Trees of Liberty

Trees of Liberty

Background

Trees of Liberty was a 501(c)(4) nonprofit front group created by political strategy firm Aegis Strategic in 2014 and funded through Freedom Partners, a major funding conduit for the Koch brothers. Politico reported Trees of Liberty was started by a “low-profile operative” for the Koch brothers, Karl Crow, who had previously worked for years within the Koch network.1How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst,” Politico, November 12, 2015. Archived August 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/29vbK

Shortly after the group launched, Trees of Liberty stepped out of the gate with a $257,000 state-wide television ad campaign attacking Mark Jacobs. Jacobs was the most competitive GOP rival to Iowa state senator Joni Ernst, who was starting a campaign for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. Politico reported on the role of Koch groups, including Trees of Liberty, in boosting Ernst, and how it indicated a new willingness for the Koch network to get involved in primary fights among GOP candidates,” potentially putting it on a collision course with the official Republican Party.”2How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst,” Politico, November 12, 2015. Archived August 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/29vbK

“The ambitious effort, spearheaded partly by a for-profit consulting firm called Aegis Strategic that’s backed by the Koch network, is one of several ways in which the brothers and their allies are seeking to influence the types of candidates who carry the GOP banner. The network has taken on a vetting role in the GOP presidential primary, offering favored candidates access to its donors and activists,” Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel reported in 2015.3How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst,” Politico, November 12, 2015. Archived August 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/29vbK

According to an archived version of the Trees of Liberty website, which is no longer in operation, the group asserted that its agenda was “to educate the public about those state policies that protect the rights of citizens to free and fair elections, to the equal protection of the laws, and to powers reserved to them by the Tenth Amendment.”4About Us,” Trees of Liberty. Archived October 3, 2016. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/lk5ch

Stance on Climate Change

According to Politico, shortly after creation, Trees of Liberty launched an advertising campaign attacking Mark Jacobs, a retired energy executive and rival to Joni Ernst whom Aegis was supporting, for having supported a carbon tax in the past.5How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst,” Politico, November 12, 2015. Archived August 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/29vbK

Funding

Trees of Liberty appears to have received its primary funding via Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a known funding conduit for Koch groups.

In addition to a $400,000 contribution from Freedom Partners recorded by the Conservative Transparency Project in 2014, public 990 forms reveal that Trees of Liberty also received $2,050,000 from that Koch operation in 2015.6Trees of Liberty,” Conservative Transparency. Accessed August 15, 2019.

That makes a total of $2,450,000 in known funding from Freedom Partners.

According to 990s, Trees of Liberty also received $70,000 from American Encore (formerly the Center to Protect Patient Rights) in 2016, another Koch-tied group.

990 Forms

Key People

The following is based on data from publicly available 990 forms:

Name20142015201620172018Description
Alan Philp YYYSecretary/Treasurer
Chris MarstonYYYYYTreasurer
Gentry CollinsYY Director
Karl CrowYY President
Pam PryorYY Chairman

Alan Philp

Alan Philp has been executive director of the Center for the New American Century and was a founding member of the board of directors in December 2002. According to his archived profile at the Center, Philp previously served under Colorado Governor Bill Owens as his chief of staff and special assistant “overseeing the state’s census and redistricting related activities, among other projects.” He was deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Innovation and Technology in 1999 and 2000.7Alan Philp,” Center for the New American Century. Archived August 10, 2003. Archive.fo URL:https://archive.fo/UXtiJ

He was research director of The Murphy Pintak Gautier Hudome Agency in Falls Church, VA from 1994 to 1998. He held the same title at Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform Foundation from 1993 to 1994 where he “developed the annual Cost of Government Day project, measuring the number of days into the calendar year that Americans must work to pay for the cost of government.”8Alan Philp,” Center for the New American Century. Archived August 10, 2003. Archive.fo URL:https://archive.fo/UXtiJ

Chris Marston

Chris Marton has been the treasurer for Trees of Liberty. According to LinkedIn, Marson works as the principal of Election CFO, a political consulting company that offers “general consulting, campaign finance compliance, and other campaign support services.” He is also principal of another campaign finance company North Rock Reports.9Chris Marston,” LinkedIn. Accessed August 15, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

