American Future Fund

American Future Fund

Background

The American Future Found (AFF) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that describes itself as a “multi- state issues advocacy group designed to effectively communicate conservative and free market ideals,” according to its website. [1]

AFF was founded in 2007 by Nick Ryan, a former advisor to U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and to Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign. It was founded with reported seed funding from Bruce Rastetter, a co-founder and the chief executive of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a large ethanol company in the United States. It started with the broad mission to “to provide Americans with a conservative and free market viewpoint.” Its first president was Nicole Schlinger, former finance director of the Republican Party of Iowa. [2], [13]

AFF launched television ads supporting U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) in March 2008. As NPR reported in 2008: “American Future Fund advocates free-market policies. It supports an energy agenda that includes drilling offshore and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge; more oil exploration and refineries; and the development of nuclear and alternative sources of energy.” [2]

American Future Fund Political Action

The related but separate group called American Future Fund Political Action is AFF‘s PAC. According to the American Future Fund website, American Future Fund Political Action “primarily helps members elect candidates who reflect our values through a variety of activities aimed at influencing the outcome of the next election.” [1]

Fined by FEC

The New York Times reported in 2016 that the American Future Fund was one of three nonprofit groups working in the Koch network that were fined by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC found that Sean Noble, who worked with the Kochs, had closely directed expenditures by the organizations in question, including picking which races individual ads would be run. [4]

“That violated federal rules requiring organizations to identity [sic] the source of any money earmarked for a political expenditure, the commission determined,” wrote the New York Times.[4]

The three groups agreed to pay over $200,000 in fines to settle the investigation but did not concede that they had broken any laws. [4]

Citizens for Responsibility And Ethics in Washington (CREW) had initially filed a complaint against the Koch nonprofit groups in 2014. As part of its conciliation agreement with the FEC, the American Future Fund agreed to pay $140,000. [5]

These rules provide some of the only windows into the funding of dark money groups, but the FEC almost never penalizes groups that break them,” said Noah Bookbinder, CREW‘s executive director. “It is hard to overstate how significant this is.” [5]

Koch Ties

As part of its in-depth investigation into the Koch network, The Washington Post previously reported on AFF‘s role, describing it as “a Des Moines-based nonprofit that poured more than $25 million into ads against Obama and congressional Democrats in 2012.” [4], [6]

The New York Times reported in 2016 that the Koch brothers had cut ties with the American Future Fund.

Election Spending

The table below is based on campaign finance data exported from the Federal Election Commission for American Future Fund and American Future Fund Political Action. Note that while efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, there may be discrepancies in original report filings and differences between unprocessed and processed FEC data.

