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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    The Kochs eclipse the RNC

    The Kochs eclipse the RNC

    Meet the guys behind the right’s best data shop.

    12/8/14 5:32 AM EST

    The Koch brothers and their allies are pumping tens of millions of dollars into a data company that’s developing detailed, state-of-the-art profiles of 250 million Americans, giving the brothers’ political operation all the earmarks of a national party.

    The move comes as mainstream Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, are trying to reclaim control of the conservative movement from outside groups.

    The Kochs, however, are continuing to amass all of the campaign tools the Republican National Committee and other party arms use to elect a president.

    The Koch network also has developed in-house expertise in polling, message-testing, fact-checking, advertising, media buying, dial groups and donor maintenance. Add mastery of election law, a corporate-minded aggressiveness and years of patient experimentation — plus seemingly limitless cash — and the Koch operation actually exceeds the RNC’s data operation in many important respects.

    “The Koch operations are the most important nonparty political players in the U.S. today, and no one else is even close,” said a top Republican who has been involved in the last eight presidential campaigns.

    (Also on POLITICO: End of a D.C. institution)

    The least-known vehicle for the Kochs is a for-profit company known as i360, started by a former adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign after McCain lost to Barack Obama in 2008. Subsequently, it merged with a Koch-funded data nonprofit. The Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners, formed in late 2011, eventually became an investor, officials confirmed to POLITICO.

    Spending more than $50 million in cash over the past four years, i360 links voter information with consumer data purchased from credit bureaus and other vendors. Information from social networks is blended in, along with any interaction the voter may have had with affiliated campaigns and advocacy groups. Then come estimated income, recent addresses, how often a person has voted, and even the brand of car they drive. Another i360 service slices and dices information about TV viewing to help campaigns target ads more precisely and cost efficiently.

    GOP campaigns can get less-expensive data through the RNC, but happily pay i360 for its superior profiles. Midterm clients included several of the GOP’s marquee Senate and gubernatorial victors, including Sens.-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Gov.-elect Larry Hogan in Maryland.

    (Also on POLITICO: HHS doesn't want Gruber at the table)

    Michael Palmer, a Florida native who started i360 after being chief technology officer of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said i360 has been able to develop superior campaign tools precisely because it isn’t beholden to the political calendar. With a steady stream of money comes the ability to think about the long term, he said.

    “Right now, we’re talking about and building things that you won’t see in 2016, because it’s not going to be ready until 2018,” Palmer said.

    One of the reasons that i360 has made such leaps is that the Kochs and their business-minded backers enforced a painful after-action review after the embarrassing Senate losses of 2012, looking across the organization at what could be done better. “We discovered, after 2012, that having a great database isn’t all that useful unless you can make it actionable for people, by building tools and software,” Palmer said.

    (Also on POLITICO: The veterinarian whose bill could stop a shutdown)

    So for this year’s midterms, he said, i360 offered “mobile canvassing apps or data management interfaces, so our clients can actually access that data, report against it, manipulate it, and put it to use.”

    Palmer said i360 embeds experiments “into absolutely everything that we do.” In Colorado, for instance, Americans for Prosperity — the most muscular part of the Koch network — worked with i360 to isolate 297,000 voters who were not likely to vote in 2014, but were likely to oppose the policies of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who wound up being defeated by GOP Rep. Cory Gardner.

    Among the 297,000 voters, some got no contact at all from AFP. About 60,000 voters were broken into six “treatment groups”: One group got a knock on the door, plus a volunteer phone call and a mail piece. Another got door plus mail. Another got door only, and so forth. Within those groups, the messages varied. Now, as part of its midterm after-action review, i360 is figuring out which approach was most efficient in turning out a reluctant voter.

    The RNC, which is part of a data-sharing partnership with i360 that was announced in August, is also building up its digital assets. Sean Spicer, RNC communications director, said: “i360 is a great part of the larger team.

