Money

By MIKE ALLEN and JIM VANDEHEI
9/11/13 9:00 PM EDT Updated: 9/12/13 8:08 AM EDT

An Arlington, Va.-based conservative group, whose existence until now was unknown to almost everyone in politics, raised and spent $250 million in 2012 to shape political and policy debate nationwide.

The group, Freedom Partners, and its president, Marc Short, serve as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the mysterious Koch brothers, cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes, according to an IRS document to be filed shortly.

The 38-page IRS filing amounts to the Rosetta Stone of the vast web of conservative groups — some prominent, some obscure — that spend time, money and resources to influence public debate, especially over Obamacare.

The group has about 200 donors, each paying at least $100,000 in annual dues. It raised $256 million in the year after its creation in November 2011, the document shows. And it made grants of $236 million — meaning a totally unknown group was the largest sugar daddy for conservative groups in the last election, second in total spending only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together spent about $300 million.

Short, a soft-spoken but ferociously conservative 43-year-old operative, provided us a draft of a forthcoming IRS filing that will soon be available to the public. Short, like most in the Koch empire, feels wealthy conservative activists such as Charles and David Koch get a bum rap from the media. So, Short wants to ease his groups and their cause out of the shadows.

“There’s a mystery around us that makes an interesting story,” Short said in an interview in his conference room. “There’s also a vilification that happens that gets exaggerated when your opposition thinks you’re secretive. Our members are proud to be part of [the organization].”

Democrats have their own vast web of secretive funders — and Short is right: Few liberals got as much scrutiny as the Koch brothers over the past few years.

But the “proud” donors are not so proud they will publicly identify themselves as donors. Short refused to open up about the men and women behind the quarter-billion-dollar fund, beyond saying that Koch-linked entities provided a “minority” of the funds and that the largest single donor gave about $25 million.

Freedom Partners is organized under the same section of the Tax Code as a trade association, a 501(c)6, which allows the group to conceal its donors from public release, although the amounts and recipients of its major grants are public.

The filing offers a rare tour of the conservative movement and how it gets its funds:

• Center to Protect Patient Rights, a group that vehemently opposes Obamacare: a total of $115 million, from three grants.

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