Heritage Action for America
Founded in 2010, Heritage Action for America is the political advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation. Heritage Action's website describes the group's purpose as "hold[ing] Congress accountable to conservative principles." Republicans in Congress have criticized Heritage Action, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who according to The Washington Post "has accused the group of “destroying the Republican Party” with its push to strip funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “They’ve become a purely partisan group that never asks anybody’s opinion.”"
Heritage Action played a significant role in the 2013 government shutdown, which it advocated as part of a campaign against the ACA.
A 501(c)(4) political non-profit, Heritage Action is located in Washington, D.C.
The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
Heritage Action has received funding from the Koch brothers, including a half million dollar donation in 2013, according to CEO Michael Needham.
The Heritage Foundation received $650,000 from the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, which was one of the Koch Family Foundations before it closed in 2013. The Lambe Foundation contributed at least $4.8 million to the Heritage Foundation between 1998 and 2012.
In recent years, the Heritage Foundation has also received funding from Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, including $53,300 in 2010 and $69,850 in 2012. The Koch brothers have donated millions of dollars to Donors Trust through the Knowledge and Progress Fund, and possibly other vehicles.
Heritage Action for America was founded in April 2010. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published to introduce the organization, Edwin J. Feulner and Michael A. Needham wrote that Heritage Action was formed "to spend money to push legislation […] without the obstacles faced by a nonprofit like the Heritage Foundation." Heritage COO Phillip Truluck told The Atlantic that while research is still the focus of the Heritage Foundation, "Heritage Action is a way to exert a little more pressure and get [Congress] members’ attention."
According to the New Republic, the impetus to form Heritage Action came from Thomas A. Saunders III, a major donor to the GOP and member of the Heritage Foundation's board of directors. After he was elected chairman of the board in April 2009, "he made the case that the think tank would be foolish not to take advantage of the moment and pursue the activist option." Michael Needham, whose father had been a donor to Heritage, "had been a proponent of ramping up the foundation’s lobbying efforts" and was brought on to run the new Heritage Action.
Ahead of former Heritage president Edwin J. Feulner's retirement in 2013, former Republican Senator Jim DeMint reportedly began to lobby for the position. According to the New Republic, "[t]here had been resistance at Heritage to hiring a former member of Congress rather than a Ph.D., but Saunders, the chairman of the board, predictably liked the idea of a more activist president." DeMint became president of the Heritage Foundation in 2013. Based on an interview with him later that year, NPR reported that his goal in that position "is to make Heritage the most influential public policy organization in the country."
News and Controversies
Heritage Action Draws Criticism
According to reporting by The New Republic, some former Heritage Foundation staffers feel that Heritage Action and its political work have come to drive the Heritage Foundation, rather than being subordinate to it."
Republicans in Congress have also criticized Heritage Action, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who according to The Washington Post "has accused the group of “destroying the Republican Party” with its push to strip funding for the ACA. “They’ve become a purely partisan group that never asks anybody’s opinion.”" Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) has said, "I think Heritage Action is really hurting the foundation. […] I think they’ve lost credibility with the people that were most supportive of them.”
Heritage Action Pushes for Government Shutdown
On October 1, 2013, the US federal government shut down when Congress failed to pass a budget. A group of Republicans in the Republican-controlled House pressed for a spending bill that would have delayed the implementation of parts of the ACA, while the Democratic-majority Senate refused to pass a bill with those provisions. The New York Times reported that the "the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups" including Heritage Action for America.
On October 11, the Wall Street Journal credited Heritage Action's Michael Needham with playing a major role in the shutdown, stating that "Though Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the public face of the high-risk strategy to "defund" ObamaCare [the ACA], the masterminds behind it are a new generation of young conservatives, chief among them Mr. Needham." The Journal added that Needham believed the House GOP strategy had not gone badly:
- "If conservative groups like Heritage Action hadn't raised the stakes on ObamaCare," he says, "we'd be debating on their side of the football field talking about tax increases, gun control, more spending and amnesty for illegal immigrants."
The political strategy included pressuring Republicans in Congress to support the defunding push through attack ads, on which Heritage Action spent half a million dollars. According to the New York Times, "Heritage Action ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who had failed to sign a letter by a North Carolina freshman, Representative Mark Meadows, urging Mr. Boehner to take up the defunding cause."
