The brothers Koch, Charles and David, billionaire industrialists, don't like publicity and why would they? They have a lot to hide and routinely do it behind the American flag, self-righteously claiming that the causes they pour their money into are as red, white and blue as Old Glory. Environmental pollution and tax breaks for billionaires, however, are not traditionally honorable American causes, and as the 2014 election season heats up it is heartening to see the calling out of the Kochs.
The Kochs are among the chief beneficiaries of the gutting of campaign spending laws by the U.S. Supreme Court's activist five-member right wing majority. In turn, the beneficiaries of the Kochs' largesse are the Republican candidates who oppose the environmental regulations protecting air, land and water that the Kochs find inconvenient and who support the tax breaks for the 1 percent that deprive funding for the programs that benefit the poor, middle class, children and the elderly. The Kochs, who spent $407 million in the 2012 campaign, are again betting heavily that a majority of Americans will vote against their own interests -- and for the Kochs' interests -- on Election Day, November 4.
The normally reticent Senate Majority Leader, Nevada's Harry Reid, has been attacking the Kochs forcefully for buying support for tax breaks and the rollback of environmental regulations that the brothers, whose companies rank 14th on the list of most toxic American air polluters, regard as hurtful to their bottom line. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has established a website, www.kochaddiction.com, to help voters learn more about the brothers' industries and their campaign practices. In fairness to the Kochs, they are not the only wealthy donors with special interests to protect but they are the most prominent, and many of their counterparts' identities are buried in the shell games that are the SuperPacs.
Republican leaders counter that the brothers and Koch brothers affiliates are outspent by unions sympathetic to Democratic candidates. But as an article this month in the New Republic observed, there are roughly 14.2 million Americans in the labor movement as opposed to two Kochs and about 350 Koch-affiliated donors. According to the magazine's math, one Koch brother is equivalent to 515,000 union members when it comes to paid political influence -- and this is through direct campaign contributions. The balance is even more skewered when the unregulated, indirect contributions triggered by the Supreme Court are factored in.
The average union worker is far more representative of the average American -- Democrat, Republican or unaffiliated -- than is the average Koch brother. The average American is struggling to pay the bills in a tough economy while trying to save for college costs and retirement. The average Koch brother is a billionaire with none of those problems and so much spare change he can donate it to Republican candidates, many of whom proved to be embarrassments to their own party. The influence of the Kochs totally eclipses that of the average American voter.
Even if the Kochs were advocates of puppies and lollipops their money-based impact on American elections would be detrimental. The ability of the wealthy to dominate campaign discourse through television ads that are often misleading if not untruthful is not something our Founding Fathers could have anticipated or would have welcomed. The problem grows worse every two years, as does the need for voters to inform themselves so they will be prepared when the ads again begin marring their TV screens.