A seniors group that received almost $16 million from the conservative Koch brothers started running ads this week that the billionaire siblings did not support.
The Koch-led Freedom Partners routinely spends millions to help conservative allies, but the umbrella organization does not have a day-to-day say in those groups' tactics. That sometimes leads to conflicting or contradictory messages coming out of the brothers' vast network of advocacy organizations.
Take, for instance, the 60 Plus Association's latest ads against seven members of the Senate Banking Committee. The $1.5 million in ads aims to derail a proposal to effectively scrap mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
In the ads, the seniors group urges committee members — three Democrats and four Republicans — "don't bring Obamacare to the mortgage industry."
It was not a message that is shared among the Kochs' political advisers, who were frustrated by the ad, according to an official inside Freedom Partners, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss private conversations inside the Koch network.
A spokesman at 60 Plus Association said the group does not consult any of its donors, including Freedom Partners, about its ads.
"No one is putting words in our mouths," spokesman Gerry Scimeca said Thursday. "This is an ad that comes from us."
The occasional split between advocacy groups and their patrons are a risk the Kochs run as their network continues to grow in scale and importance.
Long active in conservative politics, the 78-year-old Charles Koch and the 73-year-old David Koch seized on the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case allowing virtually unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, often without disclosing donors.
Adding to the brothers' political clout: Wednesday's Supreme Court decision voided the overall federal limit on individuals' contributions — $123,200 in 2013 and 2014, broken down as $48,600 to all candidates combined and $74,600 to all party committees and political action committees in total. Donors like the Koch brothers can now donate the maximum to as many candidates and committees as they like.
The Koch brothers inherited a small Wichita, Kan.-based oil company from their father. They expanded worldwide into chemicals, textiles, paper and other products, building a hugely profitable and privately held conglomerate.
Forbes magazine ranks the brothers as tied for sixth among the world's richest people, worth $40 billion each.
The brothers spent $250 million to influence 2012's elections, including almost $16 million to the 60 Plus Association. The group sent $32 million to Americans for Prosperity, which would go on to spend $122 million on elections in 2012.
Other conservative groups inside the Koch fold include the Center to Protect Patient Rights, the American Future Fund, the National Rifle Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Heritage Action for America.
That hardly means the Kochs control those groups. Instead, these groups sometimes take actions that run counter to the Kochs' preferred strategy and occasionally create headaches for their umbrella organization.
For instance, Heritage Action for America agitated for last year's partial government shutdown. The Kochs' political network did not.
Democrats have made criticism to the Koch brothers a central piece of their electoral strategy heading toward November's elections, linking GOP policy proposals with the industrialists even when evidence is dubious.
And this week's ads address mortgage legislation that is not a priority for Freedom Partners.
"We sometimes get involved in arcane issues," Scimeca said.
The seniors group said it worries that changes to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could hurt retirees, whose investments sometimes include bonds sold through the mortgage giants.
The ads are running against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who is being hammered on television in ads from Americans for Prosperity, another Koch-backed group. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia are also facing the 60 Plus Association ads.
The ads are also running against Republicans, including Sen. Mike Crapo, the Idaho senator who is the senior Republican on the banking panel, as well as Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Jerry Moran of Kansas.