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Americans for Prosperity pulls political ads after Koch brothers' Alaska refinery shuts down

A screenshot from an Americans for Prosperity ad attacking Sen. Mark Begich and the Affordable Care Act. AFP recently pulled more than $100,000 worth of planned advertising in Alaska. YouTube screenshot via Americans for Prosperity

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative national group backed by the wealthy Koch brothers, last week suddenly yanked more than $100,000 worth of political ads it had planned to run on TV stations in Alaska. The move prompted speculation that the brothers are lowering their profile in the Last Frontier after Koch Industries announced the closure of the Flint Hills Resources Refinery in North Pole earlier this month.

That’s the suggestion from the campaign of Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who faces a strong Republican field in his bid for re-election in November and was targeted by a previous Americans for Prosperity ad for supporting Obamacare. That ad was noted in the state as being decidedly un-Alaskan, with a Maryland actress doing the bashing from a high-end kitchen.   

"I guess it took two weeks for the billionaire Koch brothers to finally realize Alaskans don't appreciate them firing 80 Alaska workers and closing a refinery while at the same time funneling over $100,000 to Outside political attack groups for misleading ads against Senator Begich,” said Max Croes, spokesman for the Begich campaign. “Alaskans just aren't going to buy what they're selling."

Calls seeking comment from Americans for Prosperity, based in Arlington, Va. and backed by billionaires David and Charles Koch, were not returned prior to this article's publication.

On Tuesday afternoon, AFP spokesperson Levi Russell emailed the following statement:

"Senator Begich is certainly happy to talk about absolutely anything other than casting the decisive vote for Obamacare, or for parroting Obama's lie that 'if you like your plan you can keep it,'" Russell wrote. "Want to know when you've totally lost credibility on the issue? When your go-to talking point is to complain about the presence of actors on TV. I think Alaskans deserve an explanation, not distraction politics."

Begich is a target of national efforts by Republican organizations seeking to shift the balance of power in the Senate. Begich has also benefited from ads supporting him, at times also funded by left-leaning Outside organizations. Outside money has so far dominated fundraising by the leading U.S. Senate contenders, with $4 out of every $5 originating from outside of Alaska.

The closure of the refinery, for decades a critical part of the state’s economy, was announced on Feb. 4. A few days later, Alaska Democrats attacked Americans for Prosperity after learning it planned a new ad campaign in Alaska that they said would again target Mark Begich.

But those ads haven’t run. Public documents from Anchorage NBC affiliate KTUU show that Americans for Prosperity had reserved space for $101,000 worth of political ads, with dozens of spots expected to run between Feb. 10 until March 2. The Virginia-based ad agency representing AFP, Smart Media Group, revoked the plans, initially calling each day and asking for the spots to be delayed then finally, late last week, canceling the remaining ads.

The ad agency took the same approach in Fairbanks at TV station KTVF, after reserving three weeks of Americans for Prosperity ads worth more than $9,000 beginning Feb. 11 and running through March 2, said general manager DeeDee Caciari.

“They kept pushing it off, saying ‘They don’t have the ad. They don’t have the ad,’” she said.

But they ultimately canceled everything on Friday, she said.

“The agency has not said why, other than they're not getting approval on their ad,” she said.

Some of the cancellations weren’t made within KTVF’s two-week cancellation period, which made things challenging because the station had to fill the canceled slots with replacement ads. The station charged the agency about $3,000 for ads that weren’t canceled in time, she said.

“We had to play hardball with them trying to cancel,” she said. “They first tried to push the order back, saying it can’t start today. We said we have a cancellation policy, we can’t just keep doing this.”

In an aside, Alaska Democrats have submitted a list to Buzzfeed, a la David Letterman, suggesting reasons for the canceled spot.

Tops on the list was that Americans for Prosperity is looking for an Alaskan to be in their ad and cannot find one. “No amount of secret $ makes you an Alaskan,” it says over a photo of the Maryland actress featured in the ad attacking Begich for supporting the Affordable Care Act. 

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com