Koch Brothers Group Warns Columbus Zoo Not To Seek Tax Increase

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UPDATED: Saturday May 10, 2014 7:59 PM

A conservative anti-tax group funded by the Koch brothers is warning Columbus Zoo officials not to seek any tax increase in their next levy attempt or again face well financed opposition.

"We will oppose any tax increase of any kind," said Eli Miller, Ohio director of Americans For Prosperity.  "Don't ask for a tax increase at any level.  We are a community based organization here in Ohio and if you're going to raise taxes you're going to hear from us."

Miller, appearing on 10TVs Capitol Square, would not disclose how much AFP spent in its efforts to defeat the zoo levy.

He did acknowledge AFP utilized new tactics in an aggressive ground and data field operation, including a system that automatically updated information for volunteers who were canvassing Columbus neighborhoods in the weeks leading up to the election.

"Absolutely, it was initiated on the ground for our door to door effort where we hit thousands of doors," said Miller.  "It was then initiated in our offices where we did phone calls and made thousands of phone calls for this.  For both our ground game and on our door efforts we used this system and it's working."

Miller would not specify why the Columbus Zoo levy had become a target of the group.

"The zoo is great for Columbus, it's great for families, it's great for all but what's not great is a tax levy on Franklin County residents," said Miller.  "AFP Ohio has 95,000 residents throughout the state, 12,000 who live in Franklin County and those residents, and those activists, called us and asked for a microphone."

Senator Sherrod Brown, a critic of the Koch Brothers, said he believes the zoo levy failed due to the influence of AFP.

"What's most disturbing to me with that zoo levy," said Brown, "is the fact outside oil interests, really only one family, spent the kind of dollars they did coming into Columbus and telling people how to vote."

Politico revealed Friday a memo that AFP had sent to major donors this week announcing plans to spend more than $125 million this year to help conservative candidates and issues and beef up its field operation in key counties.

Miller says the millions of dollars are being spent nationwide to inform voters on the issues.

"We want to have educated debates and we want to educate the citizens here in Ohio and coast to coast," said Miller.  "Our message is keeping taxes low and keeping America a free market economy.  If you don't want to hear from Americans for Prosperity Ohio don't raise taxes."

While Miller said his group would oppose candidates who support tax increases, he refused to say whether that would include Republican governor John Kasich who has been fighting for a severance tax increase on Big Oil, along with an increase in the state sales tax.

"I've got to take a better look at that I don't know," said Miller.  "I have to understand what those issues are."

The zoo levy was defeated by an overwhelming 70 percent of the vote.  Both Brown and Columbus mayor Michael Coleman were quick to fix blame on the Washington based group.

"I mean they come into political campaigns on behalf of tea party candidates and now it's into local issues," Brown told 10TV.  "There's something a bit untoward about that."

Miller quickly dismissed the criticism.

"Mayor Michael Coleman claiming we're an outside group is simply false," said Miller.  "Our headquarters is here in Columbus and we have other offices throughout the state."

Ohio is considered one of the top swing states in the nation and the central part of the state is considered key to winning it.

You can watch the entire interview on Capitol Square.  It airs Sunday at 11:30 am only on 10TV.