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Koch Group Flexes Its Muscle, Blocks Tennessee Medicaid Expansion

AFP is playing a unique role in effectively serving as a conservative watchdog against fellow Republicans at the state level.
Koch Group Flexes Its Muscle, Blocks Tennessee Medicaid Expansion
Image from: nashvillepublicradio.org

You know, I have to wonder how many of these old farts aren't just bored. If they lived on the East Coast, they'd hop a free bus to Atlantic City for the day, get a free buffet lunch and a roll of quarters to gamble with. So the Kochs offer them a free lunch and a comfortable bus ride -- maybe they're just doing what they're told. Legislators act like a deer in the headlights with these people, but I do wonder how much of a threat they really are. Readers?

NASHVILLE-In December, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, got the deal he wanted from the Obama administration: Tennessee would accept more than $1 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid, as allowed for in the Affordable Care Act, but Obama aides would allow Haslam to essentially write staunchly conservative ideas into the program's rules for the state. He dubbed the reformed Medicaid program "Insure Tennessee."

But the state's chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative group whose foundation is chaired by controversial billionaire David Koch, argued Haslam was just trying to trick conservatives into implementing Obamacare in their state by giving it a new name. AFP campaigned aggressively against Haslam's plans for the next six weeks, even running radio ads blasting GOP state legislators who said they might vote for it.

On Wednesday, Haslam's bill died in a committee of the Tennessee state senate. The vote was one of the clearest illustrations of the increasing power of AFP and other conservative groups funded in part by the Koch brothers.

When the coalition of conservative groups allied with Charles and David Koch announced recently they would spend $889 million over the next two years, much of the discussion was about how that money could shape the upcoming presidential election. But AFP and other Koch-backed conservative organizations may be having their biggest impact on state politics, where targeted advertising and a strong organization can make a huge difference.

"We're the third-worst state in the country for accepting federal dollars," said Andrew Ogles, AFP's state director said in an interview here. "It's time for us to stop. Anytime we have a problem, instead of coming up with a Tennessee solution, we run to the federal government with our hands out. No more."


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The aggressive action in Tennessee by AFP was not unusual. The group, started in 2004, now has chapters in 34 states. The state operations' general goals, like AFP and other Koch-allied groups nationally, are to oppose tax hikes, increases in government spending and what they view as excessive regulation.

But AFP is playing a unique role in effectively serving as a conservative watchdog against fellow Republicans at the state level. In many states in the West and South, like Tennessee, both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the GOP and the governor is also a Republican. The policy debates are between more moderate Republicans and the party's conservative wing.

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