    One of the biggest differences is that the party supports anybody who has an ‘R’ next to their name. The RNC is providing the vast majority of data to House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates. And we’ve been in the data game for 20 years. … All general election Republican candidates had access to our data, and it was our data that the highly successful ground game was run on.”

    This deep dive into the mechanics of politics reflects the Koch brothers’ growing awareness that traditional forms of advocacy aren’t, in isolation, effective enough to achieve the kind of conservative transformation the network’s supporters envision.

    For decades, the Kochs had pursued their goals by sinking tens of millions of dollars into wonky research and advocacy groups. It was only during George W. Bush’s presidency that the brothers and their allies began to question whether the power of their ideas alone could carry the day. A movement that started with 15 rich conservatives gathering in Chicago and a single main group — Americans for Prosperity — by 2008 became a congregation of roughly 100 major donors backing a handful of think tanks, grass-roots advocacy networks and political organizations.

    In 2012, the newly created Freedom Partners — the umbrella group for the Kochs’ political operation — raised and spent roughly $250 million. Headed by Marc Short, a former top staffer in the House and Senate, Freedom Partners dispenses funds and expertise to myriad affiliate groups in the network. This year, it began wading into political and policy fights on its own — spinning off a super PAC that spent at least $24 million boosting Republican Senate candidates.

    Heading into 2016, the Koch network — under the auspices of Freedom Partners — has in many ways surpassed the reach and resources of the RNC. And, unlike the party, it isn’t bound by rules requiring it to maintain neutrality in primaries. Though the network has yet to engage in primaries, that could be the next logical step in its progression from apolitical think tank consortium to aggressive privatized political machine.
    With good data, we can target them with the right message at the right moment.

    The Kochs and their donors and operatives have been sought out by most of the leading 2016 GOP prospects – from Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky to Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Perry of Texas. Their allies are acutely aware of the potential for the Koch groups and their donors to sway the primaries — even if they don’t formally back a candidate.

    A key adviser to one of the top GOP presidential prospects said: “If I could have Karl Rove or Marc Short to run a presidential campaign today, I’d take Marc Short. He understands all the technical tools available to a modern campaign and how to apply them to the nominating process. He also has a deep understanding of the political dynamics of the GOP base vote.”

    Short’s connection to another potential GOP presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is among the biggest reasons that the Kochs are considering whether going all-in on a presidential campaign would be a good investment. Short was chief of staff to the House Republican Conference when then-Rep. Pence was the chairman, and Short remains a close adviser to Pence.

    Veterans of GOP presidential campaigns say that while the Kochs could not, by themselves, provide the credibility necessary to create a candidate for president, their weapons could make a decisive difference for someone who was already running a viable campaign for the nomination — someone like Pence, whose record could make him a bridge between the GOP’s evangelical and establishment wings.

    A candidate favored by the Kochs and their allies could potentially benefit from the full range activities of groups in the Koch network. The biggest presence is AFP, which spent $130 million in the midterms, with 550 paid staff, including 50 in Florida alone.

    The LIBRE Initiative, a network-backed group aimed at Hispanics, has 40 staff at its Arlington, Virginia, headquarters and 40 field staff (25 of them part-time) in seven states. Generation Opportunity, the Kochs’ outreach arm for 18- to 34-year-olds, has 30 full-time, paid grass-roots staffers running boots-on-the-ground activism in 10 states. Concerned Veterans for America, another Koch-backed group based in Arlington, has 60 paid staff in 14 states.

    Pete Hegseth, an infantry captain in the Army National Guard who is the group’s CEO, says veterans are “reflexively conservative, and they know how to organize.”

    “With good data, we can target them with the right message at the right moment,” Hegseth said. “They could be much more powerful than they are. There’s no reason veterans can’t be the unions of the right.”

    Hegseth doesn’t talk much about the Koch connection, but says it’s an asset.

    “You can deny or engage,” he said. “Other groups have been a flash in the pan. The bureaucracy will try to out-wait them. We’re not going anywhere.

    We’re able to plan for the long term.”


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  2. #2
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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