almost two years later, the organization has still not yet filed its first return with the IRS. Instead, they have shared an advance copy with Politico, which reported that the document as due to be "filed shortly" with the IRS.
The Politico story looks like a shrewd stage-managing of FP's emergence into public view. Almost nothing is known about the group beyond what it has chosen to share with Politico. It has not disclosed and will likely keep secret the names of the big donors funding this massive operation, beyond the Koch family fortune.
According to Politico, FP employees 48 staff. What these staff members do is unclear and is not discussed in the article, so their role in coordinating the Koch agenda among groups is still not known. What is known is that it made grants of more than $1 million to the following groups in 2012:
- Center to Protect Patient Rights ($115 million)
- David Koch's Americans for Prosperity ($32.3 million)
- The 60 Plus Association ($15.7 million)
- American Future Fund ($13.6 million)
- Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee ($8.2 million)
- Themis Trust ($5.8 million)
- Public Notice ($5.5 million)
- Generation Opportunity ($5 million)
- The LIBRE Initiative ($3.1 million)
- The National Rifle Association ($3.5 million)
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($2 million)
- American Energy Alliance ($1.5 million)
Its revenues and spending since the reboot following the 2012 election, for the past ten months, remains unknown.
This article was updated after publication to include additional information about CPPR, and to remove reference to a photograph that incorrectly identified Charles Koch alongside Daniel Jorjani (hat tip to James Davis).