Describing itself as an “umbrella group” that serves as “a strong voice for middle-class and working-class families,” American Family Voices (AFV) was established in 2000 to provide funding and infrastructure-building assistance for a broad network of civil-rights, environmental, women’s-rights, consumer-advocacy, and healthcare organizations, as well as multi-issue think tanks. AFV does not, however, reveal the names of the groups it counts as partners in its coalition—a fact that once prompted The New York Times to characterize AFV as “secretive.”
The AFSCME labor union financed AFV’s founding in 2000 with a seed-money donation of somewhere between $800,000 and $1.5 million. AFV also received early financial support from the International Association of Machinists, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America). Unwilling to identify other contributors by name, AFV founder and president Mike Lux in 2002 simply said that additional funding for the organization derived from “your classic progressive donors.” The website of Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colorado, 2003-09) subsequently indicated that AFV had also received money from George Soros, and CampaignMoney.com reports that in October 2007 Stephen Bing donated $600,000 to AFV.
In its first months as an active organization, AFV helped fund an aggressive campaign aimed at defeating Republican George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, AFV spent $640,000 on ads for Democrat candidate Al Gore between June and September of that year. Only the AFL-CIO ($1.1 million) and Gore: Handgun Control ($1.3 million) donated more money to the Gore campaign.
After the energy company Enron filed for bankruptcy in December 2001 amidst revelations of massive accounting fraud, Mike Lux portrayed the scandal as “an absolutely classic example of corporate America run amok in a deregulatory environment.” Emphasizing the fact that Enron had been a leading donor to President Bush’s past gubernatorial campaigns, Lux and AFV spent much of 2002 doing everything in their power to ensure “that [the] scandal would end up dominating the news for the rest of the year.”
Also in 2002, AFV, accusing Bush of insider trading, produced a commercial noting that in the 1980s Bush had sold his shares of Harken Energy stock just two months before that company reported unexpectedly large financial losses. A subsequent investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission found AFV’s allegation to be without merit.
AFV’s attacks on Bush and the Republicans continued relentlessly throughout the Bush presidency. In 2003, for instance, the organization alleged that the Bush administration and its friends were profiting financially from the Iraq War. “Tax dollars [are] being misspent on unsupervised, sweetheart deals for the administration’s cronies,” said AFV.
That same year, AFV ran a series of television ads accusing the Bush administration of having granted no-bid contracts to the Halliburton energy and construction company for post-war reconstruction projects in Iraq. In response, Halliburton (which had worked for the military for more than 60 years, regardless of which political party controlled the White House) issued a press release calling the ads “deceptive and apparently … designed to further a political agenda.”
In 2006 AFV opposed President Bush’s appointment of Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, citing the nominee’s “abysmal record on civil rights and racial discrimination.” That same year, AFV produced a number of “Indicted” advertisements alleging all manner of Republican malfeasance. In particular, the ads targeted voters in congressional districts “represented by close allies of indicted, disgraced former Majority Leader Tom DeLay”—in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.
While AFV routinely excoriated Republicans and conservatives, it supported and collaborated with a number of leftwing, pro-Democrat organizations. For example, in 2007-08 AFV gave $75,000 to Americans United, $300,000 to the Campaign to Defend America, and $60,000 to USAction. It also paid $27,000 to Fenton Communications in exchange for “media consulting fees and projects.”
Today AFV’s mission is to “make American families more secure” by “educat[ing] the public” and advocating for legislation on a number of vital issues. Its chief concerns include:
With regard to each of the domestic issues enumerated above, AFV advocates increased government control and intervention. To advance its agendas, the organization invests in research and “strategic messaging” (advertisements, videos, and public-relations campaigns) designed to help “build a communications echo chamber for our [progressive] side.” Toward that end, AFV regularly funnels its research and talking-points to leftwing reporters, bloggers, and activists. The group has also developed a sophisticated robo-calling program designed to “educate voters on important issues” and “help fuel grassroots organizing and lobbying at all levels of government.”
Modeling its efforts on those of Moveon.org, AFV strives to “buil[d] the capacity” of the “Netroots” by using new media to “exponentially expand the ability of the progressive community to raise money, recruit volunteers, and shape the political debate in this country.” In pursuit of these ends, AFV has partnered with ActBlue. It also developed an affiliation with the now-defunct BlogPAC, which provided financial backing for online activists and leftwing bloggers.
Major projects in which AFV has participated in recent years include:
For additional information on AFV, click here.