Even Before $400 Million Midterm Effort, Koch-Linked Organization Has Been Spending Heavily

A constellation of political organizations funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch plans to spend almost $400 million to support conservative causes and candidates during the 2018 election cycle, the libertarian brothers said last month.

Their flagship organization, however, has already been shoveling money out the door.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a secretive Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that’s refusing to release sections of its tax returns to the public, was the fourth-highest spending “dark money” organization during the 2016 election cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. It dropped more than $13 million during the last election in some of the nation’s most competitive races.

But the nonprofit hasn’t been dormant since then. AFP emerged as a player in the battle over a $1.5 trillion Republican tax cut passed last year, promising to spend “several hundred thousand dollars on digital advertising, and follow it with more investments like direct mail, door-to-door visits, and other grassroots action around the country.” AFP also pledged to spend another $20 million to “educate the public about the benefits of the new law.” Under the new law, the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers, including the Kochs, will reap about 80 percent of benefits by 2027.

The nonprofit also announced earlier this year that it would make “a significant investment” to ensure that more than 170 lower court vacancies — and any potential vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, where the average justice is almost 70 years old — are filled by conservative jurists.

AFP also has been active in fiscal issues debated in nine states:

  • AFP launched a $200,000 campaign in Colorado last June to support charter schools and vouchers. The vouchers use tax dollars to subsidize student enrollment in private schools. The Koch-affiliated Libre Initiative has also touted school choice in 10 other states including Virginia, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
  • The nonprofit was responsible for campaigns that would make it harder for unions to attract and keep members in New Mexico and Missouri. The AFP-backed measures, known as ‘right-to-work’ legislation, prohibit mandatory payment of membership dues to a union.
  • AFP’s Tennessee chapter is pushing a movement to block a proposed sales tax increase that would pay for a revamped public transit system in Nashville. The $9 billion system upgrade would include the addition of light rail, expansion of bus services, and building of a tunnel under downtown.
  • The nonprofit also spent $2.8 million on attack ads against Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who defeated former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in a November contest.

AFP is the subject of an IRS complaint by MapLight for its refusal to release a redacted section of its annual tax return known as a Schedule B. The schedule shows the amounts of donations greater than $5,000 and can be used to determine the percentage of a nonprofit’s revenue from large contributions. The nonprofit argues that releasing information about the size of its donations would allow the public to identify its biggest donors.

Although AFP claims to be a “grassroots” organization, information from a North Carolina audit showed that 76 percent of its revenue came from five donors in 2015. The state audit of the nonprofit’s 2016 books found that 81 percent came from five donors.

Key Dark Money Figure Takes Reins Of RNC Treasury

An influential financier who opposed Donald Trump’s campaign before swinging the support of one of the largest dark money organizations in the nation to the president has been named to take over the finances of the Republican National Committee.

Todd Ricketts, the son of billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, is affiliated with both 45Committee and Future45. The 45Committee, a dark money organization, and Future45, a super PAC, collectively spentalmost $46 million during the 2016 election cycle to support Trump after he became the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. The expenditures were made late in the election cycle, and included $13 millionspent in one day.

The 45Committee has remained active in the wake of the election. The organization claims to have spentmore than $4 million supporting Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Ironically, Todd Ricketts was one of the  president’s top appointees, but he was forced to withdraw his nomination to be the No. 2 official in the Commerce Department in April because he was unable to comply with ethics rules requiring him to divest significant parts of his financial holdings.

The organization was also deeply involved in the effort to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Rob Collins, who is listed as one of 45Committee’s directors, claimed in his professional biography that he helped ‘quarterback’ Gorsuch’s nomination by working with at least a half-dozen White House offices, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Senate and more than 20 advocacy organizations. Five major outside organizations ultimately spent more than $14 million to support Gorsuch. More recently, it launched amultimillion dollar effort to support the Republican tax bill.

Future45 was heavily funded by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson and his wife donated$20 million of the $25 million Future45 received in 2016. Ricketts’ father donated another $1 million to the super PAC, and his dark money organization, ESA Fund, gave it an additional $175,000. Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, a co-founder of the World Wrestling Federation, also gave $1 million to Future45.