The shutdown ended early in the morning on October 16, 2013 when a temporary budget resolution passed both houses of Congress, with a majority of House Republicans voting against it. No significant concessions were made to those demanding changes to the ACA. According to CNN, "Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire called the House GOP tactic of tying Obamacare to the shutdown legislation "an ill-conceived strategy from the beginning, not a winning strategy."" But in a discussion on Fox News on October 16, Needham seemed to hold to his commitment to repeal the ACA, saying
- "The reason the government is shut down is Obamacare is unfair, it's unaffordable, it's unworkable, every single day there's more evidence of that coming out. House Republicans have remained strong in saying we are not going to let this bill go forward."
However, he also conceded that repeal would not be politically possible for years:
- "Well, everybody understands that we're not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017. And that we have to win the Senate and win the White House."
Many of those involved in the push to use a government shutdown to defund the ACA had ties to the Koch brothers, including Tea Party Patriots, Freedomworks and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who also sits on the board of the Koch-funded Mercatus Center and was formerly on the board of the Heritage Foundation. After Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed on October 8 that the Kochs were behind the shutdown, [Koch Industries]] sent a letter to Capitol Hill. The letter is focused on the corporation, stating that "Koch has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution [for temporary government funding] to defunding Obamacare nor have we lobbied on legislation provisions defunding Obamacare."
Heritage Action for America's website displays a "Scorecard" to "measure[e] votes, co-sponsorships, and other legislative activity to show how conservative Members of Congress are." The "scorecard" is updated "weekly while Congress is in session.".
Heritage Action runs the "Sentinel Program," which its website states "is designed to be a movement of conservatives holding Congress accountable 24/7" by "leading their circles of influence and communicating with elected officials." It encourages program participants to attend town hall meetings, write to their Congressional representatives, and advocate online for conservative causes. As reported by Rolling Stone, the Sentinels are part of
- "a sophisticated strategy – modeled, surprisingly, after the Obama campaigns – to turn up the heat on Washington lawmakers. The big idea, says Mike Needham, Heritage Action's 31-year-old CEO, is to keep members of Congress "enveloped in our message" – both on the Hill, "where he's hearing it from our six lobbyists," and at home, "where he's hearing it from a well-informed Sentinel who is a Tea Party leader."
As a 501(c)(4), Heritage Action is not required to disclose its donors. However, records provided by donor organizations reveal some of the sources of Heritage Action's budget. In October 2013, CEO Michael Needham confirmed that the Koch brothers had given a $500,000 donation to Heritage Action. While he did not reveal any other donors, he also "confirmed that Heritage Action does take corporate contributions but said that it made up less than 5 percent of its overall donors." Heritage Action also received a $270,000 donation in 2011 from a Koch-linked group, Free Enterprise America, which was headed by Koch network member Sean Noble.
Google reports having made a "substantial" contribution to Heritage Action, making it part of what the Center for Media and Democracy describes as "a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers" that are receiving funding from Google.
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that in 2012, about 44% of Heritage Action's budget came from small donations (under $5,000), and it received only 11 donations of $100,000 or more, suggesting that it may have "a large donor base compared to other notable nonprofits active in politics."
- Total Revenue: $5,930,423
- Total Expenses: $4,177,693
- Net Assets: $3,694,656
- Total Revenue: $4,600,406
- Total Expenses: $4,140,701
- Net Assets: $1,915,283
- Total Revenue: $3,159,377
- Total Expenses: $1,674,901
- Net Assets: $1,484,476
As of June 2014:
- Michael A. Needham - Chief Executive Officer
- Tim Chapman - Chief Operating Officer. Previously chief of staff to former Heritage Foundation president Edwin J. Feulner.
- Jessica Anderson - Grassroots Director
- Hugh Fike - Sentinel Coordinator. Previously NRA field representative in Wisconsin, worked on campaign of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
- Kathryn Gunter - Development Associate. Previously finance director for Washington State Republican Party.
- Dan Holler - Communications Director. Previously deputy director of senate relations for Heritage Foundation.
- Cari Kelly - Legislative Strategist. Prevoiusly oversight counsel for Senate Budget Committee under Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
- Andrew McIndoe - Development Director. Previously director of development at Bill of Rights Institute and development associate at The FUnd for American Studies.
- Jack Minor - Digital Associate
- Katherine Rosario - Communications Deputy. Previously an intern with Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL).
- Erin Kanoy Siefring - Director of House Relations. Previously director of house relations at the Heritage Foundation.
