Big news in the presidential race today that could be decisive for its outcome. A group of conservative donors, with the Koch brothers alone making a reported commitment of $400,000,000.00, has decided to spend $1,000,000,000.00 to defeat Barack Obama. By the way, is this result what Justice Roberts had in mind when he wrote the opinion in the Citizens United case? That one family could write a check greater than what John McCain’s campaign spent in the 2008 election?
There are three reasons people give money to campaigns: to feed their egos, to advance an ideological cause or to advantage their business interests. As a general rule, Democratic donors fit into the first two categories; Republicans, the third.
Remember the disgust at the revelations that large Clinton donors had been invited to spend the weekend in the Lincoln bedroom? What was that about, really? Stroking the egos of the donors. However tacky and wrong, those donors really wanted and expected little more than to be able to tell others that they had spent the night at the White House. And remember the quadrennial harping against Democrats for "Hollywood money?" What's that all about? Well, some ego, but also much of it is built around causes, like gay rights, Darfur, general liberal causes like aid to education and support for the social safety net.
But why do donors like the Koch brothers give hundreds of millions of dollars to candidates? It isn't about ego — the brothers are relatively reclusive. And, usually, it isn't about right-wing ideological pet causes. Rather, they are giving to support what they see as being in their business or personal financial interest: lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government. (Ed's morning post today on Democrats' evaporating advantage on the environment is a case in point. The decline in support for the environment is not a natural phenomenon; the Koch brothers number one priority is to gut environmental regulations and stop the move to cleaner sources of energy, and they have spent millions already to do just that.)
My final question is this: Why might Obama be the first incumbent president in modern history to be outspent by his opponents? Is it because some of the deep-pocketed Democratic donors have had their egos bruised, or who fell their causes haven't been sufficiently addressed? They should remember that most Republican donors don’t let their emotions get in the way of their interests. How will their egos, causes and interests fare with Mitt Romney in the White House, brought to you by the Koch Brothers.