CMD PR Watch: A CMD Special Report: Who Are the Headliners at Koch-Funded AFP Conventions?

March 29, 2011- In the midst of the controversy of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's ties to David Koch and Koch Industries, the Center for Media and Democracy has conducted an analysis of the headliners at Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) conventions in the state in the past two years. The events featured select candidates who were running for office, including gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker, Attorney General candidate J.B. Van Hollen, judicial candidate David T. Prosser, Jr., and Congressman James Sensenbrenner. The AFP events also featured an array of national speakers who have supported AFP and its "Tea Party" related activities.

Since our founding in 1994, the Center's mission has been to research and expose corporate- and CEO-funded PR activities and special interest groups, like AFP. The Center also profiles who's who at key meetings, such as David Koch's posh strategy sessions in Palm Springs and Aspen as well as at events funded by Koch and other petro-chemical industrialists trying to influence pollution policies, such as meetings of the Heartland Institute. This report on AFP Wisconsin is part of that continuing reporting on groups attempting to influence elections and public policies. Because many of the headliners were the same at both the 2009 and 2010 AFP events in the state, this article provides a guide to both of the most recent annual events.

Elected Officials Headlining AFP Wisconsin Annual Summits — "All the Feel of a Tea Party Convention"

As noted in the Post Crescent article on last year's AFP conference in the region, "scheduled to speak are U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls), state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser." There is no written transcript of their remarks from the 2010 event, which reportedly drew 2,000 people to the gathering at a posh resort in the Wisconsin Dells. As the Post Crescent noted, people "who staged Tea Party rallies across Wisconsin" gathered for the AFP events "to discuss strategy, hear from national and state conservative leaders and office holders, and look ahead to how they can influence the 2010 elections." According to one report, AFP's annual meeting "had all the feel of a tea party convention, even though there is no such official party in Wisconsin." (A related video, "Tea Party Hits the Dells," is no longer accessible.) (CMD does not take a position for or against candidates for office.)

It is not clear how these candidates for public office, among all those running for office in the state in the past two years, were chosen to be featured by AFP, or if others were invited but could not or chose not to accept the invitation. Below are the elected officials who were listed as invited or attending, along with the year of the conference, the office each was running for and the names of other candidates who were not listed as invited or attending.

Which Candidates Headlined the AFP Summits and What Did They Say or Do There?

Scott Walker (March 2009), then serving as the Milwaukee County Executive and running for the Republican nomination to be Wisconsin Governor against former Congressman Mark Neumann and at the time potentially running against Governor Jim Doyle (who had not yet announced he would not seek a third term) or Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton (who had not announced she would not seek the governorship) or Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (who was not then running). Walker's campaign had a booth at the event, and Walker headlined a September 2009 AFP event in Milwaukee with right-wing talk show host Michelle Malkin and others. Walker's office called the AFP event the "state's largest taxpayer tea party event," and he was the gubernatorial candidate most closely linked to the Tea Party, although that was not part of his ad campaign. (Shortly after beginning his term, Walker announced a series of very controversial policies in the state that resulted in extensive public protests.)

J.B. Van Hollen (March 2009 and March 2010), elected Wisconsin Attorney General in 2006 and was running for re-election in 2010; his eventual opponent, former head of the Department of Natural Resources, Scott Hassett, did not announce his intent to run for the position until August 2009. (Since re-election, Van Hollen has worked to implement Walker's agenda throughout the labor protests in early 2011.)

David T. Prosser, Jr. (March 2009 and March 2010), appointed as Justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1998 and won a ten-year term, unopposed, in 2001; seeking re-election in 2011. In the non-partisan 2011 primary, Prosser faced Joanne Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general, Marla Stephens, director of the state public defender’s appellate division, and Joel Winnig, a Madison attorney. (Prosser and other candidates discussed Walker's budget and other matters at debates in the spring of 2011; see, for example, the interview segment with the candidates, starting at the 48 minute mark in the above audio link, that reveals their views and approach on the budget.) Prosser and Kloppenburg advanced to the general election.

Randy Koschnick (March 2010), a county judge who ran for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2009 and lost to Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (March 2009 and March 2010), elected to Congress in 1979 representing the suburban counties northeast of Milwaukee; his eventual opponent in the 2010 race was Todd Kolosso.

Paul Ryan (March 2009), elected to Congress in 1998 representing the Janesville area; his opponent in the 2010 race was John Heckenlively. (Ryan is now leading the House activities on the federal budget and cuts in DC.)

Michelle Bachmann (March 2009), elected to Congress in 2006 representing some counties north of the twin cities; in the 2010 race she faced Tarryl Clark. (Bachmann is the leader of the Tea Party caucus in the House and is a potential candidate for president in 2012.)

Mike Pence (March 2009), elected to Congress in 2001 in Indiana; he faced Berry Wence in the 2010 election.

Leah Vukmir (March 2010), elected to the Assembly in 2002 to the seat vacated when Walker became a county executive and was running for state senate against incumbent Jim Sullivan. At the AFP event, she served as co-presenter of the AFP "American Dream Awards," who presented the "National Award" to Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, known as "Joe the Plumber," although he is not a plumber.

Bill Kramer (March 2010), elected to the Assembly in 2006 and in 2010 ran against Dawn Caruss. At the event, he received the AFP's "State Award" for 2010, and he was also listed as a presenter at a break-out session on "Transparency & Government Accountability."

Jim Ott (March 2010), elected to the Assembly in 2006 and ran unopposed in 2010. He was also listed as a presenter on a panel titled "Global Warming — Climate Change — Economic Suicide."

Dr. Pam Galloway (March 2010), elected to the state Senate in 2010. She was not in the list of elected officials, but was a panelist at session titled "Hands Off My Health Care!" She ran against Jim Edming in the GOP primary and won against Russ Decker in the general election.


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