Conservative Koch-backed group uses soft touch in recruiting U.S. Hispanics

Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:08am EDT
 
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By Andy Sullivan

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The conservative advocacy groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known mostly for spending millions of dollars to pelt Democratic candidates with negative television ads.

But this year, one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation's booming Hispanic population, which has overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections. The group, known as The Libre Initiative, is sponsoring English classes, driver's license workshops and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters in cities from Arizona to Florida - even as the group targets Democratic lawmakers with hard-edged TV ads.

Taking a cue from liberal groups that have been active in Hispanic neighborhoods for decades, Libre says it aims to use these events to build support for small-government ideas in communities that typically support big-government ideals.

"If they trust us, they may seek our opinion on something else," said Michael Barrera, a former Bush administration official who now works for Libre, which says it has built a mailing list of 90,000 people during the past three years.

Libre's task is complicated by Republican lawmakers' reluctance to act on a proposed overhaul of the United States' immigration laws and the harsh rhetoric used by some Republicans that many Americans have seen as anti-Hispanic or anti-immigrant, pollsters say.

And even as Libre launches an ad campaign that paints President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act as an expensive failure, Obamacare remains more popular among Hispanics than it is in the overall population.

Democrats who are struggling to counter waves of Koch-financed attack ads ahead of the November 4 congressional elections say Libre is a front group for wealthy donors who care little about the needs of Hispanics. As a group, Hispanics are less affluent and less educated than the overall U.S. population.

At a recent Hispanic business fair in Orlando, Libre set up panel discussions on family-owned businesses and the shortcomings of Obamacare. Neither event drew much of an audience, but by the end of the day Libre had added 150 names to its mailing list.   Continued...

 
David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries, attends the Economic Club of New York luncheon in New York, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton