Americans For Prosperity may be America’s third-biggest political party

This post has been updated.

What do you call an organization that operates in multiple states, staffs up for elections, and does local endorsements for political campaigns? You call it a political party. And by that measure, the Koch brothers' Americans For Prosperity is the third-largest political party in the United States.

The Post's Matea Gold dug into the conservative brothers' 2014 electoral push, documenting the planned spending total (enough to cover the annual incomes of 5,270 American households) and the various organizations that will spend the money. This detail jumped out at us:

This year, the network is likely to outstrip other organizations on both the left and the right with spending on television ads and on-the-ground organizing. Its main political organ, the free-market advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, has 240 full-time employees in 32 states, more than double the size of its 2012 staff.

That's a lot of people. We were curious how it compared to the country's established political parties, so we asked them, giving us this graphic. (Caveats and details to follow!)

Update: In response to this article a number of people noted a valid point -- the description above could also apply to various labor unions and organizations. It's a good point. We've added some data on labor below.


Staffing

AFP's 240 paid staff isn't that many, when split between 32 states. But it's comparable to the Republican party, which, according to the organization's Kirsten Kurkowski, will have 250 people in the field in November. (On top of that, the RNC has 150 people in its headquarters.)

The Democrats structure their campaign work differently, funding field staff through their Senate and House campaign arms, where they coordinate with candidates. Earlier this year, the party released details of its "Bannock Street project," aimed at holding control of the Senate. At the time, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee estimated that the total staff would be 4,000; a party representative confirmed that target number to the Post on Thursday. (The number of people working for the Democratic National Committee appears to be in the dozens, hence the "plus.")

That does not mean that there are 4,000 paid Democratic campaign staffers roaming around the country right now. The party, which historically has put more resources into get-out-the-vote voter turnout efforts than Republicans, will staff up as November approaches, focusing on the contested Senate races. Field staff will cover both the Senate races and other races in those states.

Labor: We should start by pointing out that there are a lot of labor organizations that get involved in politics at various levels. Large unions, like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) or the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) often play heavily in federal, state, and local campaigns; smaller unions may not do anything. The AFL-CIO usually weighs in at the Federal level and, through regional umbrella organizations, can do more at a lower level. The number of staff that get involved varies widely. We've reached out to SEIU to try and get a comparable figure and will update this post when we have a response.

States

When former Vermont governor Howard Dean took over leadership of the DNC in 2005, he instituted the party's "50 State Strategy," which still exists today. Not every state receives the same level of attention -- or money -- in that strategy; the "Bannock Street project" identifies only ten of those states as being priorities. The GOP's 47-state estimate is almost certainly similar. It's unlikely that either party is spending a lot of time and energy in, say, California or Idaho.

Labor: Labor has a presence in every state where there is a union, but, again, the level of activity varies.

Spending

The main area in which AFP's plan differs substantially from the parties is in what they plan to spend. According to Gold, AFP will lay out $100 million for the 2014 races -- less than half of what the DNC and RNC spent in 2010. And that's only the DNC and RNC. The DSCC spent another $100 million in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

AFP is poised to play a significant role in 2014. There are legal attributes that political parties need to meet in order to receive recognition from the government and to enjoy the benefits of that status (like getting to coordinate with candidates). By the numbers, though, AFP is already there.

Labor: Many of the largest donors to political campaigns are labor unions, though business groups give far more. (Which brings up an interesting point: Should business groups also be considered a political party by our above standard? Probably.) When it comes to outside spending, figures vary, as usual. In 2012, SEIU spent $23 million -- but that's just the international union, and that was in 2012, a much more expensive year than 2014 should be.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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