Earlier this week, Americans for Prosperity turned in more than 6,000 referendum petition signatures to the Clackamas County elections office, just barely enough to force a repeal of a $5 vehicle registration fee onto the ballot. As a result, Clackamas residents will vote in May on whether to overturn the fee, which is needed to pay for the county’s portion of the cost to replace the Sellwood Bridge.
Maybe you’ve heard of Americans for Prosperity – the national organization that advocates for “halting the encroachment of government in the economic lives of citizens.” They support their mission by shilling for the tobacco industry, dismissing global warming, and teaching the Tea Party how to get organized.
Yet, AFP Director Tim Phillips admitted to the Financial Times that AFP had only 8,000 members. How does such a small group claim national status? With money. Lots and lots of money.
The New Yorker recently explored the relationship between AFP and the Koch brothers, those “billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama” and “longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.” (Hey, they’re also the guys who funded WI Governor Walker’s campaign!) David Koch is both founder and primary funder of AFP.
In short: AFP is an astroturf front group, with few members, many dollars, and a specific anti-government mission.
Why Should You Care?
The Sellwood Bridge’s long overdue replacement is projected to cost $290 million. It has a “sufficiency rating” of 2 out of 100. To put that into perspective, the I-35 bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007 had a sufficiency rating of 50 out of 100.
To cover the $290 million cost of replacement, many communities are chipping in: the City of Portland committed $100 million, $127 million is coming from Multnomah County, and the Oregon Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration are also expected to contribute.
To help close the remaining gap, Clackamas County Commissioners passed a $5 annual vehicle registration fee to raise $22 million. That’s less than 10% of the total cost, despite the fact that approximately 70% all trips across the bridge start or end in Clackamas County.
But because AFP apparently thinks $5 a year is too much to pay to keep a major metro-area bridge from falling into the Willamette, they began gathering signatures to force an election on the fee.
Recent financial reports show that AFP made a pledge to cover costs for paid signature gathering. Paid petitioners working on local issues are not currently required to register with the state and are often paid by the signature, which is banned on state petitions. It is unknown how many of the petition sheets turned in last week were circulated by volunteers or paid signature gatherers.
Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall certified yesterday that enough signatures were gathered to refer the fee to the ballot, just squeaking by with only 142 signatures to spare.
So while AFP is touting their victory in getting the referendum on the ballot, the result could be the further degradation of an already crumbling bridge. As we’ve seen in other parts of the country, that kind of thing doesn’t exactly turn out well.
While this extremist corporate-funded group is small (only 18 showed up to protest their arch-enemy President Obama when he was in Portland), their money reaches far, from DC to Wisconsin to Oregon City.
Keep an eye out: AFP isn’t stopping at making a bridge unsafe in order to save $5. AFP activists are also currently working to bring their extreme anti-public services fight to Eugene by opposing the community’s attempt to increase local funding for schools.
Want to stay up-to-date on what groups like AFP are up to, and what statewide initiatives are on the streets? Check our What’s on the Street page for updates, and sign up for our daily news clips list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.