Groups affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers —better known for their history of bankrolling Republican candidates — are taking the unusual step of knocking both of Texas’s Senate hopefuls in ads launched this week.
The LIBRE Initiative, a Koch-backed group aimed at engaging Latino voters, launched mail ads Thursday urging Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to get behind a DACA solution the Kochs want, but that the senator has vehemently opposed.
Meanwhile, a different Koch group, Americans for Prosperity, sent out postcards criticizing Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, for supporting Congress’s sweeping spending bill, which the group says was full of wasteful spending.
A spokesman for the Koch network declined to share what the group was spending on the ads. Both are part of larger, nationwide mail campaigns that target lawmakers from both parties.
“We are prepared to support candidates who champion public policies that benefit the American people,” James Davis, a top adviser to several Koch groups, wrote in an op-ed for CNN last month. “But we’re finding that these champions are few and far between and our support will not be forthcoming for those who hang back or obstruct good policy.”
The Kochs are among the biggest spenders for conservative causes and candidates nationwide.
The Koch’s two largest political groups shelled out $43 million to help Republicans candidates in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group. The groups made heavy investments to help six key Senate races to ensure the GOP held the majority.
Now that Republicans control both the legislative and executives branches in Washington, leaders within the Koch network have publicly lamented a lack of action on their top legislative priorities.
The groups focus primarily on cutting spending and taxes, which the GOP took steps boosted with a massive tax bill last year. But leaders from the network want lawmakers to go further and tackle another round of tax cuts, as well as reform the federal prison and immigration systems.
With Republicans at risk of losing power in one or both chambers next year, the Kochs are now reaching out to Democrats they think they can work with to move their agenda before the fall elections.
The Koch-backed group Freedom Partners launched ads this month praising some Democrats, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, for her support of prison reforms the Kochs are also pushing.
They’re also spending money to prod Republican holdouts on top priorities, notably immigration.
Davis cautioned lawmakers from both parties could be in political peril if they “merely run out the clock on another legislative session.”
Cruz didn’t get help from the Kochs in his 2012 Senate race. Since then, he’s been invited to join their donor summits, where lawmakers schmooze with top Koch network contributors.
Cruz was one of 23 Republican senators who voted against the $1.3 trillion spending bill the network is attacking O’Rourke for supporting. Cruz also played a big role in the tax bill the Kochs love, helping make the legislation more conservative.
On DACA, however, Cruz and the Kochs have yet to see eye-to-eye.
The Kochs want Congress to find a solution to give DACA recipients, who were brought into the country illegally as children, a chance to achieve legal status. The Kochs are pushing Republicans to team up with Democrats on a solution, and asking their grassroots activists to pressure House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. Their DACA campaign also targets Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has worked to negotiate a solution.
Cruz says DACA recipients shouldn’t be moved ahead of people seeking to immigrate to the country legally. He rejected the Senate’s attempts to address the issue earlier this year.
“It was executive amnesty, it was illegal, it was unconstitutional,” Cruz said of the DACA program in a Fox News interview during that debate.
He also rejects the idea that the Kochs’ plans for DACA would help Republicans win in November.
“If Republican majorities in Congress pass citizenship for millions of people, an amnesty, I think it is quite likely we will lose both houses of Congress,” said Cruz.
O’Rourke, whose congressional district touches the U.S.-Mexico border, is an outspoken proponent of giving DACA recipients citizenship. This week he signed a petition with Republicans to force a vote in the House on DACA proposals this year.
“Every day that we don’t pass this bill is another day we fail to lift the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the futures of 800,000 Dreamers, including 200,000 in Texas,” O’Rourke said of that effort.
Democrats working on DACA scoff at the Kochs’ new effort to reach out to members of both parties, pointing out that candidates who the network helped put in office are the ones opposing solutions they now seek.
“If LIBRE really wanted to help the Latino community, they’d have the Koch brothers stop funding candidates who are doing more harm to Latino interests more than anything else,” Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, told McClatchy this month.
O’Rourke defended his vote on the spending bill the Kochs criticized, saying it was “far from perfect,” but provided a pay raise for military service members and increased funding for veterans programs.
One hundred and eleven Republicans and 145 Democrats joined together to pass it, including Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, who is also a target of the Kochs’ ads.
O’Rourke has asked political action committees, even those that support him, to stay out of Texas’s sure-to-be expensive Senate race.
He’s raised $13.2 million for that contest. Cruz has raised $11.4 million, plus about $8 million transferred from other committees.
“This election is going to be the true test of our democracy,” O’Rourke said in a statement Thursday. “[B]y putting 100 percent of our faith and focus in the people of Texas, our grassroots campaign can overcome the Koch network, the PACs, the special interests and the corporations who have captured, corroded and corrupted Congress for far too long.”