By Justin Sink - 02/29/12 11:21 PM EST
The war of words between the Obama reelection campaign and billionaire conservative activists Charles and David Koch escalated Wednesday.
The president's campaign manager, Jim Messina, sent a letter to Philip Ellender, Koch’s president for government and public affairs, disputing Ellender's claim that an organization partially backed by the brothers represented the interests of thousands of grassroots donors.
"You argue that Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots organization of everyday citizens. But its emphasis on rolling back environmental protections and blocking a clean energy economy appears to be nothing more than an effort to promote the corporate interests of your employers and others who lavishly, and secretly, fund its operations," Messina wrote.
The letter is the latest in an escalating string of jabs between the president's team and Americans for Prosperity. Late last week, Ellender wrote Messina objecting to an Obama campaign email to supporters that insinuated that the Koch brothers — who made part of their fortune from the oil industry — had driven up gas prices to hurt the president politically.
"It is an abuse of the president’s position and does a disservice to our nation for the president and his campaign to criticize private citizens simply for the act of engaging in their constitutional right of free speech about important matters of public policy,” Ellender wrote.
Messina fired back, daring the group to reveal its donor list.
"You note in your letter that Americans for Prosperity has tens of thousands of members and contributors from all walks of life across the country, suggesting that this is the source of AFP’s funding. There is one way to verify your point: disclose those donors for the public to make that judgment," Messina writes.
The president's campaign manager went on to call Ellender's characterization "cynical" in light of the group's refusal to disclose donors.
"It is a cynical stretch to describe the political activities of your employers as furthering democracy when they are courting huge checks from special interest donors to pay for negative ads, with no public disclosure of the identity of those donors," wrote Messina.
Americans for Prosperity has already spent millions on commercials in key swing states challenging the administration's support for failed green energy firm Solyndra. The group spent $6 million in battleground states in January, on top of an additional $2.4 million campaign last November.