Committee, Position, & Candidate2010201120122013201420162018Grand Total
AMERICAN FUTURE FUND$7,358,236$9,631$24,488,535$140,516$2,307,209$12,653,184$1,129,931$48,087,241
Oppose$7,353,282 $10,913,095$80,766$1,887,209$11,027,526 $31,261,878
OBAMA, BARACK  $7,528,525    $7,528,525
TRUMP, DONALD*     $5,178,276 $5,178,276
MURPHY, PATRICK     $2,832,250 $2,832,250
KASICH, JOHN     $1,508,500 $1,508,500
CRUZ, TED     $1,508,500 $1,508,500
BROWNLEY, JULIA*  $500,000 $809,423  $1,309,423
BERKLEY, SHELLEY  $1,299,599    $1,299,599
BARROW, JOHN J.    $1,052,786  $1,052,786
BRALEY, BRUCE L$627,938 $80,846    $708,784
HEINRICH, MARTIN$340,944 $350,716    $691,660
SINEMA, KYRSTEN  $573,362    $573,362
LARSEN, RICK$561,995      $561,995
PERLMUTTER, EDWIN G$560,529      $560,529
SCHAUER, MARK HAMILTON$506,761      $506,761
HECK, DENNIS$470,787      $470,787
HARE, PHILIP G$451,742      $451,742
OLIVERIO, MICHAEL ANGELO II$445,117      $445,117
BRIGHT SR, BOBBY NEAL$420,112      $420,112
HERSETH SANDLIN, STEPHANIE M$383,442      $383,442
MARSHALL, JIM$351,916      $351,916
MCDOWELL, GARY J. HON.$309,957      $309,957
BALDWIN, TAMMY  $261,135    $261,135
HILL, BARON PAUL$255,812      $255,812
EDWARDS, CHET$251,301      $251,301
LOEBSACK, DAVID WAYNE$221,306      $221,306
KIRKPATRICK, ANN  $217,619    $217,619
CHILDERS, TRAVIS W.$216,309      $216,309
SPRATT, JOHN MCKEE JR HON$196,756      $196,756
FOSTER, G. WILLIAM (BILL)$193,453      $193,453
CAUSEY, CHAD$191,057      $191,057
ADLER, JOHN H$175,515      $175,515
HALVORSON, DEBORAH L$138,979      $138,979
PETERSON, COLLIN CLARK   $80,766$25,000  $105,766
FRANK, BARNEY$81,550      $81,550
BENTIVOLIO, KERRY  $30,000    $30,000
NEUMANN, MARK  $15,466    $15,466
BROWN, SHERROD  $15,193    $15,193
VILSACK, CHRISTIE  $13,574    $13,574
KAINE, TIMOTHY MICHAEL  $8,530    $8,530
DONNELLY, JOSEPH S  $6,082    $6,082
NELSON, BILL  $4,128    $4,128
HEITKAMP, HEIDI  $3,064    $3,064
TESTER, JON  $2,241    $2,241
KERREY, J ROBERT  $1,983    $1,983
MCCASKILL, CLAIRE  $1,032    $1,032
Support$4,954$9,631$13,575,440$59,750$420,000$1,325,658$1,129,931$16,525,364
ROMNEY, MITT / RYAN, PAUL D.  $11,377,385    $11,377,385
TRUMP, DONALD*     $1,306,500 $1,306,500
ROMNEY, MITT  $1,011,020    $1,011,020
PATON, JONATHAN  $785,598    $785,598
BAUGH, SCOTT      $634,518$634,518
HAUGH, SEAN    $420,000  $420,000
KIM, YOUNG      $284,498$284,498
HARKEY, DIANE      $196,835$196,835
BERG, RICK  $182,900    $182,900
HOVDE, ERIC  $125,626    $125,626
LONEGAN, STEVEN M   $59,750   $59,750
MOURDOCK, RICHARD  $46,156    $46,156
BIGGERT, JUDY  $30,000    $30,000
RUBIO, MARCO     $19,158 $19,158
CHAVEZ, ROCKY      $14,080$14,080
ADAMS, KIRK  $10,000    $10,000
TURNER, ROBERT $9,631     $9,631
FRAZIER, RYAN L$4,954      $4,954
MCINTOSH, DAVID  $3,914    $3,914
MANDEL, JOSH  $2,000    $2,000
BROWNLEY, JULIA*  $842    $842
BRALEY, BRUCE L  $0    $0
Not Specified (Support/Oppose)     $300,000 $300,000
TRUMP, DONALD     $300,000 $300,000
AMERICAN FUTURE FUND POLITICAL ACTION    $574,304$71,280$1,303,663$1,949,247
Support    $389,820 $976,010$1,365,830
CHAVEZ, ROCKY      $366,004$366,004
UPTON, FREDERICK STEPHEN    $306,720  $306,720
HARKEY, DIANE      $304,459$304,459
BAUGH, SCOTT      $122,460$122,460
KIM, YOUNG      $113,010$113,010
HANDEL, KAREN CHRISTINE    $80,700  $80,700
HUFF, BOB      $53,577$53,577
PELZER, KIMBERLIN BROWN      $15,000$15,000
DENHAM, JEFF      $1,500$1,500
BLUM, RODNEY LELAND    $1,200  $1,200
YOUNG, DAVID    $1,200  $1,200
Oppose    $184,484$71,280$327,653$583,417
MERKLEY, JEFFREY ALAN    $165,000  $165,000
GASPAR, KRISTIN      $121,700$121,700
CORLEW, BOB      $104,964$104,964
HARDER, JOSH      $98,239$98,239
TRUMP, DONALD J     $68,855 $68,855
BRALEY, BRUCE L    $19,484  $19,484
KING, STEVE MR.     $2,425 $2,425
ROUDA, HARLEY E JR      $1,500$1,500
AXNE, CINDY      $1,250$1,250
Grand Total$7,358,236$9,631$24,488,535$140,516$2,881,513$12,724,464$2,433,593$50,036,488

* Note: Original campaign filings for Julia Brownley, as well as for Donald Trump (here and here) include funds checked to “support” both of those candidates. It is unclear if this is a filing error, given AFF‘s historic opposition of both candidates.