- Zack Slingsby - Educational Coordinator.
- Russ Vought - Vice President of Grassroots Outreach. Previously policy director for Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).
- Drew White - Legislative Strategist. Previously worked in development at the Koch Associate Program.
- Jason Yaworske - Legislative Strategist. Previously a legislative director in the House of Representatives.
- Nathanael Yellis - Digital Director. Previously with Yellis & Foley CPAs.
- Rebekah Brown - Western Regional Coordinator
- Ben Evans - Central Regional Coordinator.
- Dave Haas - Northeast Regional Coordinator. Previously Pennsylvania State chairman of Young Americans for Liberty.
- Mike Henry - Upper Northeast Regional Coordinator. Previously an intern with American Majority Action.
- Karen Jaroch - Florida Regional Coordinator.
- Stephanie Kreuz - Midwest Regional Coordinator. Previously wrote for WatchdogWire (Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity) and interned for Mackinac Center for Public Policy
- Trevor Laky - Southwest Regional Coordinator. Previously interned for Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and worked for gubernatorial campaign for Ken Cuccinelli.
- Wade Miller - South Central Regional Coordinator. Previously interned for Edwin J. Feulner; member of US Marine Corps.
- Nate Nelson - Upper Midwest Regional Coordinator. Previously NRA campaign field representative in Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity field coordinator.
- Stephen Siao - Southern Regional Coordinator
- Melody Himel Scalley - Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator
- Katie Spee - Southeastern Regional Coordinator
Articles and Resources
- Heritage Action for America, About, organizational website, accessed June 17, 2014.
- Matea Gold and Lori Montgomery, "With new grass-roots muscle, Heritage Foundation stirs the base and alienates allies," The Washington Post, September 4, 2013. Accessed June 10, 2014.
- Anna Palmer, "Koch Bros. gave $500k to Heritage Action," Politico, October 9, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Edwin J. Feulner and Michael A. Needham, "New Fangs for the Conservative 'Beast'," Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2010. Accessed June 10, 2014.
- Molly Ball, "The Fall of the Heritage Foundation and the Death of Republican Ideas," The Atlantic, September 25, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Julia Ioffe, "A 31-Year-Old Is Tearing Apart the Heritage Foundation," The New Republic, November 24, 2013. Accessed June 10, 2014.
- David Welna, "Outside The Senate, DeMint Appears More Powerful Than Ever," NPR, September 26, 2013. Accessed June 10, 2014.
- Anna Palmer and Manu Raju, "Jim DeMint back at war with Republicans," Politico, June 18, 2013. Accessed June 10, 2014.
- Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane, "Senate rejects House amendments to spending bill as shutdown looms," Washington Post, October 1, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mike McIntire, "A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning," New York Times, October 5, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Stephen Moore, "Michael Needham: The Strategist Behind the Shutdown," Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Tom Cohen, Greg Botelho and Holly Yan, "Obama signs bill to end partial shutdown, stave off debt ceiling crisis," CNN, October 17, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Jed Lewison, "," Daily Kos, October 16, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Andy Kroll, "Heritage Action CEO: "Everybody Understands" We Can't Repeal Obamacare Until 2017," Mother Jones, October 16, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Mary Bottari, "A Field Guide to the Koch O’ Nuts Behind the Near Government Default," Center for Media and Democracy, October 17, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Jacob Fischler, "Koch Company Denies Responsibility For Shutdown," Buzzfeed, October 9, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Heritage Action for America, Heritage Action Scorecard, Heritage Action Official Website, accessed October 18, 2013.
- Heritage Action for America, Sentinel, organizational website, accessed June 17, 2014.
- Tim Dickinson, "Inside the Republican Suicide Machine," Rolling Stone, October 9, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Robert Maguire, "More than Kochs, Small Donors Fueled Heritage Action in 2012," Center for Responsive Politics, October 24, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Nick Surgey, "The Googlization of the Far Right: Why is Google Funding Grover Norquist, Heritage Action and ALEC?," Center for Media and Democracy, November 27, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Heritage Action for America, 2012 Form 990, organizational IRS filing, August 12, 2013. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Heritage Action for America, 2011 Form 990, organizational IRS filing, July 3, 2012. Accessed June 17, 2014.
- Heritage Action for America, 2010 Form 990, organizational IRS filing, May 16, 2011. Accessed June 17, 2014.