Update, Feb. 9, 2016, 2:20 p.m.: This article has been updated to note that Republican presidential candidate John Kasich has also been targeted by negative mailers from America Needs Leadership.
Mailers sent to New Hampshire residents have criticized Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, for not being tough enough on illegal immigration and for utilizing a subsidy under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Christie, New Jersey’s governor, desperately needs to beat Rubio in New Hampshire to energize his sputtering campaign. Rubio has enjoyed rising poll numbers after his strong third-place finish last week in Iowa, where Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump narrowly edged him out.
The ad’s sponsor
America Needs Leadership is not organized as a super PAC that must disclosure its donors. Rather, it’s a nonprofit group under sec. 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code, which means the group is generally allowed to keep the names of its donors secret.
That designation also means that, by law, the group’s primary purpose must be “to promote social welfare,” not to engage in electoral politics — although it may advocate for or against candidates to a limited degree.
What exactly is the group’s mission? According to its all-but-empty Facebook page, America Needs Leadership wants “a new generation of leaders to step up to move our country forward with strength and resolve.”
Records with the Internal Revenue Service show that America Needs Leadership was awarded tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” nonprofit in December 2015.
Who’s behind it?
America Needs Leadership’s bare-bones website was registered in October 2015 by Kurt Luidhardt, an Indiana-based political consultant at The Prosper Group, a digital agency he co-founded in 2006. Campaigns & Elections magazine has described Luidhardt as “one of the GOP’s top thinkers in online campaigning.”
According to his official biography, Luidhardt has worked with Republican politicians including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts — and Christie.
Campaign finance filings show two groups connected to Christie paid Luidhardt’s The Prosper Group nearly $300,000 last year.
One is America Leads, a super PAC backing Christie’s presidential bid, which paid The Prosper Group about $255,000 last year. Press reports describe Luidhardt as leading the super PAC’s digital efforts.
The other is Leadership Matters for America, a federal political action committee Christie launched last year ahead of his official presidential campaign, paid the firm about $41,000 in 2015.
Meanwhile, IRS records list Virginia-based political consultant Timothy Koch of the firm Koch & Hoos as a contact for America Needs Leadership, the sponsor of the anti-Rubio mailers. According to The Resurgent, the address of Koch’s firm was listed as the return address on the recent mailings to New Hampshire voters.
Koch also serves as the treasurer of the pro-Christie super PAC America Leads, which paid Koch & Hoos about $32,000 last year for accounting and compliance services. The now-defunct presidential campaign of Republican Rick Santorum was also among Koch & Hoos’ clients, according to federal campaign finance records.
Neither Luidhardt nor Koch responded to requests for comment from the Center for Public Integrity.