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Koch Brothers Learn How to Fake Concern for the Poor, an Expensive Lesson

Having figured out voters are compassionate, the right makes odd plan to act on it.

Photo Credit: screengrab via youtube (Robert Greenwald's "Koch Brothers Exposed")


Last week, Politico’s Ken Vogel  got his hands on a memo circulated among major donors to Americans For Prosperity, the conservative group that functions as Charles and David Koch’s primary outlet for political activism. It lays out the group’s strategy and budget heading into the 2014 midterms, which represent a key test for the Koch-funded network. After dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the campaign to take down Barack Obama in 2012 only to see the president skate to reelection, the Koch brothers were left trying to figure out what went wrong.

The answer they came up with is actually kind of hilarious. “If the presidential election told us anything,” the memo reads, “it’s that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak.”

I read that and I picture Charles or David Koch watching the Romney “47 percent” video for the 34th time and slapping his forehead in a eureka moment that could only happen to a billionaire libertarian whack-job. “Don’t treat the poor like garbage… Of course! It’s so simple!” Taken alongside Paul Ryan’s  sudden concern for America’s impoverished, you get the sense that the right is finally starting to realize that perhaps they might have a problem when it comes to low-income voters.

Now, I should be clear that the Kochs view this is a messaging problem, not a problem rooted in policy. They’re still firmly wedded to their beliefs that government assistance programs engender laziness and that the federal government should be slashed down to just the army and the patent office. What they’re trying to do is find a way to convince the less fortunate that cutting taxes for billionaires and blocking minimum wage increases will lead to the sort of shared prosperity that will lift them out of economic hardship. “We consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy — and its advocates — benefit the rich and powerful more than the most vulnerable of society,” the memo observes. “We must correct this misconception.”

It’s not clear what “misconception” they believe is at play here. The last three decades of American governance can hardly be described as a nightmare descent into socialism, and they’ve witnessed a  dramatic increase in economic inequality. Charles and David Koch, however, choose not to see that reality. They  truly believe down to their core that they are on a mission to save America from Saul Alinsky-inspired collectivism.

While they may sound slightly bonkers and have a mission statement that’s laughably out of touch, the resources they’re bringing to bear in pursuit of its fruition are the very definition of serious. According to the AFP memo, the group plans to spend $125 million this election cycle. And they consider that a conservative estimate.

To get a sense of just how significant a bundle of cash that is, take a look back at the totals the Democratic and Republican party committees  spent in the last midterm election. AFP’s $125 million investment is nearly double the amount spent by the NRSC in 2010 ($68 million), and just shy of the cash outlays of the DSCC ($129 million) and the NRCC ($132 million).

That’s a lot of money for a group that is not technically affiliated with an established party.

Obviously this is not good news for Democrats. Vulnerable Democratic incumbents in districts and states across the country could find themselves up against two well-financed and well-organized political machines. “Democrats aren’t running against a rival party,” Steve Benen  observed, “they’re running against two rival parties that happen to be ideologically aligned.” The combined spending might of the two operations means a barrage of ads and get-out-the-vote efforts that the Democrats – already defending a large and unfriendly map – may not able to match.

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