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Don’t Koch Block the Debate

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With my new film Koch Brothers Exposed set for release, the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are doing everything they can do hide their behavior. First they got their lawyer to fire off a menacing letter that all but threatened news organizations that dare to cover the film's content. Now they're insisting -- get this -- that there's nothing to debate anyway.

That's right. In response to my offer to a debate or public discussion, the Koch brothers, hiding behind their attorney, wrote, "We are confused about what there is to debate."

Perhaps the Kochs have not seen what my team and journalists such as Lee Fang, Addie Stan, and Jane Mayer have uncovered. What we've found is that Charles and David Koch are using their vast fortune to buy the political and legal process. They are corrupting democracy in ways that are harming the 99% while serving their own economic interests.

One area of excessive influence is energy policy. The Kochs, who own Koch Industries, are one of the top 10 polluters in the nation, which means they have a strong interest in eliminating or preventing environmental regulations. The Kochs have given over $500,000 to members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee, which proposes environmental regulations and is supposed to hold polluters accountable. Indeed, as our film reveals, the Kochs are the oil and gas industry's single biggest donor to that committee. Is it any wonder that Congress won't pass bills to curb climate change or tackle other environmental problems?

In fact, the Kochs frequently have secret summits where they host wealthy right-wing donors as well as federal policymakers to talk strategy and fundraising. Participants have included U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Those two justices recently increased the Kochs' power by voting in the Citizens United case to allow unlimited corporate money into politics. And just last week, the justices heard a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act -- a bill that the Koch-founded and -financed group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has been pushing to overturn. Should our system permit such a conflict of interest enabling the Kochs to wield influence that virtually no other citizen can match?

This influence also extends to the state level. The Kochs have given at least $1 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that writes pro-corporate laws that are often passed nearly verbatim in state legislatures across the country. Among these laws are onerous voter ID restrictions (to reduce the number of votes from the young, the elderly, the poor, and people of color) and various bills that undermine workers, consumers, and the environment.

Moreover, the Kochs have been propping up Wisconsin's anti-union governor Scott Walker, who recently rammed a bill through his state legislature to gut the rights of public sector unions. AFP ran attack ads and organized a bus tour to stymie the union members opposing Walker's power grab. Although the Kochs' lawyer tries to distance his clients from all of that unpleasantness, he cannot take back what David Koch recently told a reporter: "We're helping [Scott Walker], as we should. We've gotten pretty good at this over the years...We've spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We're going to spend more."

Why won't the Kochs debate these things? What are they hiding from? The fact is they have an undue, indeed corrupting, influence on our democracy, and they don't want anyone to notice. After all, true democracy isn't just a process where the rabble get to enter a voting booth every couple of years while the rich guys fund the candidates, think tanks, media campaigns, and on-the-ground organizations that set the parameters of public debate. Democracy is supposed to be a vibrant, participatory process where every citizen can have an impact on how the country is governed and narrow interests can't commandeer the process for themselves.

Surely, that's something worth debating.