Unlike Future45, 45Committee is not required to reveal its donors. Tax records, however, show that 45Committee received $750,000 in 2015 from the Wellspring Committee, the dark money organization that financed Gorsuch’s confirmation campaign, tax documents show.

Koch-Linked Dark Money Organization Declines Release of 2014, 2015 Contributions List

A week after announcing its refusal to release a section of its 2016 tax return that could be used to determine the number of large donations it received, the flagship political organization of the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers indicated it would also attempt to shield basic information about its 2014 and 2015 contributions from public view.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the dark money organization launched by Charles and David Koch, is the only one of more than a dozen nonprofits surveyed by MapLight that has refused to release a redacted Schedule B of its 2016 tax return. The schedule shows the size of donations that exceed $5,000.

The Internal Revenue Service allows nonprofits to redact the names and addresses of individual contributors, effectively rendering them anonymous. IRS instructions explicitly state that nonprofit organizations must provide full copies of their tax returns, including a redacted Schedule B, to the public.

AFP has argued that even disclosing only the amounts of contributions larger than $5,000 would allow the public to identify donors to the conservative organization. A document filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office shows that AFP received more than 80 percent of its 2016 contributions from five donors; the individual amounts, however, can’t be determined without a Schedule B. MapLight, a Berkeley, Calif.-based money in politics watchdog, filed a formal complaint with the IRS earlier this month, asking the government to force the nonprofit to release a redacted Schedule B.

The annual tax return that all tax-exempt organizations are required to file, known as a Form 990, can be a lengthy document. It can include as many as 16 completed sections labeled “A” through “R.” The Form 990 reveals how much money an organization raised; the amounts that came from contributions and grants; the identities of its board members and top officials; salaries for key people; and grants made to other organizations.

The 46 pages of the most recent Form 990 released by AFP show the Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit received $63.7 million in grants and contributions during the 2016 tax year. Its expenses amounted to more than $58 million. It spent $33 million to “educate U.S. citizens about the impact of sound economic policy on the nation’s economy and social structure and mobilize citizens to be involved in fiscal and regulatory economic matters at the national level.”

Politically active nonprofits created under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code are known as “dark money” organizations because donors can remain anonymous. The reason for donor anonymity stems from the civil rights era, when Alabama officials attempted to bar the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from the state and sought its membership list. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that private organizations could keep their membership lists secret.

Even without names and addresses, the Schedule B is useful for journalists. MapLight, for example, used a redacted Schedule B to reveal that the Wellspring Committee, a nonprofit organization that helped fund a $10 million campaign to push U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, received almost 90 percent of its 2016 funding from a single $28.5 million donation.

“In general, Schedule Bs that have the names and addresses of donors redacted — but still show the amounts donated — can give the public a sense of how widespread an organization’s donor base is,” said Michael Beckel, manager of research, investigations, and policy analysis at Issue One, a nonprofit political reform organization based in Washington, D.C. “For instance, is a group primarily bankrolled by one donor, a dozen donors, or scores of donors? Even without naming names or identifying who the top donors are, redacted Schedule Bs provide a sense of how diverse an organization’s donor base is.”

Deluge of Last-Minute Money Narrows Moore’s Financial Gap in Tight Alabama Senate Race

A late spending spree by outside conservative organizations is helping narrow the financial gap between former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones and his Republican opponent, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

The amount of outside spending boosting the embattled GOP candidate in the past week more than tripled the amount spent between a Sept. 26 primary runoff and the end of November. More than a dozen conservative super PACs and political nonprofits or “dark money” organizations, including three associated with the President, spent $1.5 million since Dec. 1 supporting Moore, who faces allegations that he sexually attacked teenagers.

Moore’s top supporter recently has been America First Action, a super PAC dedicated to electing candidates who support Trump’s policies. The super PAC has already pumped more than $1 million into the race since Dec. 1 to support the Republican candidate. The Great America Alliance, a non-profit “dark money” organization also dedicated to supporting Trump’s agenda, has spent $140,000 on the race. The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund has pumped $54,772 into the race.

The recent conservative spending spree still falls short of Jones’ supporters however. Jones, who won fame for convicting two Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963 murder of four black girls in a church bombing, has received more than $3.5 million from outside organizations since the nomination of Roy Moore as his opponent.

