Henry Cuellar Is First Democrat Backed By Koch Super PAC

A super PAC founded and funded by billionaire Charles Koch reported $34,000 in spending to support Rep. Henry Cuellar’s (D-Texas) primary campaign, according to a Friday filing with the Federal Election Commission.

This is the first time that Americans for Prosperity Action is backing the election campaign of a congressional Democrat.

Cuellar, a seven-term incumbent, is facing a tough primary challenge from immigration and human rights lawyer Jessica Cisneros. He has one of the most conservative voting records among Democrats in Congress despite representing a safe Democratic seat. His reelection is supported by large national and Texas corporations and business associations, including the American Bankers Association, Texas Bankers Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Laredo Chamber of Commerce.

Cisneros has won endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, national and local progressive groups, including Justice Democrats, women’s groups, environmental groups, as well as labor unions like the Service Employees International Union and the local Texas AFL-CIO.

Koch Industries, Inc., the giant oil and gas services corporation owned by Charles Koch, is the largest donor to Americans for Prosperity Action this election cycle, giving $3 million. The group is the super PAC arm of the larger nonprofit Americans for Prosperity. The nonprofit group was founded by Koch and his late brother David Koch to advance a free market and libertarian policy agenda in the United States. It played a pivotal role in funding the anti-Obama administration Tea Party in 2010.

This is not the first Koch-linked group to back Cuellar. The Koch Industries PAC donated $5,000 to Cuellar’s campaign. And an arm of the LIBRE Initiative, a Latino outreach group operating under the umbrella of Americans for Prosperity, endorsed Cuellar on Feb. 14.

The March 3 primary election has been the target of significant outside spending, some of it from untraceable sources. 

A nonprofit group called American Workers for Progress spent $720,000 in January on issue ads backing Cuellar. The group is associated with Texas-based political consultant Gilberto Ocañas and was created as a Delaware-corporation on Dec. 11. There is little other information explaining who supports it or is funding its pro-Cuellar efforts.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the chief lobbying organization for corporate America, has also announced plans to spend $200,000 backing Cuellar. Like American Workers for Progress, the Chamber does not disclose its donors. The American Bankers Association is also running ads in English and Spanish backing Cuellar.

Cisneros has received backing from Texas Forward, a super PAC affiliated with the pro-choice women’s nonprofit EMILY’s List. It has not yet reported its donors to the FEC.

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