Stance on Climate Change

AFF does not appear to have made any official statements on climate change.

Funding

As a 501(c)(4) organization, the American Future fund’s donors are able to remain anonymous. Investigative reporting found that AFF was founded with seed money from Bruce Rastetter, co-founder of Hawkeye Energy Holdings and a player in Republican politics, The New York Times reported in October 2010: [3]

“Mr. Rastetter had long been mentioned as a likely backer of the group, and he has now acknowledged through his lawyer that he indeed provided financial support at its inception roughly two years ago. The lawyer, Daniel L. Stockdale, said Mr. Rastetter had not given since, adding, ‘He does not feel that he should reveal the size of prior contributions.’” [3]

The New York Times added:

“Bradley A. Blakeman, a longtime Republican operative and a senior aide in the Bush White House, said, ‘Donors are the usual suspects that have helped Bush, as well as some fresh faces.’”[3]

Note that the “Donate” button on the American Future Fund website redirects to a page to support American Future Fund Political Action. [7]

The below is based on data archived at the Conservative Transparency project, combined with original 990 research by DeSmog. 

Also, see the attached spreadsheet of American Future Fund funding by year (.xlsx).

American Future Fund as Recipient

Donor2009201020112012201320142016Grand Total
Center to Protect Patient Rights$1,280,000$11,685,000$1,075,000$49,182,409   $63,222,409
Freedom Partners   $13,600,000   $13,600,000
Wellspring Committee    $125,000 $2,000,000$2,125,000
Judicial Crisis Network    $750,000$1,350,000 $2,100,000
PhRMA $300,000     $300,000
Grand Total$1,280,000$11,985,000$1,075,000$62,782,409$875,000$1,350,000$2,000,000$81,347,409

American Future Fund as Donor

Donor2010201120122014201520162017Grand Total
NRA Institute for Legislative Action     $3,000,000 $3,000,000
The Progress Project  $455,000$451,500$15,700$708,500 $1,630,700
Ending Spending     $750,000 $750,000
Republican Attorneys General Association   $670,000   $670,000
Iowa Progress Project$150,000$203,700     $353,700
The Patriots Foundation   $25,000$15,000$189,500$110,000$339,500
Invest In North Dakota $300,000     $300,000
MediaFreedom.org $270,000     $270,000
Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology   $170,700   $170,700
Digital Society $102,500     $102,500
The MITA Group $97,500     $97,500
Empower Iowa Fund      $71,000$71,000
Beyond Ball     $50,000$7,500$57,500
Free Our Internet      $50,000$50,000
All Votes Matter $40,000     $40,000
The Legacy Foundation     $30,000 $30,000
Let Freedom Ring      $17,500$17,500
Citizens Outreach      $15,000$15,000
Donors Trust     $10,000 $10,000
Frontiers of Freedom      $10,000$10,000
Institute for Liberty      $10,000$10,000
Consumer Action for a Strong Economy      $7,500$7,500
Institute for Policy Innovation      $7,500$7,500
60 Plus Association      $7,500$7,500
The Hispanic Leadership Fund      $7,500$7,500
Acts 2 Collective     $7,500 $7,500
Institute for Fair Elections    $6,000  $6,000
Taxpayers Protection Alliance      $5,000$5,000
The Leadership Institute    $3,750  $3,750
Grand Total$150,000$1,013,700$455,000$1,317,200$40,450$4,745,500$326,000$8,047,850

990 Forms

Key People

Name2008200920102011201220132014201520162017Description
Allison Kleis   YYYYYYYPresident/Treasurer
Barbara SmeltzerYYYYY     Former Director
Cord OvertonYY        Youth Coordinator
Darrell Kearney  YY      Secretary
Jen Robertson        YYSecretary
Katherine Polking Y        Secretary
Lindsay Gerber        YYDirector
Nicole SchlingerY         President
Sandy GreinerYYYYYYYYY President/Director