In the race against Moore, almost all of Jones’ outside support has come from Highway 31, a super PAC created on Nov. 6. The new PAC has so far spent $3.47 million. The second highest-spending outside organization supporting Jones, Stand Up Republic, has only spent $134,000. Although Highway 31 is technically required to disclose its donors, it has placed its ads on credit, meaning it will not have to reveal its funders until after the election. Highway 31 was formed with the sole intention of supporting Jones and getting him elected, according to Adam Muhlendorf, a Montgomery-based political strategist who helped create the committee.

Moore, a controversial judge, was never the GOP establishment’s first choice. He was removed from office in 2003 for rejecting a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state building, and suspended in 2016 for ordering probate judges to refuse to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spent more than $5 million to help appointed Sen. Luther Strange keep the seat — and Republicans in Washington quickly distanced themselves from Moore in the wake of the abuse allegations published in the Washington Post.

Even so, Moore has maintained support from prominent conservatives including the Alabama Republican Party and former White House strategist Steve Bannon. Mainstream conservative outside spending organizations including the Senate Leadership Fund, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, have been noticeably absent from the Alabama general election.

Moore received a formal endorsement  from Trump on Dec. 4, as well as funding from the Republican National Committee. He also  began receiving more support from outside groups. In addition to America First Action, Great America Alliance and the National Rifle Association, Restore Our Godly Heritage, a Texas-based super PAC formed in May, has spent $67,005 supporting Moore. One of the main funders of the PAC is Steve Hotze, who runs Conservative Republicans of Texas, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group. The National Association for Gun Rights has spent $13,273 for Moore and the Conservative Majority PAC has spent $49,492.

Jones also has an advantage in fundraising. So far, Moore has raised more than $5 million for the race, while Jones has $11.8 million. The candidates will face off in a Tuesday special election to replace Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who resigned his Senate seat to take over the Justice Department for President Donald Trump.

The latest polls show the race is a statistical dead heat.

Newly Released NRA Video Takes on NFL Protesters in Clash of Politics Vs. Sports

One of the nation’s most powerful political lobbying organizations is taking on the country’s most popular professional sport.

In “We Stand,” a one-minute segment posted on the National Rifle Association’s website, former U.S. Navy SEAL Dom Raso explains that he stands during the singing of the national anthem at professional football games to honor the country’s veterans. Raso is the founder of Dynamis Alliance, a company that sells personal armor, knives, and gun accessories. He wears a t-shirt emblazoned with his company’s logo for the video spot.

Although the segment never directly speaks to the pre-game National Football League protests, an acoustic version of the national anthem plays in the background during the video. Raso also mentions stadiums in his monologue, a reference to the anthem playing before sports events. “We are the National Rifle Association,” Raso declares to close out the segment. In a description that appears on the NRA website next to the video, Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre is quoted: “NRA members stand for the flag, and they want the whole country to know it.”

The video first appeared on the NRA’s website and YouTube page on Sept. 25. It was also promoted widely across the social media platforms of the organization’s video streaming service, NRATV. The video debuted three days after President Donald Trump told a raucous Alabama rally that NFL owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who knelt during the anthem.

The NFL player’s union responded to the President’s comments on the protests by saying that “no man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights.” The pregame protest was begun by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 preseason as a form of peaceful protest meant to draw attention to issues of police brutality and racial inequality in America. In the wake of Trump’s tirade, an increasing number of NFL players knelt during the pre-game anthem. On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis game after visiting 49ers players knelt during the anthem.

The protests highlighted the racial divide between NFL players and fans. An Oct. 2-3 Rasmussen poll claimed almost one-third of viewers were less likely to watch NFL games as a result of the protests, with whites twice as likely to boycott the games. About 70 percent of the NFL’s players are black.

Safe Places

The NRA video was created for “Freedom’s Safest Place,” a channel on the lobby’s subscription video service, NRATV, which launched in fall 2016. The NRA said the video will appear “in high-profile, upcoming television broadcasts.” According to the channel’s description, “Freedom’s Safest Place” features segments that alert viewers to threats to their freedom, including “terrorism … dishonest leadership … hatred toward our law enforcement” and “how our culture of political correctness destroys our freedom of speech and religion.” NRATV features 34 shows, and is carried by Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and Chromecast.

