Former Koch Dark Money Group Targets Ted Cruz In Iowa

The group is headed by a Marco Rubio supporter.

WASHINGTON -- The proxy battle between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the Republican presidential primary heated up on Tuesday as an Arizona-based nonprofit launched a new advertising campaign in Iowa against Cruz.

American Encore has purchased at least $55,000 worth of ad space on broadcast stations in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, and plans to spend up to $200,000. The ad uses footage from the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris to pivot to an attack on Cruz for supporting the USA Freedom Act of 2015, which the ad states was crafted to “weaken America’s ability to identify and hunt down terrorists.”

The group, previously known as the Center to Protect Patient Rights, is headed by Sean Noble, a former major player in the Koch political universe. Noble was reportedly ejected from the Koch network after a poor electoral showing in 2012 and an involvement in funneling $11 million through his organization into a California ballot initiative campaign that led to a high-profile investigation. There were also concerns that he was diverting large sums to his consulting firm to greatly enrich himself. 

After the break with the Kochs, his nonprofit rebranded to American Encore and became a major political player in Arizona’s state politics. The group spent millions on electoral and issue advertising in Arizona’s 2014 elections to help elect Gov. Doug Ducey (R), all without disclosing the donors behind the spending -- a practice known as “dark money.”

Now, Noble’s group is joining the presidential campaign behind Rubio. While the advertisement does not mention Rubio, Noble is a public supporter of the freshman Florida senator. Rubio is also a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to delay the USA Freedom Act’s suspension of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone metadata.

The ad comes at a moment when Rubio and Cruz, according to the HuffPost Pollster average, occupy the third and fourth poll positions, respectively, behind the non-politician front-runners, billionaire eccentric Donald Trump and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Rubio’s campaign has benefited from the spending of dark money more than any other presidential campaign. On top of the $200,000 in planned spending by American Encore, the nonprofit group Conservative Solutions Project has spent more than $8 million on issue advertising promoting Rubio.