By KENNETH P. VOGEL
The group launching a $3.6 million ad campaign hitting President Barack Obama on gasoline prices has deep ties to the billionaire libertarian industrialists Charles and David Koch.
The American Energy Alliance is the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research, and sources tell POLITICO that both groups are funded partly by the Koch brothers and their donor network.
The groups are run by Tom Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Pyle regularly attends the mega-donor summits organized by the Koch brothers, including the 2012 winter summit in Indian Wells, Calif., where the Kochs raised more than $150 million to be directed to groups ahead of the general election.
In all, the brothers’ network is aiming to steer significantly more than $200 million to conservative groups for political advertising and organizing ahead of Election Day.
The American Energy Alliance’s ad campaign, which launches Friday in eight states, hammers Obama for his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and recycles a 2008 quote from Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the benefits of European-level gas prices.
The ads come after the Kochs’ primary political group, Americans for Prosperity, earlier this year launched a $6 million ad campaign calling out Obama over the now-defunct, government-subsidized maker of solar power components, Solyndra.
Democrats have pounced on the Koch brothers as bogeymen representative of two favorite targets: Big Oil, which is one part of the brothers’ vast commercial business enterprise, and secret money. Neither Americans for Prosperity nor the American Energy Alliance discloses its donors.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse on Thursday accused the brothers of “funding yet another shadowy outside group to defend the interests of Big Oil and protect their own tax breaks and profits with Mitt Romney being the ultimate beneficiary.”
The DNC attack echoes the Obama reelection campaign’s first ad, which was a direct response to the Americans for Prosperity ad and blasted “secretive oil billionaires attacking President Obama, with ads fact-checkers say are ‘not tethered to the facts.’”
A spokesman for the Koch brothers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
But Benjamin Cole, a spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, lashed back against Woodhouse’s comments.
“This is yet another example of the Democratic National Committee and the Obama administration’s shadowy attempt to delay, deny and deceive the American public about the president’s record on energy prices,” he said, asserting that the ad campaign has nothing to do with helping Romney. “In most of the states that we are running the ads, the primaries have already occurred. Moreover, we have been public and unashamed of criticizing Mitt Romney or any candidate for office, Republican or Democrat, that doesn’t support free market energy solutions.”
And while Cole wouldn’t disclose financial information about his group, he said: “People ask if Koch is behind this ad. There is only one person behind this ad and it is President Barack Obama.”
The Kochs have become progressively more involved in GOP-aligned electoral efforts since the 2010 campaign. An operative representing them, Marc Short, attended a Tuesday meeting of the Weaver Terrace Group, a coalition of conservative outside spending groups initially organized by Karl Rove.
There’s no public information available about the American Energy Alliance’s donors. But among the foundations that have reported donations to the Institute for Energy Research are the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by the Koch family and has donated $235,000 to the institute, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, which gave $2,000.
Those tallies pale in comparison to the amounts funneled to both groups through the donations pooled by the Kochs at their donor summits, sources tell POLITICO.