The NRA didn’t respond to requests for comment or explain the link between gun rights and standing for the national anthem. But the organization has been a strong supporter of Trump and the Republican Party. Despite endorsing Democratic candidates in the past, it poured $30 million into the White House race and $23 million into electing Republican candidates for Congress during the 2016 elections.

Nation’s Biggest Lobbying Organization Plans 2018 Meeting At Trump National Doral

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

An “elite” group of executives at U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most powerful business lobby, will meet at a Trump hotel near Miami next year, according to the organization’s website.

The conference for the Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100, an invitation-only group that serves as representatives of local chambers, will take place over three days in March 2018 at the Trump National Doral near Miami. The golf resort is managed by President Donald Trump’s son, Eric, and held in trust for the president, who has refused to divest from his business interests. As a 501(c)(6) trade association, the chamber is not required to publicly disclose its donors.

“This is the problem with the president not divesting himself from these properties — he clearly is going to benefit from this,” said Larry Noble, general counsel at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. “And with [the chamber] being a dark money group we don’t know where the money is coming from. We don’t know whether or not it’s business money, or it’s foreign national money, or it’s money from foreign governments. It is disturbing that you have dark money groups, who could be using any source imaginable to pay, doing this.”

Since Trump’s inauguration, the chamber has spent almost $40 million lobbying the administration, including the White House and the president’s top advisors. The chamber has made lowering the corporate tax rate a top priority. Last month, the organization announced it would evaluate 2018 congressional candidates on their role in passing tax reform legislation. The Trump administration is reportedly pushing to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent or 25 percent.

Founded in 1912, the chamber is the world’s largest business league. The organization claims to represent more than 3 million businesses. The chamber itself is the largest lobbying group in the U.S. Since 2008, the chamber has spent almost $1 billion on lobbying — $650 million more than the second-highest spending organization, the National Association of Realtors.

The chamber’s latest tax filings show membership fees accounted for roughly $7.6 million in funds, or almost  5 percent of its revenue that year. More than $131 million, or 75 percent, came from contributions of $100,000 or more. In 2015, individual companies — including American Express, Aetna, Chevron and Amazon — gave more than $8 million to the chamber, according to company disclosures compiled by the Center for Political Accountability.

The Trump National Doral didn’t respond to questions about the costs of the chamber event. A similar, two-day Republican Governors Association event at the same property cost $409,588, according to filings by the association.

The chamber’s spokesperson, Blair Latoff Holmes, said the meeting at a Trump property doesn’t represent a conflict of interest since the organization “rents space from all types of hotels and event spaces across the country for our various events.” And it won’t be the first time a chamber event has taken place at a Trump property. Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada, a chamber affiliate, changed the venue for one of its events from the Vancouver home of a diplomatic official to a new Trump hotel.

Other interest groups are making use of Trump real estate. The National Confectioners Association has booked three separate conferences at Trump properties for 2017 and 2018. So far this year, the Railroad Contractors Association, National Funeral Directors Association and Industrial Truck Association have hosted events at Trump properties.

Trump, who campaigned on a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, has officially resigned from managing his businesses. However, the properties are still managed by his sons. They are being held in a revocable trust from which the president can withdraw money at any time, rather than a blind trust that totally insulates him from the Trump Organization’s activities.


Conservative Dark Money Helps Georgia Congressional Candidate Narrow Spending Gap With Ossoff

Conservatives are closing the fundraising gap in a Georgia congressional special election with millions in outside spending, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee, has outspent his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, by a 7-to-1 margin. Ossoff reported spending $22.5 million; Handel has only spent $3.2 million.

Independent expenditure organizations, however, have spent more than twice the combined amount for both candidates. The influx has turned the race to replace former Rep. Tom Price — now head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — into the most expensive House contest in U.S. history, with a price tag that’s topped $55 million and is still rising.

