Politics & Government

This conservative group is running ads against a Kentucky GOP congressman. Here's why.

This Jan. 14, 2013 file photo shows U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington.
This Jan. 14, 2013 file photo shows U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

In something of a clash of titans, a group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers plans to target 19-term U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers over what the group calls wasteful government spending.

Americans for Prosperity said it will run advertisements taking Rogers to task for his vote for a $1.3 trillion budget bill Congress approved in March.

“Congress did the right thing when it passed historic tax reform, but failing to control spending will undermine the benefits Kentuckians are reaping under the new law,” Andrew V. McNeill, director of AFP’s Kentucky office, said in a news release. “Hal Rogers knows this and yet he still voted for a bloated $1.3 trillion spending bill.”

Brothers David and Charles Koch are among the biggest funders of libertarian-leaning political activism in the country, while Rogers, a Republican first elected in 1980, is regarded as politically bulletproof in his Eastern Kentucky district after nearly 40 years in Congress.

He won the Republican nomination for a 20th term on Tuesday with more than 84 percent of the vote against a political newcomer, and faces a Democrat in the fall that he thumped in 2014 and 2012.

Americans for Prosperity plans to run print, digital and radio ads highlighting a vote for the budget bill by more than 15 Republican and Democrat House members, according to The Hill, which covers politics.

The ads, as well as direct-mail pieces, are to appear in the representatives’ districts as they arrive home for the Memorial Day weekend.

Rogers is the only House member from Kentucky targeted in the ads.

“Washington does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. Unfortunately, Hal Rogers has been part of that problem,” said McNeill, a top advisor to Gov. Matt Bevin before taking the job with AFP earlier this year.

Rogers pushed back strongly.

“These attacks on Congressman Rogers’ conservative credentials are absurd,” spokeswoman Danielle Smoot said

Smoot said Rogers chaired the House Appropriations Committee for six years during the “free-spending” Obama Administration, yet oversaw significant reductions in spending.

“Under his leadership, the federal government realized $2 trillion in discretionary outlay savings to set our nation on a more sustainable path,” Smoot said. “In the meantime, he preserved funding for vital programs that hard-working Americans and those most in need rely on.”

Rogers has had considerable success getting funding for projects in his district — most recently a federal prison in Letcher County that will cost about $500 million and employ an estimated 300 people.

Some have criticized Rogers over what they see as pork-belly spending, but he has never apologized for helping get funding for projects and programs in Eastern and Southern Kentucky.

His district includes some of the poorest counties in the nation, and a steep slide in coal jobs has sapped the economy in the Eastern Kentucky coalfield.

Rogers said he voted for the $1.3 trillion spending bill because there was a lot of good in it, including money to modernize the military and give pay raises to service members; improve border security and national defense; boost school safety; fight the nation’s epidemic of opioid abuse; and fund economic development and infrastructure projects.

There is no perfect spending bill, but voting against the $1.3 trillion measure “would have left countless programs unfunded, failing our families, our children, our military and our veterans.,” Smoot said.

“That is something he refuses to do,” she said.

Americans For Prosperity said the goal of the its ads is to encourage Rogers and others to stop overspending when they vote for the next federal budget later this year.

The ads include the phone number for Rogers’ office and urge constituents to call him.

The budget bill pushed total federal spending above $4 trillion for the first time and failed to make any reforms to entitlement programs that are the biggest drivers of the national debt, according to Americans for Prosperity.

President Donald Trump signed the bill but said he wouldn't sign another like it.

The Hill said that while the Koch’s network generally supports Republicans, they have been disappointed by the Republican-controlled Congress this year, which approved the spending bill but has not moved on priorities such as immigration reform.