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Americans for Prosperity says it’s ready for 2016 Legislative Session

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The Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity organization has 36 state chapters across the nation, but none bigger than its operation in Florida, established in 2008. With 80 full- or part-time staff members, AFP has been aggressive in getting involved in legislative matters in recent years, sometimes to the consternation of Republicans who it ostensibly sides with ideologically.

Although key tenets of AFP are advocating lower tax rates, opposing government “overspending” and attempting to rein in the size of government, it’s opposition to government cronyism that AFP President Tim Phillips says is where the organization tends to get into the biggest conflicts with establishment Republicans.

“We define government cronyism as our legislators picking winners or losers using taxpayer dollars over regulatory code or tax cuts for targeted or selected industries or organizations,” he said while speaking with Florida Politics on Wednesday.

AFP Florida was zealous in attempting to stop taxpayer money going into the support of building public sports facilities and offering tax incentives for Hollywood productions in 2015. State director Chris Hudson says they’ll be just as aggressive when the Legislative Session begins next week.

“They may not be back in the same form that they appeared in last year, but they’ll come back, and we’ll fight them vehemently the same way that we did this past year,” he says.

AFP Florida has most recently come out against Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to fund Enterprise Florida by replacing the Quick Action Closing Fund, money he can use to lure companies to Florida, with a new $250 million fund as well as change the way incentives deals are approved. That plan also has been met with pushback by some GOP members of the Senate.

Hudson also says there are better ways to reduce the tax burdens on Floridians than what the governor has in store for this year, which includes calling for an additional billion dollars in cuts.

“We think there’s some superficial tax cuts,” he says. “We think it’s nice for families to get a tax holiday, but I don’t think it goes far enough, and I think it’s a bit disingenuous to the taxpayer if they knew how much they could save with broad-based tax reform. I think they’d be much more impressed with a legislative effort to do that.”

AFP in recent election years had been a major player politically, never more so than in 2012 when it spent $122 million to defeat President Obama and congressional Democrats, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Phillips says those figures are inaccurate, labeling the Center for Public Integrity “a liberal PAC organization.”

“We actually did spend just over $30 million on an express advocacy effort to defeat Barack Obama in 2012,” Phillips says. “We were fully compliant with all federal laws to make sure we did it the right way. He contends that everything else spent was “issue education C4 work, where yes, we held the president accountable, but we disagree with him on issue areas,” with the Affordable Care Act being the predominant issue.

By C4, he’s referring to the tax code where social welfare nonprofits are listed under Sec. 501 (c)(4). Such groups are allowed to participate in politics, so long as politics does not become their primary focus. What that means in practice is that they must spend less than 50 percent of their money on politics.

Regarding how much money AFP will spend in this year’s elections hasn’t been determined,  Phillips says. AFP strongly disagrees with those who say C4 issue education work is somehow political.

“We think it’s a healthy important service for groups on the outside, whether they’re right or left, frankly, to hold accountable elected officials for their votes in office, and to do so both with grassroots, which we do around the country and here in Florida, but also with television radio and digital ads as well.”

AFP is neutral in the GOP primary election contest for president, but Phillips says only a bold candidate will be able to break on through nationally in an electoral map that lately has been favoring Democrats.

“You have 18 states and the District of Columbia, comprising 242 electoral votes that have gone to the Democratic presidential nominee in six consecutive elections, all the way back to 1992,” he says. “That means that the path to whomever the nominee is has narrowed, and I strongly believe that the nominee on the Republican side to win, has to embrace a bold agenda on economic freedom and individual liberty.”

AFP also got involved in politics locally this past year in Hillsborough County. Last month, AFP members were informed to contact county commissioners to oppose an agreement that would send $29 million in taxpayer money for improvements to Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise.

That opposition didn’t work, however. The  board voted 6-1 to support the proposal.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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