In 2011, Marston launched a bid to be the Clerk of Court in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to that, in 2009, he worked in the Virginia House of Delegates in the House Republican Caucus where he provided “campaign, communications and policy coordination support to the 61 members of the Caucus.” He has also worked int he U.S. Department of Education, and earlier in the Department of the Interior. Marston has a J.D. from Georgetown University and an A.B. from Dartmouth College.10Chris Marston,” LinkedIn. Accessed August 15, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

In an interview with Marston, CNN reported Marston is “just a contractor who does campaign finance compliance… a lawyer for hire who works out his home office with an employee and two dogs.”11 Chris Moddy. “Why do dozens of GOP super PACs have the same official address?CNN, June 22, 2016. Archived August 15, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/MIwf2

Discussing why dozens of GOP super PACs all share the same official address—a post office box in Virginia controlled by Marston—he told CNN that “”People just hire me to be their treasurer.” He said, “My interaction to those folks is mostly limited to paying their invoices.”

Gentry Collins

According to his guest speaker profile at the rightwing Leadership Institute, Gentry Collins is the former political director for the Republican National Committee (RNC) and previously served as chairman for the Iowa State Republican Party. In 2010, Collins ran to replace Michael Steele as head of RNC but later dropped out.12Gentry Collins – Guest Speaker at the Leadership Institute,” Leadership Institute. Archived August 15, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/8j1X6 13 Patrick Caldwell. “Iowa’s Gentry Collins drawing little support thus far for RNC bid,” The Iowa Independent, December 17, 2010. Archived May 21, 2013. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/rPR6V

Collins resigned as political director of the RNC effective November 15, 2010. In a four-page letter, Collins made claims of RNC disorganization and the need for improvement in the Committee, as reported by Politico.14 Jonathan Martin. “Top RNC aide quits, blasts Steele,” Politico, November 16, 2010. Archived August 15, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/5s0xh

Karl Crow

Karl Crow was a former lead strategist for Aegis Strategic, a group founded by the Kochs to handpick state and federal GOP candidates.15Your Aegis Team,” Aegis Strategic. Archived November 2, 2015. 16 Andy Kroll. “New Koch-Linked Political Firm Aims to Handpick ‘Electable’ Candidates,” Mother Jones, January 17, 2014. Archived May 26, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/4USUJ

According to his archived profile at Aegis, Crow was previously a co-founder and senior analyst to the Koch’s voter data operation, i360. There, he headed up “strategy development and implementation efforts in concert with the End-User, Data and Modeling teams.” Prior to i350, he worked as a project coordinator at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation where he focused “on how political advocates for economic freedom are identified, trained and promoted.”17Your Aegis Team,” Aegis Strategic. Archived November 2, 2015.

Crow was a graduate of the Koch Associated Program and holds a Bachelor’s degree in international relations from the George Washington University and a Juris Doctor from Temple University.18Your Aegis Team,” Aegis Strategic. Archived November 2, 2015.

Pam Pryor

Pam Pryor formerly served as the chairman of Trees of Liberty. Pryor is the former director of DC London, Inc., a political consulting firm controlled by Koch “money man” Sean Noble that, as noted in a complaint co-filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Center for Media and Democracy, has been paid almost $11 million by the Koch-backed group Center to Protect Patient Rights, Inc. (CPPR), now named American Encore in 2011 and 2012.19 “Re: Complaint against Trees of Liberty, Inc.” (PDF), CREW and Center for Media and Democracy, January 28, 2016.

In 2016, Pryor reportedly began work for the Trump campaign to lead its faith and Christian outreach effort. The Atlantic reported that Prior had ties to the Church of the Nazarene, “a conservative evangelical denomination whose members include the Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.”20Donald Trump Isn’t Relying on Faith Alone,” The Atlantic, August 18, 2016. Archived August 15, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Vngft

In 1995, Pryor was hired as press secretary for Republican Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. She was later named as spokesperson for Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee, and had been referred to as Palin’s “go-to girl” during the 2008 election. Pryor has been a senior advisor to the Republican National Committee where she served as a liaison to the McCain presidential campaign. She has also worked for the Koch-funded Freedom Partners.21Donald Trump Isn’t Relying on Faith Alone,” The Atlantic, August 18, 2016. Archived August 15, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/Vngft

