How Democrats are trying to turn the Koch Brothers into political bogeymen

To hear Democrats tell it, the 2014 election is shaping up as a referendum on two people: David and Charles Koch.


In this April 11, 2011 file photo, David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries, attends a meeting of the Economic Club of New York.  (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Announcing a $6.55 million fundraising haul in January, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee executive director Guy Cecil had this to say: “The Koch brothers are spending a fraction of their personal fortune to buy a Senate that is good for them and bad for almost every other family in America. While Republicans can rely on the Koch brothers, we depend almost entirely on grassroots donors and thousands of generous people from around the country to make sure that we have a Senate that works for the middle class." Cecil's statement never once made mention of the Republican party.

It's a telling window into how Democrats not only view their true opponent in the 2014 election but also how they are doing everything they can to take advantage of the increasingly high profile David and Charles Koch "enjoy" among the Democratic base.

On a practical level, Cecil is right to highlight the spending by Americans for Prosperity -- a 501(c)(4) funded by David and Charles Koch -- in Senate races so far this year.  AFP has dropped $27 million on ads -- including $13 million in five Senate contests -- as of early February, a vast sum that dwarfs the amount that the National Republican Senatorial Committee --  the direct opponent of Cecil's DSCC -- has spent so far on ads so far in the election. As WaPo's Matea Gold noted in her piece on AFP's spending, the NRSC has "made just one small ad buy, last summer in Louisiana, while Karl Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, buffeted by weak fundraising, is participating in only one Florida special election right now."


The political and policy universe of the Koch Brothers.

And, AFP has made clear that its early spending on Senate race is only the start of its 2014 operation. “We want to hold accountable six to eight senators,” AFP President Tim Phillips told Post TV's Jackie Kucinich in an interview earlier this week. "We’re going to continue to expand, that’s the amazing thing about Obamacare, is that it’s causing more and more states politically to come into play."  Phillips wouldn't speculate on where AFP would try to grow the map -- the group has spent money on ads against Democratic incumbents in  North Carolina, Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana and New Hampshire -- but Colorado and Iowa jump to mind as possibilities.

Given how much has already been spent by the Kochs/AFP and the damage the ads have done to, say, North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan's political prospects, the DSCC's focus on the power of the Kochs and what they are doing is rightly placed. But, there is also more here at work in Cecil's statement.

The base of the Democratic party, which provides the lion's share of campaign contributions and activist hours to the party's cause in midterm elections, loathes the Kochs.  The base views the duo as everything wrong with the American political system where a handful of individuals are able to exert vast influence over elections simply because of their wealth. (Worth noting: Democrats have their own wealthy political entrepreneurs including Tom Steyer who is planning to spend $100 million advocating for climate change in the 2014 election.)

Think about it: If you are a loyal Democratic giver, would you rather give money to fight the Koch Brothers or the National Republican Senatorial Committee? It's a no brainer. Painting the election as "Democrats vs the Kochs" then is a way to drive the passion -- in terms of money and volunteer hours -- that Democrats badly need to hold the Senate in 2014.  Again, here's Cecil:  "There’s no question that the biggest challenge facing Democrats in the midterm is turnout, and we need our supporters to continue to step up so that we can provide our campaigns with cover on television and fund the most aggressive field efforts in history."

Rob Tappan, a spokesman for the Kochs, had this to say about thr DSCC strategy.  “The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s latest gambit-- scaring voters and raising money by trying to demonize Charles Koch and David Koch, is laughable—and predictable, and has been a tried and true part of the Democrats’ cynical political playbook since 2010. "

The message is clear: The Koch Brothers are the real enemy, not the Republican party in November.  The bigger question: Will it work?

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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