Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the “grassroots” arm of the Koch network, relied on just two major sources of income in 2018, which together provided 85% of its revenue, according to a review of the group’s annual audit reports by Documented.
The group boasts on its website that it has “over 100,000 donors from all over the country.” If accurate, this means the top two donors to AFP in 2018 gave more than six times the giving of its other 99,998 donors combined.
For many years, AFP has relied on a small number of donors for the bulk of its revenue. In years where the group has been more active, during a major policy fight, or an election cycle, its revenue has increased, with the bulk coming from its major donors.
In 2012, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, AFP launched a massive ad campaign to denounce the law. In 2015 and 2016, the group opened local offices across swing states, and spent millions on ads targeting Democrats.
In 2018, the group engaged to help propel Brett Kavanaugh on to the Supreme Court, spending large sums in ad buys, and mailers to voters targeting possible persuadable Senate votes such as that of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) published a report in 2016 called Gilded Giving, that examined the increasing reliance by some non-profits on wealthy donors, and the inevitable mission distortion that results. “Among the potential risks for civil society as a whole are the distortion of organizational missions and a shift toward using charity not as a vehicle for the benefit of society as a whole, but as a means to protect and preserve individual wealth,” read the report.
Report author Chuck Collins speaking about the report on NPR in 2016:
AILSA CHANG, NPR: Why is top-heavy giving bad?
CHUCK COLLINS: Well, you know, when I first did fundraising, there used to be a rule of thumb. They called it the 80-20 rule, which was that 80 percent of your donations would come from 20 percent of your donors. We are now kind of moving toward, like, a 98-2 percent, you know, where 98 percent of your money comes from 2 percent of your donors. So that means there’s more volatility and unpredictability for the independent sector. It means that they’re thinking about oh, how do we cater and maintain and get those big donors? And it could lead to the risk of mission drift, meaning those big donors have a lot of say and a lot of power with the nonprofit organizations.
In 2018, AFP didn’t have 80 percent of revenue from 20% of its donors. It had 85% coming from just 0.002% of its donors.
Photo of the late David Koch speaking at the 2015 Defending the American Dream Summit at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license.