A MapLight analysis found outside sources have added $8.2 million to Ossoff’s effort. Conservative independent groups have countered with $18.5 million in spending to support Handel, narrowing the gap between the two candidates to $9 million.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC, was the biggest outside spender, dropping $7.5 million to support Handel. The fund is closely linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan and is dedicated to keeping a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Since March, the fund has received $5 million from American Action Network, a dark money organization that has been one of the top spenders in federal elections.

The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), spent an additional $6.7 million. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made $5.4 million in independent expenditures supporting Ossoff.

Roughly one-fifth of independent expenditures in the race have been paid for by dark money organizations, political nonprofits that do not have to reveal their donors. America First Policies, a nonprofit started by Trump advisors, was the top-spending dark money organization, dispensing $1.3 million to support Handel. Ending Spending, a nonprofit started by Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, also spent $1.3 million on Handel. During the 2016 election cycle, the 45 Committee — linked to Ricketts’ son —  was the third highest-spending dark money organization. The committee has spent $ $371,852 in the Georgia race. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the second-highest-spending dark money organization in 2016, has spent more than $1 million on the race.

The highest-spending liberal nonprofit was Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which spent $830,686. The fund, the political arm of Planned Parenthood, does not reveal its donors.

There is also a marked difference in the sizes of donations given to the candidates. More than $15 million of the $23 million Ossoff has raised has come from small, unitemized donations of $200 or less. Meanwhile, small donations made up only $1.6 million of the $4.3 million raised by Handel.

The election will be June 20. An Atlanta Journal Constitution poll released last Friday gave Ossoff a seven-point lead.


Methodology: MapLight analysis of data on independent expenditures affecting Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District in 2017, as available from the Federal Election Commission as of June 13, 2017. Expenditures opposing one of the two candidates in the special election are assumed to support the opposing candidate.

What’s New In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the local, state and federal levels.

Dark money has started flowing into Virginia’s statewide races, the Associated Press reports. An online campaign has attacked state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, who is running for lieutenant governor. Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman running for governor, has also faced a social media campaign accusing him of supporting the removal of Confederate statues. Both campaigns are paid for by organizations that don’t have to reveal their donors. In Vogel’s case, the ads were placed by 406 Enterprises, a limited liability corporation. The anti-Gillespie campaign was sponsored by Conservative Response Team, a political nonprofit. Virginia has its primary on June 13. Its general election is Nov. 7.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is asking Missouri voters to ignore a dark money group running ads to support her, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. VoteVets, a liberal dark money group focused on veterans’ issues and encouraging veterans to run for office, has been running a series of ads praising McCaskill for her work to make the Department of Veterans Affairs more accountable. The ads have been co-sponsored by Majority Forward, an organization dedicated to electing Democrats to statewide offices. McCaskill has criticized dark money groups and called for overturning Citizens United. The Democratic senator  “thinks dark money groups should disclose their donors, regardless of party affiliation … She’s told Missourians to ignore ads that aren’t paid for by the candidates themselves,” a spokesman told the Post-Dispatch.

The Connecticut House has passed a measure meant to stop dark money from entering the state’s elections, the Connecticut Mirror reports. The bill would stop independent expenditure groups from accepting money from organizations whose major funders are anonymous. It would also prohibit independent expenditure groups from accepting more than $70,000 annually from a single donor.

In Fight Over Right To Repair Equipment, Farmers Are Outspent 28-to-1

This story was published in partnership with Civil Eats.

When Tom Schwarz was growing up on his family’s 2,500-acre Nebraska produce farm and their International tractor broke down, fixing it was pretty simple.

“You bought a new part,” said Schwarz, 58. “Or, you bought a used part. You replaced what was broken, and you moved on.”

Today, repairs are much more complicated. Recently, a component in the guidance system on Schwarz’s John Deere 7230 tractor, which he uses to plant his crops, broke. Since the Moline, Ill.-based company no longer supports his tractor’s system, Schwarz is looking at a $3,000 bill for a used electrical part. He would like to just get his current component repaired, but manufacturers won’t provide independent shops with the guides or technology that would allow them to fix it, and Deere — one of the few tractor manufacturers with an authorized repair shop in south-central Nebraska — won’t repair older parts if it no longer supports them.

