Koch-Funded Americans for Prosperity Spends Big to Help GOP Take Over Virginia House

The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity has thrown its weight behind Republican candidates in key Virginia House races. Caricature of Charles Koch. April 15, 2019 Portrait Drawing Illustration (Shutterstock/thongyhod)

The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity has thrown its weight behind Republican candidates in key Virginia House races. Among the candidates the right-wing group is backing is Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, who faces Democratic challenger Debra Gardner for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates to represent the 27th District.

Americans for Prosperity has spent millions of dollars to influence elections over the years, serving as the billionaire Koch brothers’ right-wing astroturf organization purportedly in an effort to stop wasteful government spending. Active in 38 states, the group has made its presence known in many ways: AFP launched campaigns to promote Trump’s right-wing judicial nominees in 2018, put together a $2 million television campaign in 2018 in support of Sen. Marsha Blackburn, fought against unions and workers’ rights in Michigan in 2012, spent at least $10 million during Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall election that same year, and some $112 million in the 2012 election cycle in an effort to defeat Democrats. Last year, when businesses shut down in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans for Prosperity was a part of a powerful coalition of right-wing groups​ calling for the reopening of the U.S. economy and encouraging right-wing “Reopen” protests. Today, the group is battling Democrats’ reconciliation bill and getting itself involved in Virginia races.

Already in the 2021 Virginia election cycle, the astroturf organization has poured more than $556,000 into the state in the form of independent expenditures—money spent to support a candidate without coordination from the campaign. That spending has gone toward one race more than any other.

Americans for Prosperity has spent $145,156 in independent expenditures to support the candidacy of Robinson, up from the $38,000 the group spent on pro-Robinson ads in 2019, according to The Virginia Public Access Project. More than $60,000 has gone toward canvassers and more than $50,000 toward digital ads, with the rest of the money going toward mailers. And that amount is growing by the day.

While Americans for Prosperity’s spending has gone toward pro-Robinson ads, Gardner, who would be the first Black woman to represent the 27th District, has also faced a barrage of attack ads and mailers. The Republican Party of Virginia has sent mailers out telling voters, “Don’t fall for Debra Gardner’s trap” over the image of a hunting trap. 

“Giant taxpayer payday for Debra Gardner,” reads the text of another mailer. The text on the bottom of another mailer reads, “We’d be nuts to give her another pay day,” over the image of what appears to be a PayDay candy bar—raising questions about whether the ads are meant to associate her with the candy bar or predatory payday lending services that often set up shop in Black and brown neighborhoods.

Debra Gardner, who would be the first Black woman to represent the 27th District, has faced a barrage of attack ads and mailers.

The attacks and money funneling into the race point to the vulnerability of the seat. First elected to the Virginia state house in 2010, Robinson just barely held onto her seat in 2019, winning it by less than a percentage point with a mere 189 more votes than her Democratic challenger. And in 2020, voters in Chesterfield County, where the 27th District is located, significantly went for President Joe Biden. 

With Democrats holding a slim majority in the House of Delegates and the governorship within reach, Americans for Prosperity senses an opportunity to flip the house and governor’s mansion in an effort to enact its right-wing policies. The group is supporting a slew of Republican candidates running for Virginia House of Delegates: Mary Margaret Kastelberg in the 73rd District ($115,875); Michael Cherry in the 66th District ($49,655); Del. Carrie Coyner in the 62nd District ($41,433); Otto Wachsmann in the 75th District ($56,387); Jason Ballard in the 12th District ($38,469); and Nick Clemente in the 10th District ($50,802).

And it’s not only House races that have seen Koch money come into the mix. Republican nominee for governor Glenn Youngkin, who has tried to appear moderate despite his relationships with anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice organizations and figures, received $75,000 from Bill Koch, “the billionaire businessman brother to Charles and David Koch,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.