The influence of the NJ branch of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-NJ) was powerful particularly during the early Christie era when he was a “star attraction.” AFP-NJ continues its long-game effort to mold conservative policies. AFT-NJ is just a part, but the most visible part, of a vast conservative network funded and controlled by the David and Charles Koch brothers whose combined net worth exceeds $82 billion.
AFP’s motto is “We protect the American Dream by fighting each day for lower taxes, less government regulation and economic prosperity for all. Most economists would disagree that the first two propositions correlate with economic prosperity, but that’s their story and they stick to it. The brothers initially started funneling millions into far-right groups and causes. Soon they moved to use Freedom Partners to provide central control to manipulate opinion which with increased Koch funding, the growing local chapters implemented.
After a private, two-hour meeting with David Koch in early 2011, Koch told supporters at a Ritz-Carlton resort near Vail later that summer he came away “really impressed and inspired” and declaring Christie “my kind of guy.” They aggressively, but unsuccessfully courted Christie to run for president as an “empathetic,” Koch-friendly alternative to Mitt Romney. At the height of the Koch brothers influence over Christie they successfully mounted pressure through AFP-NJ for him to to remove NJ from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Later there were some disagreements as AFP-NJ constantly attacked the ACA. Christie also spoke out against the ACA but he agreed to accept ACA Medicaid funds. AFT-NJ opposed Christie’s gas tax increase, and lost that battle. They also criticized him for being slow to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund.
You get an immediate understanding of AFP-NJ’s politics by looking at how they rank our NJ legislators. Their 2017 Taxpayer Midterm Scorecard provides an F for almost all Democrats – a few get a D.
They are now making strong efforts to promote the tax plan. In NJ and throughout the USA they are sending people door-to-door seeking support for the bill. They are recruiting individuals on their NJ Facebook page. However the NY Times says about this national effort, they are finding it a hard sell.
Their difficulty is not surprising given the arguments they are making – that the reform is “simple, efficient, no burden, and predictable.” Such is simplistic, hardly exciting, ignores the underlying impact on people, and lacks mention of how it will help them financially. Saying it is “fair” sounds great, but ignores the fact that it benefits corporations and the wealthy. As an effort to gain support of the public its arguments sound similar to what you might see printed in bold type on consumer products which could just as easily be injurious to the public.
Let’s look at some other issues they promote: on labor:Tell Council President Vincent Right-to-Work Is Right for Sussex County and Take a Stand: Teachers Have a Right to Choose; on corporate welfare: No More Stadium Subsidies, on healthcare: We Cannot Afford Obamacare!; on taxes: Carbon Taxes Hurt the Economy. On some of these points you may be in agreement, such as stadium subsidies, but the overall perspective is that AFP-NJ is increasingly a lone small voice in blue New Jersey.
AFP-NJ is curiously silent on Facebook and its web page about Steve Lonegan, former Executive Director of AFP-NJ, who is an announced Republican challenger for representative in CD 5. As an unsuccessful serial candidate for US Senate, NJ State Senate, and two gubernatorial campaigns, Lonegan has not held an elected post since his term as Mayor of Bogota expired in 2007. Indeed, he no longer even resides within CD 5. Is this lack of support due to the hope of the AFP’s Koch brothers that a more formidable Republican challenger would be better? Perhaps, but there is no doubt that this arch conservative stands in sharp contrast to Josh Gottheimer. The firebrand, climate-denier Lonegan says, “The race against Gottheimer comes down to ‘conservative’ vs. ‘liberal.’
It’s great to promote lower taxes and more freedom, as they do in the image on top of the post. It’s like “motherhood and apple pie.” However, in spite of (or because of) inspiration from dear leader Trump and a congress hell-bent on passing unpopular bills, the efforts of AFP-NJ seem to be foundering in our state. Kim Guadagno along with most NJ Republican representatives expressed concerns about the tax bill. From a broader point-of-view, including repeal efforts of the ACA, our Republican Representatives are scrambling, feeling the wrath of the public, and in jeopardy of losing their seats.
During the General Election the Kochs were no fans of Trump and largely sat out the general electionIon. Nonetheless as Public Citizen’s report documents, the Kochs’ deregulatory wish list has become something of a blueprint for the Trump administration. Their long-range effort continues to “build a deeper reservoir of support for core issues,” like trade, entitlements and tax cuts.” That, in a sentence, is the whole ethos behind AFP and it puts them in a strong position to steer the Republican Party. So nationally and in certain states they may be riding high.
At some point in the future they might regain traction in NJ. However, in terms of them “changing NJ on the ground” their results in the next few years are likely to be unimpressive. It’s tough for conservatives, and even more so for arch conservatives in blue New Jersey, and will be particularly tougher as both branches of our government will soon be in the hands of Democrats.