The powerful network helmed by Charles and David Koch is making a homestretch pivot away from the television ads on which they’ve spent millions of dollars and instead embracing their more traditional role: nuts-and-bolts organizing.
The Koch network has planned to spend $42 million of advertisements to boost Republican Senate hopefuls, marshaling resources initially intended for the presidential race toward a half-dozen Senate contests where the millions could make a difference. But now, with less than 60 days to go, the network is refocusing, encouraging supporters to donate to their nonprofits tasked primarily with organizing voters in the key Senate states rather than continuing to saturate the airwaves.
“A lot of folks can put up good and effective ads,” James Davis, a group spokesman, told reporters Wednesday. “We have a robust field capability and that’s something that distinguishes us from many others. We have to play to that strength, particularly in the environment we’re in in 2016.”
The heavy advertising earlier this year was a new posture for the Kochs, who oversee the most influential conservative donor network in the country: They made their mark in the 2012 cycle by knocking on doors and sending direct mail in swing-states, not with flashy television ads financed by their new super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund.
And now they are bulking up their field program in two states in particular: Pennsylvania and Indiana, where Koch officials said they remained hopeful despite weak polling for Senate hopeful Todd Young. And they are adding two new targets to ther list of states: North Carolina and Missouri, where Democratic challengers are waging surprisingly successful bids.
“In January, if you said to us: ‘Would you be in North Carolina?’ You’d rather hope that would not be necessary,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, who said to interpret the North Carolina buy for Sen. Richard Burr as out of an “abundance of caution.”
The Koch network is spending $250 million on politics and policy in 2016, and are channeling their efforts in the final eight weeks on what they say is 5 million voters in eight Senate states. One group is undecided Senate voters in competitive states, regardless of who they are supporting for president. The second includes reliable Republican voters who lack enthusiasm about this November’s elections.
“We’re not saying there aren’t going to be split-ticket voters,” Phillips said. “We’re just saying that’s not a leading attribute to define our audience.”
The decision is a recognition by the network that there are few persuadable voters remaining, and that they must turn out voters perhaps dismayed by the two presidential candidates. Their field program, in a shift from prior years, now expressly calls for the defeat or reelection of candidates, and officials said it is more than twice the size of their program in 2012.
They continue to making changes as polling warrants. The Kochs announced they are cutting about $500,000 of advertising planned to air in Florida in late September on behalf of Marco Rubio. And they have already canceled ad reservations behind Rob Portman in Ohio, who has pulled away in his Senate reelection run thanks in part to $10 million in Koch network spots.
And given the shift away from television, their super PAC is not expected to post a strong haul in their August fundraising report to be filed Tuesday.
They are now not planning air any television ads after October 5, when their buys expire – closing a door that Koch officials said they initially left open.