A national conservative group that supported Democratic congressman Joe Cunningham is drawing fire from its donors. The group – Americans for Prosperity (AFP) – is also facing allegations that it tipped off Cunningham beforehand as to its intentions.
As we reported earlier this week, the Arlington, Virginia-based group – founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his late brother David Koch – sent out a mail piece recently praising U.S. congressman Joe Cunningham for his fiscal conservatism.
The mailing claimed Cunningham was “fighting for fiscal responsibility” and “standing strong against out-of-control spending.”
Really? Cunningham did vote against the so-called “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019,” a massive boondoggle that received the support of 219 Democrats and 65 fiscally liberal Republicans (including South Carolina’s own Joe Wilson). However, his vote certainly appears to have been more about political calculus and less about actually standing on limited government principles – especially if allegations related to the controversial mailing are true.
According to one of the disappointed conservative donors we spoke with, AFP acknowledged tipping off Cunningham that it was likely to support him in the event he voted the “right way” on the spending agreement.
“They said ‘we spoke with him and told him if he voted with us that we would do this,'” the donor told us.
AFP’s top South Carolina staffer – Andrew Yates – denied making any such statement to Cunningham.
“We regularly meet with lawmakers from across the political spectrum to advocate for policies that will help people improve their lives … but we would never make a promise or commitment like the one that is described,” Yates told us.
Still, the group is facing intense blowback from conservative donors who told us they felt “betrayed” by the Cunningham mailing.
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“I felt stabbed in the back,” a donor who spoke with us on condition of anonymity said. “I felt that by doing this they were damaging their reputation in South Carolina – shooting themselves in the foot.”
The donor told us they called AFP to voice their concerns, but that the organization “stood by its decision.”
“I told them then I can’t be associated with you and I can’t give you any more of my money,” the donor said. “Actually, I told them I never would have given them money in the first place had I known it was going to be used in this way.”
“I’m totally done with them,” the donor concluded.
Another donor who reached out to us echoed those sentiments – and expressed concern that AFP had damaged its credibly related to advocacy efforts at the state-level with its support of Cunningham.
“They didn’t have a lot of allies at the State House to begin with,” the donor told us. “This will come at a cost. They will lose members who were with them and embolden members who are against them.”
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(Via: Travis Bell Photography)
AFP has indeed had a tumultuous run in the Palmetto State, struggling to find the right leaders and making unnecessary enemies with influential, reform-minded legislators. The group also had a high-profile falling out with former governor Nikki Haley, although for that we can hardly blame them. Still, the organization’s “failure to launch” in the Palmetto State is disappointing – especially seeing as the group is generally on the right side of important taxpayer issues.
AFP has been looking to rebrand itself recently, an effort that appeared to be gaining some traction – prior to the Cunningham mailing, at least.
Despite the criticism (and loss of donors), the group stood by its decision.
“Americans for Prosperity is willing to work with anyone to do right, especially when it comes to fiscal responsibility,” Yates said. “Washington has an addiction to spending and both parties have contributed to the fiscal situation we find ourselves in. With a $22.6 trillion debt, we can’t afford to continue this broken status quo. We thanked policy champions from both parties who stood on principle, including (representative) Joe Cunningham, and are trying to put our country on a sustainable path.”
Again, that is all well and good but we sincerely doubt Cunningham is “trying to put our country on a sustainable path.” Far more likely? He knew this vote was not going to be close and saw an opportunity to bolster his “moderate” credentials. Indeed the vote – and the AFP mailing – was a “political coup” for the first-term congressman, who narrowly defeated GOP nominee Katie Arrington last November to claim a seat that had been in Republican hands for nearly four decades.
Republicans are trying hard to flip the script, but so far their efforts have encountered little in the way of success.
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