WASHINGTON — The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is mobilizing to pressure lawmakers not to delay cuts in government spending that are set to take effect at the beginning of next month.
The campaign, dubbed the Spending Accountability Project, will build on technology and techniques that the group deployed to criticize President Barack Obama’s policies ahead of his 2012 re-election. The group’s activists will use campaign tactics including phone banks and door-to-door canvassing with tablet computers to push conservatives to contact their congressional representatives in as many as 40 districts nationwide.
“This is a big vote,” said Tim Phillips, AFP’s president. “If you’re a House Republican and you were elected to rein in the size of government … and you turn around and vote against these sequester cuts, it’s a big deal. It’s inexplicable to do that.”
Americans for Prosperity, which focuses on minimizing government’s role in the economy, will also consider wading into Republican primaries next year, Phillips said, threatening GOP lawmakers who waffle on spending cuts or acquiesce to tax increases. The group spent more than $100 million on politics last year, partly with support from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of a Kansas-based energy and chemical conglomerate.
The two moves put one of the best-funded political groups head to head with rivals on the left and the right. The program is also part of a growing permanent campaign waged by large political advocacy groups even when elections are far in the future.
Obama’s re-election campaign recently reorganized itself as an issues group called Organizing for Action, focused for the moment on pushing the president’s proposals on gun control and immigration. Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman, did not respond to a request for comment.
That group, run by some of the president’s top advisers, is also echoing Obama’s call for tax increases, generating more government revenue to close the deficit without cutting into government programs favored by liberals.
To combat that push for more revenue, AFP activists are not expected to say much about the $14 trillion national debt or even the federal deficit, which could be eliminated with tax increases. Instead, they are focused on government “overspending” as the source of slow economic growth and job creation.
In next year’s primaries, AFP could find itself on the opposite side of a new offshoot of the biggest of the new breed of conservative interest groups, American Crossroads, which was founded in 2010 with help from former George W. Bush political advisor Karl Rove.
Crossroads created the Conservative Victory Project to push Republican candidates who can beat Democrats. In 2012, Republicans squandered some of their best pickup opportunities by running candidates who were weak fundraisers or prone to gaffes – including many who won primaries based on their conservative bona fides and support from anti-tax groups such as AFP.
Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio played down the likelihood that his group would clash with AFP, saying that “it’s not an incumbent-protection effort.” Phillips said his effort was focused on upcoming votes and “we’re not looking at the politics.”
In Arkansas, AFP staff members and volunteers plan to knock on 500 doors in the suburbs of Little Rock on Wednesday, asking residents to contact Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who is up for re-election next year. They’ll also deliver petitions directly to one of his offices.
The group is also targeting homes in the district of Rep. Steve Womack, one of the state’s four Republican House members, in northwest Arkansas, said Teresa Oelke, the AFP state director.
Womack voted for the deal at the start of the year that delayed the spending cuts for three months. Oelke said she met with the congressman’s staff in Washington recently and “every indication is that he’s with us on the policy.”
“We will work tirelessly until there’s responsible spending in Washington,” Oelke said, “which could take a long time.”