On Tuesday, the people of the Des Moines, Iowa metro area are headed to the polls to vote on whether to raise the sales tax in their neighborhoods by a penny. The vote, if approved in the six individual neighborhoods voting, would help offset property taxes and fund various quality-of-life initiatives. Supporters of the tax say their city councils need more money, and that property taxes are too high; others worry the tax will disproportionately target renters and lower-income residents.
The Iowa chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a political group founded by the Koch Brothers, wants Iowa’s residents to vote against the penny, a position typical of an organization primarily interested in shrinking government nationally.
It also, as evidenced by a series of mailers, hopes voters pair an affection for anti-tax conservatism with a delicious single-pan pork chop roast.
Lauren Campbell, a photographer in the small Iowa suburb of Windsor Heights, tells Jezebel she and her husband often receive different political mailers, as they don’t share a last name. On Monday, her household received two sets of fliers from Americans for Prosperity, both featuring photographs of a lovely family sitting down for what one could assume is a meal purchased without that extra . $0.01 tax. “The city council wants to raise our taxes to pay for a wish list of new projects,” both fliers warn.
But on Lauren Campbell’s flier, unlike the one addressed to “The Thompson Household,” there’s a very special offer overlaid on the photograph of the smiling family: “Feel free to take our pork chop recipe!” The recipe, which calls for baking pork chops with broccoli or beans, potatoes, Worcester sauce, ranch dressing mix, and honey, appears to be a light riff on this recipe from Ree Drummond, the host of The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network.
Campbell and her husband got the mailers yesterday, ahead of today’s vote, and she says she was baffled that such a nationally well-known group would be targeting her area so heavily, for a vote funding “really crazy things, like a new fire truck.”
Campbell is surprised the group is “putting any energy into our little suburb,”she says, noting it has a little over 5,000 residents. But Americans for Prosperity has multiplied its state lobbying efforts over the last few years, particularly in Iowa, given the state’s importance in the early stages of presidential campaigns. Since 2012, the organization has grown its Iowa chapter from a single employee to a number of field offices and mounted similar expansions in a number of other states. According to the group’s Facebook page, it’s been hosting volunteer phone banking events to oppose the six-town option tax.
Campbell believes the mailers with the pork chop recipe are targeting her because she’s a woman, a claim Drew Klein, the head of the organization’s Iowa office disputes. The recipe wasn’t sent to a particular demographic, he says: “It was just one of our many A/B tests,” calling Campbell’s experience “completely unintentional.”
Asked what a pork chop recipe has to do with today’s vote, Klein says campaigns are constantly trying to figure out what will inspire a person to take a piece of mail inside. “It stems from the way my wife and I do things at home,” he says. You stick an Americans for Prosperity pork chop ranch dressing mix recipe on your fridge, “and it reminds you to go out and vote on the local option sales tax.”
Asked if she would consider making the Koch brothers’ pork chop recipe, Campbell said: “I hadn’t even really looked at it—my husband does 85% of the cooking, so maybe a better question for him!”
“Maybe,” she added, “they think all Iowans like ranch?”
A previous version of this story referred to Americans for Prosperity–Iowa as a political action committee; the chapter in question is actually affiliated with the network’s nonprofit foundation. Additionally, a spokesperson points out David Koch stepped down from the organization last year, leaving a singular Koch brother backing this pork chop recipe. Jezebel regrets the error.