The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity launches filibuster reform attack

Senators Manchin and Sinema are top targets as the group deploys mailers, paid adverts, and holds rallies across the country

Facing an uphill public relations battle over the “For the People Act,” the Koch backed Americans for Prosperity is now focusing its efforts on blocking filibuster reform. The group has launched a six-figure national campaign aimed at conservative Democratic senators whom Republican strategists feel hold the key to dashing Democrats’ hopes of filibuster reform. Chief among their targets are Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ). 

Conservative groups are concerned by the broad support for the “For the People Act,” also known as HR1, and internal polling showed that even their own supporters view the reforms favorably. A report by Jane Mayer for the New Yorker showed that Koch strategists instead recommend focusing their efforts on “under the dome strategies,” referring to legislative and lobbying maneuvers away from the prying eyes of the public. Stymying filibuster reform is one such tactic. 

Joe Manchin has become a focus of these lobbying efforts. Manchin demonstrated his power during the Covid relief bill negotiations, grinding the bill to a halt over his opposition to a boost to unemployment benefits. His action prompted a flurry of lobbying efforts from both sides of the aisle with Manchin eventually voting in favor of the bill. 

In a recent episode of “Congress Convos” which AFP hosts on Facebook, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) explicitly called out Manchin and expressed his disappointment over his final vote. However, thanks to seemingly unequivocal statements by Manchin, Grassley expressed hope that Democrats will not be able to muster the votes to amend the filibuster rule. “I think his statement over the weekend doesn't leave much leeway for him to do anything different,” Grassley said.

Despite these public overtures, Republicans are not taking their chances and he remains on the receiving end of conservative lobbying, ad-buys and activism. AFP launched a radio ad in West Virginia urging voters to hold Manchin to account over his statements that he is now opposed to filibuster reform. 

Earlier in the year Manchin was one of the target senators of a “coalition letter” calling on senators urging them to reject filibuster reform efforts. AFP’s website has a “West Virginia Values” page which specifically targets Manchin on a number of issues, including the filibuster. 

As Documented first reported, Manchin was also the target of a rally at the West Virginia state capitol in March organized by a coalition of conservative groups. Although AFP was not involved, an email invite used similar “West Virginia Values” language, telling supporters that: “your presence is most important to let Sen. Manchin know his job is to stand up for WV values!”

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Don’t Bust the Filibuster events

Although much of the media focus has been on Manchin, strategists are not putting all of their eggs in one basket. A quiet, country-wide “Don’t Bust the Filibuster” AFP campaign is underway to undermine Democrats’ efforts. A Facebook ad campaign has been active since April 30th and postcard mailers are being sent to senators from at least three states: Nevada, Arizona and Montana.

AFP is telling its supporters that filibuster reform would “unleash partisanship, usher in a revolving door of extreme policies, and have a destructive effect on our institutions.” In addition to Nevada, Arizona and Montana it is also targeting New Hampshire and Delaware. 

The group deployed its president, Tim Phillips to Arizona and Nevada last week for “grass roots” events. The Arizona event, attended by former Sen Jon Kyl, called on Sen. Sinema to oppose filibuster reform. Photos posted to Twitter show Phillips speaking before a room-full of people in Phoenix and Las Vegas, few of whom appeared to be wearing masks, despite continuing CDC guidelines for indoor gatherings. 

According to local reports, AFP New Hampshire has scheduled a “Don’t Bust the Filibuster” networking event, on May 4. Republicans are targeting Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), who opposed filibuster reform in 2017 when Democrats were the Senate minority. Recently a spokesperson for Hassan has signaled that she may be open to some reforms, though broadly continues to hold concerns about eliminating the filibuster. Hassan is up for reelection in 2022, and Republicans view her seat as up for grabs.