COLUMBUS, Ohio – Americans for Prosperity (AFP), one of the nation’s largest conservative activist groups, is holding its annual convention in a key swing state. But immigration is missing from the agenda.
Even though immigration has certainly been one of the dominant topics of the 2016 campaign so far, it is not the topic of any of the two days’ worth of panels at AFP’s Defending the American Dream Summit, and has been mentioned only in passing from the main stage speakers, which include several presidential candidates.
Breitbart News spoke to several AFP leaders who acknowledged that immigration was an important issue to many conservative voters, but said their organization would be staying focused on other fiscal and economic issues where they had plans for continuing to move the conversation forward during this election.
Levi Russell, AFP’s Director of Public Affairs, told Breitbart News that when AFP formed a little more than a decade ago, “our board made the decision at the time that an organization that tries to do it all, that tries to take on every issue, is not going to be successful in any of them.”
“It’s been more than a decade now, that we made that decision that we would focus on purely economic issues, such as taxes, government spending…we include regulation, especially energy, and health care, because that is such a large part of people’s budget. So that did not include issues like Second Amendment gun rights, even though a lot of our activists feel really passionately [on that topic]. It does not include marriage or equality laws [or abortion].”
Specifically regarding immigration, Russell said, “you could absolutely make an argument that immigration is a fiscal issue,” but characterized a large part of the debate as “more cultural and more social than purely economic.”
“We made that decision early on, and we’ve stuck to it and maintained it,” Russell reiterated. “Our board determined that we would have a very specific basket of issues that we would work on, and we weren’t going to deviate from that, and in that decade we never have.”
Texas State Director Jerome Greener concurred, telling Breitbart News that the state chapters focused their energy on specific fiscal conservative issues that were important in their respective states. “We at AFP-TX are well-equipped and prepared to empower Texans to turn their economic passion into action, and we believe that we have a great start with the 25 percent reduction of the franchise tax policy win from this past legislative session.”
The franchise tax is a business tax in Texas that critics say has a disproportionate effect on small businesses and stood out to them as an economic obstacle in a state that otherwise had rightfully earned a low-tax, low-regulation reputation.
Greener described his Texas group’s work on supporting franchise tax reforms, using a proprietary grassroots outreach program that AFP had developed, using iPads to provide phone numbers or neighborhood maps, and guide activists through the conversation when they are door-knocking or phone banking. Hundreds of volunteers organized by AFP Texas knocked on doors and made phone calls to key legislative districts during this year’s legislative session, helping to spread their message and also gather valuable data that will be helpful for future outreach efforts.
Other state AFP chapters also had recent issues they had targeted. South Carolina’s chapter stationed their activists at gas stations, paying the portion of the cost of the gas that was taxes. The goal was to illustrate how much of the price of a gallon of gas was actually taxes, and to help organize opposition to a gas tax hike that the South Carolina Legislature was considering. AFP-Florida was one of the most vocal opponents to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, fighting off both Democrats and Florida Senate Republicans who supported the idea.
Other groups that receive support from the various Koch-affiliated organizations do address the issue of immigration, most notably the LIBRE Initiative, which focuses on sharing the conservative message with Hispanic voters.
Approximately 3,600 activists are gathering Friday and Saturday at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Several 2016 Republican presidential candidates will address the conference, including former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) on Friday, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) on Saturday.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.