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Koch network calls out Republicans for the first time in national ad buy

WASHINGTON — A new TV spot opens with a gauzy clip of former president Barack Obama making a case that immigrants are good for the economy, part of a positive appeal for bipartisan leadership on immigration.

The surprise?

It’s sponsored by a political network backed by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire libertarians who spent years trying to tear down Obama’s legacy and put Republicans into power.

The ad, which is set to start airing on TV Thursday, ends with a subtle swipe at two leading Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, for failing to reach a deal on immigration reform. It also calls out the top Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.


The spot will be backed by a seven-figure ad buy and urges viewers to call Congress to support legislation that protects the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. It begins running Thursday in some local markets and will be aired nationally starting Sunday.

“President Trump and our congressional leaders should step up and do the right thing,” James Davis, the executive vice president of the Koch-backed Freedom Partners, said in a statement. “This is too big of a problem for lawmakers to ignore, or to allow politics to get in the way.”

It’s the first time Koch network leaders have shown a willingness to go on TV to air their growing grievances with the GOP-majority they helped finance. Koch Industries’ political action committee and employees are listed as the fifth-largest donor to Ryan over his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company’s political action committee and employees are also among McConnell’s top 100 donors this election cycle, according to the CRP.

In addition to Freedom Partners, the ad is also funded by the Libre Initiative, a group focused on Hispanics that’s also backed by David and Charles Koch.


The ad comes as other Republicans are becoming weary of Trump’s leadership and frustrated by the GOP Congress being unwilling to stand up to him. The Globe reported Sunday that Boston billionaire Seth Klarman, a fiscal conservative who has spent millions of dollars supporting Republicans, is now backing Democrats in 2018 congressional elections as a check on Trump.

The Koch ad is mild in comparison to Klarman’s shift. It does not mention Trump by name. But Koch network leaders have signaled impatience with Republicans whom they’ve supported but who have been unwilling to back them on issues like immigration, prison reform, and free trade.

Davis told the Washington Post this month that the network had “pulled punches” in the past out of fear of upsetting lawmakers but planned to shift that strategy.

“We’re going to have to come out and hold Republicans and Democrats accountable,” Davis told the Post. “If they think they’re going to wait out the clock for the rest of this congressional cycle, voters would be right to ask: ‘Why should I send these people back to represent me?’”

Annie Linskey can be reached at annie.linskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.