We interviewed Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, whose group — which does not disclose its donors — is one of the most active this election cycle.
TAPPER: What is Americans for Prosperity? I know it's been around for awhile, but it's not a group, like the AFL-CIO –
PHILLIPS: Thank goodness.
TAPPER: — or the Chamber of Commerce. People don't necessarily know what it is.
PHILLIPS: We're a grassroots organization that fights for economic freedoms and limited government across the country. We've been around for about seven years now.
TAPPER: And you were founded in part by Koch Industries and the Koch brothers?
PHILLIPS: David Koch is our chairman.
TAPPER: You guys have emerged as a big issue to the campaign because of the new rules regarding 3rd party expenditures. What's it like to hear President Obama call you guys out by name?
PHILLIPS: It's fair game. We're an organization in the public arena, we're effectively opposing his big government, big spending agenda. So it's not surprising that he would attack a group like ours. It's fair game. It would be wrong if he were to start attacking individual Americans who support what we're doing.
But I think it's fair game to go out and attack an organization that's effectively opposing you're big government agenda.
TAPPER: One of the questions being asked by some of the good government groups and even by President Obama is who s funding these ads, so in the spirit of disclosure, would you tell us who some of your contributors are?
PHILLIPS: When you have the President of the United States attacking your organization, which he's doing, it's fair game, but if he attacks individual Americans, then that's wrong. And if we disclose our financial supporters, that's exactly what would happen. You would have the supporters of this president, or Pelosi, or Senator Reid attacking these individual Americans for simply exercising their First Amendment rights.
So groups like Americans for Prosperity are given protection to not disclose their supporters, just like the Sierra Club on the left, or other groups on the left, on the free market side we have the same protection. And that's a good thing because too often we see politicians and other partisans who would demonize individual Americans for just being involved in the public policy process and that'll be wrong.
TAPPER: President Obama has suggested is that if people knew who was funding Americans for Prosperity — and other groups, but specifically yours, he has said — they might be less likely to take them seriously. For instance, if they found out that an oil company or executives from an oil company were spending a lot of money accusing the president of putting forth an energy solution that would be bad for the country, they might take into consideration the fact that oil industry money one way or another is behind it. And that would allow the viewers to at least enhance their knowledge of the arguments being made and whether anybody has any ulterior motives.
PHILLIPS: That's sad to hear the president denigrate individual Americans like that. I've been in over 50 individual congressional districts this year. And I can tell you, Americans are worried about their jobs, they're trying to figure out how this terrible health care bill is going to hurt their families and small businesses, that's what's driving this year. It's not who's funding some bus tour or rally or TV ad, that's what's really driving the American People.
And if the president wants to know who Americans for Prosperity is, just come to one of our rallies. Mr. President come, we're on our bus tours, we're across the country in these districts right now. Come out to one. I know your folks come out, they protest on occasion. That's a good thing, it's healthy for a democracy. If the president wants to know who Americans for Prosperity is, come to one of our bus tours, rallies, or events. We'd love to have you.
TAPPER: Good government groups like the Center for Responsive Politics argue that the more information that voters know, whether it's about candidates or about groups, it's better for society, to have transparency and disclosure.
PHILLIPS: Jake, every poll shows that Americans don't hold Congress and the political class in Washington in very high esteem. Because they know that they'll attack individual Americans if they're opposing their agenda. And if you force groups like the Sierra Club or Americans for Prosperity on the free market side, to disclose our financial supporters, that's what will happen. You'll have politicians using their power and the leverage of agencies, federal agencies to go after them because they oppose the agenda.
I think Americans know that, and I can tell you again when I'm in these districts, they care more about the issues like the health care take over and the cap and trade energy tax then they do who's funding these ads or bus tours or rallies. Because I think down deep they know that's how the game is played by these politicians in Washington.
TAPPER: What is your response to hearing the president say it's possible that foreign companies are funding the Chamber of Commerce ads?
PHILLIPS: It's laughable. And the American people know it. Look when you're 19 days away from a midterm election, and your best issue is hey maybe some foreign corporation is somehow supporting one of your opponents, that's the best you can do, you can't even talk about your health care bill, you can't even touch on you radical environmental agenda because the public's rejected it. When that's the best you've got to lead with 19 days out, you're in big trouble.