Schwarz is far from alone. Once capable of fixing their mechanical workhorses in a barn or under the shade of a tree, many of the nation’s 3.2 million farmers are now faced with tractors that can only be fixed by a manufacturer — a situation that benefits manufacturers’ bottom lines but puts added burdens on often-struggling farmers. But Schwarz and other farmers are fighting back. They’re pushing “right-to-repair” legislation, which would require manufacturers to provide the same information and parts to farmers or independent repair shops as they do for the manufacturers’ repair shops.

This year, right-to-repair bills have been introduced in 11 state legislatures, including Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina and Nebraska. Supporters of the bill are at a distinct monetary disadvantage, though, and policy victories frequently are won by the side that spends the most. A MapLight analysis of state lobbying reports found proponents of right-to-repair legislation have been outspent by a 28-to-1 margin. Companies opposed to the legislation spent more than $2.6 million in New York, Massachusetts and Nebraska. Meanwhile, the coalition that wants farmers to be able to fix their own tractors has spent $93,620.

“We never doubted that it was going to be difficult, in a David-vs.-Goliath kind of way, to go up against some of the most iconic brands in the world,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, a coalition that works to promote right-to-repair legislation.

The Case Against Right to Repair

Nebraska isn’t short of farmers like Schwarz who want to be able to repair their own equipment. This year, the Nebraska Farm Bureau approved a resolution expressing support for a right-to-repair bill.

Meanwhile, equipment companies including Deere, which controls as much as 60 percent of the tractor market in the U.S. and Canada, are opposed to the legislation. In a letter laying out its position, Deere argued that current regulations are necessary to maintain product safety and compliance with emissions standards.

“Allowing untrained individuals to modify equipment software can endanger operators, bystanders, dealers, mechanics, customer and others,” said Ken Golden, a Deere spokesman. He added that customers, dealers and manufacturers “should work together on the issue rather than invite government regulation that could add costs with no associated value.”

Golden confirmed Deere has lobbied on right-to-repair legislation, but declined to say in which states or how much the company spent. However, records show Deere has retained lobbyists in New York and reported spending $42,000 while lobbying on a 2015 right-to-repair bill in Massachusetts without reporting a position on the bill.

Deere and other equipment dealers have strong incentives to fight right-to-repair legislation. If farmers are forced to visit authorized dealers, it provides increased business for the manufacturers, and allows them to set the price for parts. Additionally, having only authorized shops able to repair machines means farmers are more likely to buy equipment from manufacturers with authorized shops nearby — which in most areas are the bigger companies such as Deere or Case IH.

Beyond Agriculture

Right-to-repair legislation has attracted more than just tractor manufacturers’ attention, though. If a right-to-repair bill were to pass, it could also affect people ranging from heavy equipment operators to mobile phone users. Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, has spent $38,700 while lobbying on right-to-repair legislation in New York. The Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association spent $38,000 while lobbying against a 2015 right-to-repair bill. And corporate heavyweights including Apple, Verizon and the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) oppose the legislation.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative dark-money organization that proposes model legislation for the states, has also declared its opposition to right-to-repair bills. The council, whose funders include billionaire libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch, describes right-to-repair legislation as “government mandates on innovators” that would force them to hand over proprietary information. Both e-commerce trade association NetChoice and telecommunications giant AT&T, which are opposed to right-to-repair legislation, are also on ALEC’s private enterprise board.

Nebraska, home to the nation’s fourth-largest agricultural economy, emerged in 2015 as a key battleground for legislative efforts to give farmers like Schwarz the ability to repair their own tractors. Telecom companies and trade associations that lobbied against the bill, including Verizon and CTIA, as well as manufacturing companies such as the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association, spent more than $78,000 combined. The lone supporter, the Nebraska Farmers Union, spent $4,400.

Sen. Bob Krist, an Omaha Republican who sits on the legislature’s agriculture committee, said he had mixed feelings about the bill. “When you’re charging $4,500 for a software update for a GPS, I think you’re out of line,” Krist said. But he also said he has reservations about the technological ramifications of the bill. “If this was an agriculture-only issue it would probably be easier, but it’s so broad.”

He didn’t have to balance his reservations about the bill in a vote on the 2015 measure, though; a series of procedural maneuvers in the state legislature doomed the bill, and it died in committee.

