In December, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, got the deal he wanted from the Obama administration: Tennessee would accept more than $1 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid, as allowed for in the Affordable Care Act, but Obama aides would allow Haslam to essentially write staunchly conservative ideas into the program’s rules for the state. He dubbed the reformed Medicaid program “Insure Tennessee.”
But the state’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative group whose foundation is chaired by controversial billionaire David Koch, argued Haslam was just trying to trick conservatives into implementing Obamacare in their state by giving it a new name. AFP campaigned aggressively Haslam’s plans for the next six weeks, even running radio ads blasting GOP state legislators who said they might vote for it.
On Wednesday, Haslam’s bill died in a committee of the Tennessee state senate. The vote was one of the clearest illustrations of the increasing power of AFP and other conservative groups funded in part by the Koch brothers.
When the coalition of conservative groups allied with Charles and David Koch announced recently they would spend $889 million over the next two years, much of the discussion was about how that money could shape the upcoming presidential election. But AFP and other Koch-backed conservative organizations may be having their biggest impact on state politics, where targeted advertising and a strong organization can make a huge difference.