INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The Koch political organization focused on veterans issues could spend make a "multi-million dollar" investment against Democratic incumbents in the 2018 cycle.
What might that amount to? Concerned Veterans for America spent roughly $20 million in 2014 and $25 million in 2016, and executive director Dan Caldwell said Sunday the conservative group plans another “multi-million dollar” outlay in President Trump’s first midterm campaign.
Caldwell signaled the money could go toward advertising and grassroots activity to promote CVA's veterans issues reform agenda — and undermine Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, where CVA is already on the ground with a team run by two Marine veterans.
The group has worked closely with the Trump administration on veterans' issues, and the roster of Democrats CVA pressures in the fall is likely to grow beyond those three. These races happen to be high on the Republican target list.
“We saw in 2014 did that it did resonate and it was a top issue in some key states,” Caldwell said in an interview Sunday, referring to the last midterm campaign, which saw the GOP flip nine Democratic-held Senate seats. “Putting aside the American peoples’ affinity for veterans and the military, it is an important public policy issue.”
Caldwell spoke to the Washington Examiner as the Koch political network, overseen by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, met in an upscale desert resort 150 miles east of Los Angeles for its annual winter donor conference. On Saturday, Koch officials revealed the network would invest nearly $400 million across all groups to promote conservative policies and defend Republican majorities in Congress.
As an issue-advocacy organization, CVA’s political activity is constrained by federal law. The group cannot advocate for or against candidates. But it can promote specific legislation or philosophical approach to an issue, and either compliment — or criticize — politicians according to the votes or positions they have taken.
In 2018, the group’s issue advocacy will be tied to its agenda to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency has been under fire for the past few years for mismanagement and problems delivering quality healthcare to military veterans in a timely manner.
Benchmarks that will determine which midterm contests CVA gets involved in include how congressional incumbents voted on the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, signed by Trump last June. Caldwell attended the bill signing.
The law is supposed to improve management practices at the troubled VA. Other criteria are where incumbents and challenger candidates stand on the CVA’s next project, getting legislation passed that will improve healthcare access for military veterans that rely on the department for coverage.
“Now is really the bigger fight, and that’s reforming how the VA delivers healthcare to our veterans,” Caldwell said. ”The biggest thing that needs to happen is better integration with the private sector. You need to break down some of these walls, break down some of these barriers that prevent veterans from having the ability to choose to take these benefits into the private sector and access care there.”
The political aspect of CVA’s issue advocacy will take the shape of television, digital, and direct mail advertising, plus door-to-door voter engagement.
Caldwell said the group’s activities were crucial in helping Republicans pick off two contested Senate seats in 2014: In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst won a hard-fought election for an open seat; in North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis ousted Democrat Kay Hagan, winning by less than 2 percentage points.
This year, CVA and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network’s main national grassroots political organization, are partnering to push its veterans reform agenda on Capitol Hill and communicate its message in electoral battlegrounds.
“Now, with our close relationship with Americans for Prosperity and others, they are now also engaging on this as well,” Caldwell said. “In addition to Concerned Veterans for America running phone banks you have Americans for Prosperity partnering and tapping into their network, which has really scaled and amplified our efforts in a very important way.”
Clarification: Concerned Veterans for American clarified its planned investment in the 2018 election cycle and the story has been updated to reflect that.