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WASHINGTON — The political network affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers has reserved $30 million in an initial round of fall ads in key Senate races, a network source told BuzzFeed News, as the group’s continued involvement in national politics comes into question.
The network will focus on Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, and likely Florida. The network is already the biggest outsider spender for Senate races this election cycle, spending $12.4 million on ads, including a new ad in Ohio released Tuesday.
The ad, which is part of $2.2 million buy, features an Ohio business owner criticizing Democrat Ted Strickland’s economic record during his tenure as governor. Strickland is now running for Senate against GOP Sen. Rob Portman.
“The recession was hard for everyone, but Ted Strickland’s policies made things worse for Ohio…We are going to work to make sure every voter knows how Strickland’s tax and spend record made their lives harder,” said James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners Action Fund, the super PAC within the network.
The latest ad and plans for fall spending come after a detailed National Review story reported that the network would be reducing its involvement in national politics as part of a realignment. Network officials disputed the story, saying that getting involved in federal races to back lawmakers and candidates that support the Koch’s free-market conservatism “is an important part of our comprehensive strategy” and that the ad reservations are unrelated to the story.
By the end of last year, the network had already spent about half of the $889 million it intends to spend on conservative causes and candidates for the two-year 2016 election cycle. But this year, the network decided to sit out the GOP presidential primary and likely the general election and focus on down-ballot races instead — though that shift, NR reported, might be part of a broader withdrawal from the federal campaign focus that has defined the network in recent years.
Ad spending in Senate races has so far remained lower compared to 2014, when network groups like Americans for Prosperity went on the air nearly a year before election day and spent millions attacking Democrats on Obamacare.
This time around, without the rocky Obamacare rollout narrative coinciding with the election, network sources say, groups have been focusing on building out their data operation known as i360 to reach voters and on growing their grassroots army for direct outreach — in addition to ads.
In swing states that also have key Senate races — Florida, Nevada, Ohio — the network has its biggest grassroots presence.
Overall, activists have been making tens of millions of individual voter contacts per election cycle and have already reached twice as many voter contacts this election compared to the last, the network source said.
The network itself now has about 1,200 staffers in 38 states.