According to her profile on LinkedIn, Pryor is also a former board member of The Reform Institute, and most recently a senior advisor at the Department of State under the Trump administration where she has an “Emphasis on international religious freedom.”22Pam Pryor,” LinkedIn. Accessed August 15, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

Other People

Mark Pfeifle was reportedly listed as the spokesman for Trees of Liberty in a press release. Pfeifle is president and CEO of Off The Record Strategies. According to his profile there, Pfeifle was former White House Dep. National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Global Outreach where he claimed to have “led the successful communication effort to promote President Bush’s ‘surge’ of U.S. forces into Iraq and international communication initiatives to de-legitimize al Qaeda.”23 Ed Tibbetts. “Outside group targets Jacobs,” Quad City Times, April 25, 2014. Archived August 15, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/oNddX 24Team,” Off the Record Strategies. Archived August 16, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/qSxfl

From 2001 to 2004, he was press secretary and later communications director for the Secretary of the Department of the Interior where he “created messaging to pass energy and conservation legislation and pro-environmental policies such as the president’s Healthy Forest Initiative,” an initiative among several at the Bush Interior Department that were widely criticized by Americans concerned about protecting our natural environment. He was alo director of communications for the 2004 Republican National Convention.25Team,” Off the Record Strategies. Archived August 16, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/qSxfl

Actions

January 28, 2016

Watchdog groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) requested a federal investigation into whether Trees of Liberty “broke the law by spending more than $250,000 in untraceable money boosting Joni Ernst’s 2014 Senate campaign,” Politico reported. The allegations were submitted via complaints filed with the Internal Revenue Service and with the Department of Justice.26Team,” Off the Record Strategies. Archived August 16, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/qSxfl

“Trees of Liberty appears to have knowingly and willfully omitted information and made false statements on its 2014 Form 990 tax return with respect to its political activities, in violation of both the tax code and Federal criminal law 18 U.S.C. § 1001,” the complaint alleged. “It appears that Trees of Liberty’s political intervention that year was so extensive that it was primarily engaged in non-exempt political activities, and thus also ineligible for section 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.”27 “Re: Complaint against Trees of Liberty, Inc.” (PDF), CREW and Center for Media and Democracy, January 28, 2016.

August 2014

Speaking at the Koch network’s closed-door donor event at the St. Regis in Dana Point, California, Joni Ernest thanked the support of the network for its support:28U.S. Senate Candidates Praise Koch Network,” Lady Libertine, August 24, 2014. Archived November 18, 2014. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.ph/y1amQ

“[T]he first time I was introduced to this group was a year ago, August, in New Mexico, and I was not known at that time,” Ernst said. “But the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory. And it started a very strong victory that we’ve progressive, progressively built upon throughout the campaign cycle.”29U.S. Senate Candidates Praise Koch Network,” Lady Libertine, August 24, 2014. Archived November 18, 2014. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.ph/y1amQ

April 2014

Shortly after the group launched, Trees of Liberty launched a $257,000 television advertising campaign to attack Mark Jacobs, a retired energy executive and opponent to Joni Ernest, Politico reported. In one video, TOL targeted Jacobs for statements he had made in favor of cap and trade.30How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst,” Politico, November 12, 2015. Archived August 5, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/29vbK 31TOL Video,” YouTube video uploaded by user “Kevin Jones,” April 24, 2014. Archived .mp4 onf ile at DeSmog.

Contact & Address

According to the group’s 2018 and final 990 tax filing:

Trees of Liberty Inc
PO Box 26141
Alexandria, VA 22313
Ph: (571) 482-7690

As reported at CNN, this postal box has been associated with dozens of GOP super PACs. CNN did an interview with Chris Marston, who said he is in control of that postal box, and does financials for a range of such groups.

“People just hire me to be their treasurer,” Marston told CNN in the interview. “I do accounting. Honest to goodness I really just write the checks and make the deposits.”32 Chris Moddy. “Why do dozens of GOP super PACs have the same official address?CNN, June 22, 2016. Archived August 15, 2019. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/MIwf2

Its 2017, 2016, and 2015 tax filings listed the following:

Trees of Liberty Inc
PO Box 19730
Denver, CO 80219
(571) 482-7690

A 2014 tax filing lists a third address variation:

Trees of Liberty Inc
2000 14th St N
Suite 710
Arlington, VA, 22201
(571) 482-7690

Social Media

Other Resources

Resources

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