Other People

According to a 2008 profile at NPR, AFF leadership has included: Nicole Schlinger, Tim Albrecht, Lisa Lisker, Jan Van Lohuizen, Ed Tobin, Ben Ginsberg, Larry McCarthy, and Phil Musser. [2] Iowa Republican state senator Sandra Greiner also was president of the group. According to most recently available tax forms, Allison Kleis served as the group’s president and secretary. [3]

Actions

February 2, 2011

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), suggesting that the American Future Fund (AFF) has violated tax law. Groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code must not make it their “primary purpose” to support or oppose political candidates. [8]

There is nothing wrong with working to elect Republicans, but you can’t violate the law to do it,” said then-CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Given the amount of money the American Future Fund spent on ads in the 2010 congressional elections, it seems clear the primary – if not only – goal of the group is to elect Republicans to Congress.” [9]

“Despite the fact that AFF repeatedly told the IRS it had not and did not plan to support or oppose candidates for office or spend any money attempting to influence elections, AFF did exactly that through the 2010 campaign cycle,” the original CREW letter alleged. “Because of the serious nature of the tax law violations, the IRS should consider revoking the AFF‘s tax-exempt status and/or impose appropriate excise taxes and penalties on the organization. [10]

October 18, 2008

NPR, reporting as part of its “Secret Money” series documenting spending on 2008 elections, highlighted the AFF‘s ongoing ad campaign against Democratic Senate candidate Mark Udall in Colorado: [11]

“The ad implies Udall is bad on education, needs a ‘reality check,’ and then – curiously – urges him to support Senate bill 12,” NPR reported. [11]

“First of all, the bill was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in February and hasn’t gone anywhere since. Second, the bill’s only education provision is an ‘enhanced charitable deducation for corporate contributions of computer equipment for educational purposes.’ Third and perhaps most important, Udall is a member of the House of Representatives, not the Senate. He wouldn’t be able to vote for S. 12 unless he gets elected, an ambition the American Future Fund hopes to thwart.” [11]

American Future Fund Political Action — AFF‘s PAC. [1]

Contact & Address

According to the AFF website: [12]

American Future Fund
6750 Westown Pkwy. #200 – 156
West Des Moines, IA 50266
[email protected]

According to a 2010 article at The New York Times, when Representative Bruce Braley, a Democrat of Iowa went searching for AFF‘s official address he found only a UPS store. A search of that address in Google Maps suggests that is accurate:

Social Media

Resources

  1. ABOUT US,” American Future Fund. Archived July 8, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/d2rEN
  2. Will Evans. “Profile: American Future Fund,” NPR, August 20, 2008. Archived July 8, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/OOyEk
  3. Jim Rutenberg, Don Van Natta, Jr. and Mike McIntire. “Offering Donors Secrecy, and Going on Attack,” The New York Times, October 11, 2010. Archived July 9, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/J36iF
  4. Nicholas Confessore. “Three Nonprofits, Former Koch Brothers’ Associates, Fined by F.E.C.The New York Times, July 13, 2016. Archived July 9, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/4db0t
  5. Koch Brothers Groups Hit With Massive Fines From CREW Complaint,” CREW, July 1, 2016. Archived July 17, 2016. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/z9DU9
  6. Matea Gold. “Koch-backed political network, built to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012 elections,” The Washington Post, January 5, 2014. Archived July 9, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/k3DXg
  7. American Future Fund Political Action,” anedot.com. Archived July 8, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/MmYCo
  8. CREW: IRS: Exhibits in Complaint American Future Fund: 02/01/11,” CREW, April 2011. Retrieved from Scribd. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  9. CREW ASKS IRS TO INVESTIGATE AMERICAN FUTURE FUND,” CREW. Archived July 9, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/ziZEh
  10. “Dear Commissioner Shulman” (PDF), CREW, February 1, 2011. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  11. Senate Roundup: The Usual Attacks And A Puzzler,” NPR, October 18, 2008. Archived July 25, 2009. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/zrA5b
  12. Contact Us,” American Future Fund. Archived July 8, 2019. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/msGBM
  13. Players Guide 2010: American Future Fund,” FactCheck.org, October 13, 2010. Archived November 25, 2019. Archive.fo URL

Other Resources

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