While Illinois is not currently on the most recent list of the 11 states (24 congressional districts) that the right-leaning Americans for Prosperity has targeted with a major ad campaign, an AFP rep for the state said that the group is planning a new project to bring its movement here.
AFP is the nonprofit that Barack Obama blasted in a speech last week in Austin, Texas, calling it the epitome of what’s wrong with the Supreme Court’s January decision that allows corporate and union money to be used for political campaigns.
After seeing the list of the targeted districts, I thought it odd that AFP would neglect Illinois—given all the competitive races in Obama’s adopted state. So I called Joe Calomino who, with just one other staffer, runs the Illinois chapter of the 1.2 million member national group. Calomino told me that a new AFP project, November is Coming is, in fact, dispatching by bus grassroots activists armed with anti-spending petitions to “educate” voters in the 11th, 14th, and 10th districts on September 15th, 16th, and 17th, respectively.
One can safely bet that although the AFP bills itself as nonpartisan, its brigades will not be promoting Democrats Debbie Halvorson (11th), Bill Foster (14th), or Dan Seals (10th), the Democrat who is seeking the seat now held by Mark Kirk. The culmination of the Illinois events is an appearance in Hoffman Estates on September 18th by Glenn Beck who bashed Obama on air for his criticism of AFP.
The chairman of AFP-Illinois is former Helene Curtis CEO and civic leader Ron Gidwitz. Calomino managed Gidwitz’s losing campaign in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary and has also worked for such local Republicans as George Ryan, Corinne Wood, Jim Ryan, and Judy Baar Topinka. A native Chicagoan, he lives in the suburbs, but his office at 200 South Wacker comes compliments of Gidwitz, who has his offices in the same building and same suite.
Calomino says that Obama’s putdown of the group during his Austin speech is the best thing that has ever happened to it. “By mentioning us, he has helped us tremendously—we got more grassroots support, [we’ve] identified many additional donors, and I sign up people every day of the week.” (Calomino claims 30,000 registered members in Illinois and growing.)
”Right now, all around this country, there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates all across the country,” Obama said in his speech. “You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation. You don’t know if it’s a big oil company or a big bank. You don’t know if it’s an insurance company that wants to see some of the provisions in health reform repealed because it’s good for their bottom line, even if it’s not good for the American people.”
AFP describes itself as a grassroots lobbying and citizen watchdog organization that battles wasteful government spending and promotes the free market, budget reform, and lower taxes.
The big money behind AFP allowed it to make its recent $4.1 million ad buy. The source of a good chunk of that money is thought to be founding AFP chairman and uber-philantropist (more than $500 million to a variety of good causes) David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries—a sprawling corporation whose products and services range from oil refining to consumer goods, such as toilet paper (Quilted Northern) and carpet (Stainmaster), to commodity trading.
Should the winds blow the right way next month, Calomino says he also has his eye on Democrat Melissa Bean’s 8th District.