Human Rights

Koch Network Vows To Spend Nearly $900 Million To Buy Presidency And Congress

America's weak democracy is being killed before our eyes.

Photo Credit: Center for Media and Democracy

The robber barons are back and are buying American politicians at the highest level in more than a century, as several hundred of the wealthiest Americans led by the Koch brothers say they will spend $900 million in 2016’s presidential and national elections.

“For that kind of money, you could buy yourself a president—oh right, that’s the idea,” Mark McKinnon, a longtime Republican political consultant told Politico.com, when asked to comment on the 2016 agenda presented at the Koch’s donor retreat this past weekend near Palm Springs, CA.

While the sums being committed to the 2016 campaign cycle are stunning—more than double what the Koch network spent in 2014 to help the GOP take control of the House and Senate in Washington, as well as re-elect right-wing governors such as Wisconson’s Scott Walker—what is really happening is Americans are watching their country’s constitutional republic disintegrate before their eyes.

The Kochs have created a private national political party, which overlaps with the GOP at times and other times takes positions far to the right that are deeply libertarian: they want nothing from government that interferes with the unfettered right to profit, no matter the consequences: from exacerbating climate change to more economic inequality.

The mainstream media is not clearly conveying how the Koch network is privatizing and destroying what remains of American democracy. The fundamental notion that all people are equal in the voting booth is vanishing, because when this much private money is thrown around it affects who is nominated, clearly telegraphs what is expected by the candidates should they win, and drives the governing aganda—all of which happens with little regard for wider public opinion.     

Larry Lessig, the Harvard professor who created a super PAC in 2014 to promote House candidates that embraced real campaign finance reform—and saw most of his candidates lose—is now comparing the current American system to what exists in Hong Kong, where the Chinese government allows the business elite of perhaps 1,000 individuals to pick the candidates that subsequently appear on the nation’s ballots.

It’s was no concidence that a half-dozen of the most right-wing new U.S. senators came to the Koch summit to express their loyalty and thanks. Those included, according to the Washington Post: Sens. Steve Daines, R-MT, Joni Ernst, R-IA, Tom Cotton, R-AR, Thom Tillis, R-NC, David Perdue, R-GA, and Cory Gardner, R-CO.

And they weren’t alone. This past weekend, one of the most right-wing House members, Steve King from western Iowa, held a forum where a dozen potential 2016 presidential candidates appeared and competed to be the most extreme and purist. The Kochs were co-sponsors, needless to say, but more importantly, presidential wannabes like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, quickly left that forum (attended by 1,200 Iowa Tea Party activists, mostly all white and middle-aged or older) to attend the Koch donor confab. Exhibit A was Walker, who has long been supported by the Koch network and is hailed as a hero because he broke the state’s public employee union, adopted voter suppression laws policing the polls and rejected Obamacare funds to expand Medicaid to help his state’s low-income people access health insurance.

Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio, another GOP presidential contender, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, another contender and well-know libertarian, also attended the Koch donor retreat—obviously the more important of the two simultaneous events—participating in a panel on the economy and foreign policy moderated by ABC-TV’s Jonathan Karl—and mingling with donors.

The two leading and supposedly more moderate GOP presidential propects—Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush—didn’t attend the Iowa event or Koch retreat presumably because they knew they wouldn’t be entirely welcomed in more extreme right-wing gatherings. In past presidential campaigns, the most agressive factions of any party eventually fizzle out and lose public support because most voters have more common sense and want less ideological office holders.

But the Koch network is upending that precedent. In the short term, they are elevating a bevy of far-right candidates and officials. The nearly $900 million that they seek to raise and spend for the 2016 elections is going to perpetuate that pattern, advancing candidates who are beholden to the agenda of the wealthiest Americans while they spew platitudes about helping struggling working people. 

It is hard to grasp what injecting nearly a billion dollars in elections will mean. In 2000, the entire presidential election was said to cost $3 billion. The $889 million target, which will likely be exceeded come November 2016, dwarfs what was spent in the 2014 election by the Republican National Committee ($404 million) and Democratic National Committee spent ($319 million).

The Koch network is comprised of many non-profits that target constituency groups and perform traditional political party tasks like creating detailed voter files. As non-profits, they are not required to disclose their donor's identity. Heading into last fall’s election, the network viciously attacked all things Obama-related in 2014 in massive TV ad campaigns early in the summer and then backed specific candidates after Labor Day.

A handful of reporters who were given access to the Koch donor summit said that it is still undecided how deeply the network will get involved in 2016’s GOP presidential nominating contests, primarily because they do not want to get blamed for backing anyone who ultimately would lose badly in the November election.

On the other hand, you can be sure that some of the most right-wing candidates who are deeply out-of-synch with mainstream America—which values the government’s role in many areas, from social safety nets to public education to infrastructure—are going to be paraded on the airwaves in early presidential primary states and then battleground states after that.

But apart from having to endure the likes of Walker, Cruz, Rubio, Paul—and other Koch cronies in Congress—the big picture here is that massive private wealth, from many of the country’s richest industrialists, is colonizing the political process on a scale not seen since the late 1800s, when railroad and oil barons dominated national and state politics.

It wasn’t until Theodore Roosevelt muscled through laws banning corporate campaign contributions and other trust-busting reforms that capitalist-fed corruption was slightly reeled in. Today, with a radical right-wing U.S. Supreme Court majority siding with the kind of political operation embraced by the Kochs, and no clear majority in Congress willing to tackle this legal corruption, we are witnessing the destruction of American democracy.

When the political process is dominated by a wealthy few, who can nominate and end up electing representatives, and call on Conress and the White House to do its bidding, the notion of one-person, one-vote loses its meaning. That is why a new era of robber barons, political corruption and the death of America's constitutional democracy is unfolding before our eyes.

 

 

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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