A new political ad released today puts Pope Francis up against the conservative billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.
"[The Koch brothers] have bought the Republican Party and now they are trying to intimidate the Pope," says a Spanish-speaking voiceover actress in the ad released by Bridge Project, the policy arm of the liberal American Bridge super PAC.
Bridge Project says the ad is part of an online campaign to familiarize Hispanic voters on “how the Kochs are trying to manipulate Latinos while opposing major immigration programs,” like the Deferred Actions for Parents executive action that would temporarily protect parents of U.S. citizen children from deportation.
This ad is less directly about immigration, and more about Latinos’ emotional and religious ties to Pope Francis. According to a Pew survey, he has a 67% favorability rating among U.S. Hispanics.
It shows critics of the Pope's recent calls to protect the environment speaking behind a Heartland Institute podium, a right-leaning think tank that has received money in the past from the Koch brothers.
A spokesman for the Koch Companies Public Sector said no Koch entity has given money to the Heartland Institute since 2011 and that it would not be “fair or accurate to give readers the impression that we have recently funded an organization to criticize the Pope or that we are in any way looking to undermine his credibility."
The political opinion research group Latino Decisions has been surveying Latinos on environmental issues for years, and has consistently found they are among their top priorities. The group has found climate change is also a foreign-policy issue for many Latinos.
The ad is being released alongside a 48-page report from Bridge Project on the Koch-funded LIBRE Initiative, a group working to bring Latinos closer to Republican ideals by offering free services like tax preparation help, health checkups, and driving school. It also helps immigrants obtain driver’s licenses, even if they’re not authorized to be in the U.S.
The South Texas-based LIBRE Initiative describes itself as non-partisan, but the group tends to promote ideals that skew towards the conservative right. LIBRE is transparent about supporting the “benefits of a constitutionally limited government, property rights, rule of law, sound money supply and free trade.”
LIBRE offers its programs across the country in states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia. According to its website it will expand into more states in the coming months.
Democrats are worried LIBRE is wooing Latinos on one hand while the Koch brothers fund a number of initiatives that would negatively impact Latinos and tear families apart on the other. They point out, for example, that the Koch brothers and LIBRE have lobbied their constituents to denounce the Affordable Care Act, even though 1 in 4 Hispanics lacks health insurance, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group, according to a 2014 Pew analysis of the population surveys.
The Koch brothers and LIBRE also oppose local and federal measures to increase the minimum wage. The largest Latino civil-rights group, The National Council of La Raza, points out minimum wage hikes would be "powerful" for Latinos, since 43 percent of Latino workers earn poverty-level wages.
A LIBRE spokesperson did not respond to Fusion’s request for comment.
This story has been updated to reflect that while the Koch brothers have given money to Heartland over the years, Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC spokesman Kenneth Spain disputes the notion that they have been key funders.
He said they last provided money to the Heartland Institute in 2011, when the Charles Koch Institute gave $40,000 for a healthcare related project. He also said his organization was in no way looking to undermine the credibility of the pope.