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Nikki Haley, Lindsey Graham And The Koch Brothers

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Americans for Prosperity (AFP) – the political organization backed by billionaire industrialists Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch – is one of most well-funded advocacy groups in America. And its state chapters – like the one taking shape in South Carolina – are forces to be reckoned with in statewide races.

Particularly in small media markets like the ones in the Palmetto State – where the cost of running television ads is comparatively cheap.

Now … is AFP faithful in its support of pro-free market, pro-liberty policies? Eh … not so much.  And certainly not to the extent of groups like Americans for Limited Government (ALG) or think tanks like The Cato Institute.

After all the Kochs are crony capitalists … not above letting elected officials do them favors at the expense of the people they represent.

Perhaps the most egregious example of these favors is the infamous “Savannah River Sellout.”  Two years ago, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley effectively killed a private sector port proposal in Jasper County, S.C. (and weakened the competitive position of the government-run Port of Charleston) by ordering her environmental appointees to approve key permits for a government-run port expansion in Savannah, Georgia.

This was a boon to the Koch brothers – who have extensive business interests with the Port of Savannah.

“The Kochs love Nikki Haley,” sources familiar with the relationship tell FITS.

They should. She gift-wrapped a major competitive victory for them at the expense of the people she was elected to serve.  In accommodating the Kochs, Haley betrayed her state’s best interests (costing tens of thousands of jobs in the process).

NIKKI HALEY

NIKKI HALEY

Now, sources tell FITS that Haley is betraying the state’s best interests once again – using her influence with the Kochs on behalf of liberal U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Haley has not – and most likely will not – directly endorse Graham’s reelection bid. His numbers among GOP voters are far too toxic for that.  But she is showing him all sorts of love – and reportedly working feverishly behind the scenes on his behalf.

Wait … why would a “Tea Party” governor want to see the most liberal Republican in Washington, D.C. reelected?  Well, Graham is building an army of “center-left” voters in South Carolina – and Haley (who has no primary opponent) wants them on board with her reelection bid against Democratic State Senator Vincent Sheheen.

To get their support, though, she’s got to play ball …

According to sources familiar with the negotiations, Haley is doing just that – aggressively lobbying the Kochs in an effort to keep them out of Graham’s race. Is she succeeding?

Reports are mixed, but Graham’s people certainly seem to think so.

“They’ve promised they aren’t touching the race,” a source close to Graham’s campaign tells FITS.

Tea party sources disagree with that assessment, telling FITS that AFP is “funneling a ton of money into attack ads against Graham and voter (identification) efforts targeting non-Graham supporters.”

They point to a recent speech in South Carolina by new AFP president Tim Phillips in which he vowed to register 80,000 new Palmetto State voters supportive of “lower taxes, less regulation and smaller government.”

“Those are not going to be Graham voters,” our source said.

So which is it?

Calls to AFP’s national office were not immediately returned, but a source at a rival national group said they wouldn’t be surprised if AFP gave Graham a hall pass.

“They’re establishment,” the source said. “Like Graham … and Haley.”

In addition to coveting Graham’s centrist grassroots army, there is also no love lost between Haley and Graham’s top two challengers – Lowcountry businesswoman Nancy Mace and S.C. Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg).  Haley detests Mace for her involvement with FITSNews.com, while she and Bright remain at odds over his refusal to toe the line with respect to her watered down legislative agenda.

UPDATE: A spokesman for AFP’s national organization tells FITS the group does not engage in specific races, only voter education efforts. We asked if the group had any plans to “educate” voters in South Carolina on Graham’s record, at which point the spokesman referred us to APF’s South Carolina affiliate.