How the Kochs Are Actually Attacking Obamacare: In the States

David Koch wasn’t behind the shutdown—he’s playing a stealthier game.

Photo by Marc Stamas/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that a New York Times A1 story that closely linked Charles and David Koch to the government shutdown was a stretch that missed the point. The Times mentioned that the Kochs bundled $200 million for politics in 2012, but skipped over how little of that (less than $1 million) went to groups actually advocating a shutdown. I pointed out that the organizations that got the most money from the Kochs—Americans for Prosperity, Generation Opportunity—were focused not on defunding, but on using the debt limit as leverage for entitlement cuts, and on getting young people to avoid the exchanges.

This post sparked some predictable, sloppy outrage from people who insisted I was covering for the Kochs. If they fund the groups, they’re tied to the strategy! Well, I didn’t say they weren’t—I said, accurately, that they were spending most of their money attacking the welfare state and Obamacare in different and less-doomed ways. And now Sheryl Gay Stolberg, who co-wrote that Times piece, is out with a solid follow-up that explains what AFP, chaired by David Koch, is actually doing. Its green-shirted organizers (whom I’ve occasionally embedded with) are lobbying state legislators to reject the Medicaid expansion.

[I]n June 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of Medicaid expansion. The ruling opened the door for conservative opponents of the law. Americans for Prosperity, with paid staff members in 34 states, walked through it. So did another group, Tea Party Patriots, which recently gave $20,000 to organizers of a referendum drive to put the question of Medicaid expansion on the Arizona ballot.

Americans for Prosperity has spent millions in states around the country, including Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania, to run the kind of aggressive campaign that it is now waging here in Virginia.

In Virginia it’s looking more and more likely that Terry McAuliffe will take back the governor’s mansion for the Democrats; you’ll have a state Senate and a governor that want the expansion and a House of Delegates that doesn’t. But the point of the AFP push is to elevate this as a political issue and pressure legislators (mostly Republicans) into opposing it. It’s a strategy that 1) works and 2) doesn’t waste AFP’s time with electioneering, which failed spectacularly in 2012. Stolberg quotes Jennifer Stefano, who’s been running AFP’s lobbying effort in Pennsylvania. Stefano’s a frequent Fox News guest who’s actually spoken openly about this.

You’ll note that Charles Payne, the replacement-level pundit conducting the interview, sounds confused and keeps trying to shift the topic back to congressional politics. But Stefano, like the other state organizers, is focused on state legislators who represent relatively small constituencies and have the power to block the Medicaid expansion. Some of these Republicans would have done it anyway; AFP is pressuring them to hang tough. And that’s why AFP didn’t get involved in the shutdown fight. Why force Republicans into a federal showdown, in front of the entire national media, when you can pressure some rural legislators with almost nobody watching?