Ohio's chapter of Americans For Prosperity, the Koch-brothers-funded activist group, sent out a mailer opposing a funding increase for the Columbus, Ohio zoo. It only seems weird until you remember that AFP is evolving into a de facto political party — one that could reliably count on Grover Norquist's vote.
It's not clear how many people received the mailer that AFP sent to Columbus residents opposing a ballot measure that would provide funding to the city's zoo. (An existing property tax is expiring; the proposed replacement is 67 percent higher, increasing the tax from $21 to $44 a year for a $100,000 house.) The flyer (at right) shows a gorilla's hand holding a $100 bill and reads, "Another money grab. Issue 6 will raise your taxes."
It seems silly, national players worrying about funding for a zoo. "THEY BOUGHT A ZOO (ELECTION)?," Politico's Playbook newsletter joked, somewhat predictably. The Columbus Dispatch seemed puzzled: "A national conservative organization has joined local efforts to defeat the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s tax levy," the paper reports, with a sort of shrug. "I’ve never heard that they had any interest before in the Columbus Zoo or the people of Franklin County," John Kulewicz, co-chair of the campaign told the paper. "They are playing us."
It's all part of the plan. Although AFP is a national organization, its Ohio state director, Eli Miller, told WOSU that his group will be "engaged in local issues, in state issues, on federal issues. There is no issue we won’t get involved in if you’re going to raise taxes." Which is exactly what AFP was designed to do.
In November, The Wire wrote about AFP's deliberate plan to get involved in state and local measures as part of an apparent two-part strategy. First, it lets them influence policy decisions, like the tax increase in Columbus, which may help build support. Second, it allows them to build relationships with local elected officials that, over the long term, could help build a network of candidates for higher offices. In November, AFP was working hard in Iowa. Here, it's Ohio. Anything stand out about those states?
After David Jolly won his special election in Florida last March, AFP stepped up to claim credit, pointing to their heavy blitz of television ads on his behalf and their work turning out voters. It was an obvious challenge to a Republican establishment that many conservatives feel wavers too much on issues like government spending. And it was a pretty clear sign that the AFP has plans to work as a third-party electoral force moving forward.
Koch brothers oppose local zoo animals is a fun, quirky headline. Koch brothers build national alternative to Republican party might be more accurate. Either way, a 500-pound gorilla joke is in order.