Beyond the Belt

Outside of farm country, right-to-repair laws are also hotly contested. When Massachusetts considered right-to-repair legislation in 2015, opponents included medical companies such as Boston Scientific Corp., and Johnson & Johnson; automotive organizations like the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers;and technology companies including Apple. Opponents of the bill spent $1.27 million. Its lone supporter, The Repair Association, spent $31,500.

New York also considered right-to-repair legislation in 2015. Opponents spent $1.3 million lobbying in the state, while the coalition that supported the failed bill spent more than $57,000.

Sen. Phil Boyle, a Long Island Republican, said he sponsored the legislation after hearing complaints from repair shops in his district, who felt their growth was being stifled by manufacturers.

Future Outlook

If history is any guide, right-to-repair advocates may look to bypass legislatures in favor of direct voter initiatives. A 2012 Massachusetts ballot measure to give diagnostic and repair information to car owners and repair shops passed with 86 percent of the vote.

“I think the way forward is a state is going to pass [right-to-repair legislation], or we’re going to do a ballot initiative,” The Repair Association’s Gordon-Byrne said. “But is it going to be next year or is it going to be in 10 years? That, I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, Tom Schwarz, the Nebraska farmer, is saving his money so he can afford a new guidance component for his $120,000 tractor. Since Schwarz is an organic farmer who can’t use herbicides, the machine’s guidance system ensures that stray weeds can be removed without damaging his crops. In the meantime, he’s resigned to buying a $3,000 second-hand part from Deere — the only source for the component.

“I’m going to have to buy another receiver,” he said. “This is the second receiver I’ve bought—and every time I do this, it’s thousands of dollars.

“You have no other option,” he said. “You have to go to John Deere for everything.”


Methodology:MapLight analyzed lobbying reports from New York, Massachusetts and Nebraska for 2015-2016 for client organizations that lobbied on right to repair legislation. Spending totals consist of amounts from reports indicating right to repair legislation was lobbied.

State lobbying records show how much a company paid a lobbyist during the filing period (two months in New York, four months in Nebraska, six months in Massachusetts). Lobbyists work on multiple bills in a given filing period, and filers do not report how much spending occurred on a single bill.

Data retrieved from the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, and the Nebraska Legislature on April 20-21, 2017.

What’s New In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the local, state and federal levels.


Dark money has been seeping into Montana’s special election, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. The two main candidates in the race, folk musician Rob Quist (a Democrat) and software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte (a Republican), battled to fill Montana’s at-large congressional seat. The seat was vacated by Ryan Zinke, who was tapped by President Donald Trump as the head of the Interior Department. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, was the top outside spending group, dispensing almost $2.3 million. American Action Network, a dark money group, contributed more than $1.5 million to the congressional fund in the past two months. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which also does not have to reveal its donors, has also supported Quist. The Democratic candidate said he will not take money from lobbyists or corporate political action committees (PACs). In the end, Gianforte won the election with roughly 50 percent of the vote to Quist’s 44.


A potential ban on dark money in Missouri failed this legislative session, according to the Kansas City Star. Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers urged the debate on dark money reform during the session, but didn’t make much headway. Earlier this year, a nonprofit group aligned with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens ran ads critical of Schaaf; the ads gave out the senator’s personal phone number. Greitens, a Navy special operations veteran, came under fire after a super PAC, SEALs for Truth, donated almost $2 million to his 2016 campaign. Since all of the super PAC funds came from the American Policy Coalition — a dark money group — the identity of the donors may never be known. A new nonprofit associated with Greitens, A New Missouri Inc., has been the subject of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.


The Los Angeles school board races was the most expensive education contest in the nation’s history, the Los Angeles Times reports. The race pitted charter school advocates, who supported challenger and eventual victor Nick Melvoin, against union-supported incumbent Steve Zimmer. In the end, spending by outside groups on the race totalled more than $14 million.


Hacked documents from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisc., show the group has been underwriting efforts to promote conservative ideology at local levels, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The foundation has supported GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature’s 2010 shift to a Republican majority. The foundation is targeting other states, including Colorado, North Carolina, Washington and Oregon.

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