In this February 26, 2007 file photograph, Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, talks passionately about his new book on Market Based Management.
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By Philip Elliott
April 28, 2016

A veterans’ group with ties to the conservative Koch brothers is set to launch on Thursday a national anti-debt campaign, starting in four states with crucial Senate races this fall.

Concerned Veterans for America’s “Target the Debt” push aims to raise the public’s awareness of the country’s spending and its potential threat to the United States’ long-term national security. The group will highlight the $19 trillion in red ink the government is carrying, and urge Americans to reject policies that would grow it.

“Our debt is threatening the American economic engine, which has always been one of the sources of our military’s strength, by risking massive interest rate increases and shaking investor confidence in the United States’ economic stability,” the group says on a website set to go live later Thursday and previewed early to TIME. The group will echo those messages in digital and broadcast ads, set to come soon, that will encourage voters to tell their members of Congress to slow spending. Aides refused to discuss the total budget for this campaign.

“We and our families did not serve and sacrifice for this country only to see our national leadership, in both parties, recklessly increase federal spending and mortgage our future for short-sighted political gain,” said Dan Caldwell, the group’s legislative and political chief. “The math is simple: We cannot afford to keep piling up debt, and not expect to see our economic might dissipate and our national security imperiled.”

Concerned Veterans for America is part of the sweeping network backed by Charles and David Koch, the industrialist billionaires who are favorite targets for liberals. The veterans’ group is one lever in a machine that also includes the small-government Americans for Prosperity, the young-voters’ Generation Opportunity and its Hispanic-oriented Libre Initiative. The network plans a budget of almost $900 million on the 2016 campaigns, although not all of that will be on explicit political messages, and it’s entirely possible none of it ends up being spent on the White House contest.

Charles Koch told an interviewer recently that likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could be better than potential GOP nominee Donald Trump. A fight for Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate, however, could prove a smarter investment.

To get there, the Kochs wants to engage veterans. Its veterans’ arm hired the respected pollsters at the Tarrance Group last year to survey veterans. The results showed 78% of veterans said the national debt is a security threat, so it’s natural that Concerned Veterans for America would push that message heading into an election season.

The group is organized under the tax code’s non-profit rules, which means it can accept unlimited cash without having to disclose its donors. The rules, however, insist that electoral politics cannot be its major focus.

To help get around that, this campaign will not explicitly encourage viewers to cast ballots a certain way. But the messages will have a clear eye on the balance of power in the Senate. Just look at the states where the first push will take place: Ohio, where Republican Sen. Rob Portman faces a tough re-election; Pennsylvania, where Republican Sen. Pat Toomey also faces rough odds; Florida, where Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is not seeking a second term; and Nevada, where Democratic Leader Harry Reid is retiring.

“This is the issue of our time, and just as we once fought on the battlefield for the country we love, we will continue to fight for policies which preserve freedom and prosperity here at home,” Caldwell said.

America’s debt is consistently cited by military leaders, including former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen who called it “the most significant threat to our national security.”

Despite the worries, the nation’s deficit is still a relatively small portion of the total economy. The Congressional Budget Office projects the deficit remains at 2.8% of gross domestic product through 2018, yet climbs to 4.9% of GDP by 2026. Even so, the sheer size of that $19 trillion figure is enough to scare voters.

Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com.

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