The Koch brothers are done being shy. That’s the conclusion one would have to draw from the fact that they just announced that they hope to spend $889 million on the 2016 election, an unprecedented amount of outside money. It won’t all be theirs — they’re assembling a kind of Plutocrat Politburo, a group of billionaires and zillionaires who will contribute to the cause — but with a combined worth of over $80 billion, they’ll surely be the ones opening their ample wallets the widest and determining the strategy and the agenda.
But unlike some previous reporting on Charles and David’s political efforts, this revelation — which comes from a gathering in beautiful Rancho Mirage of Freedom Partners, the organization through which the Kochs and their allies will distribute all these millions — didn’t require any secret meetings with anonymous sources to unearth. They just told everyone. Here’s the Post’s story on it, here’s the New York Times’ story on it, and here’s Politico’s story on it, all complete with ample details and on-the-record quotes. Reporters may not have been invited into the private meetings at the gathering, but they were allowed to hang around and talk to the participants. And no fewer than four potential GOP presidential candidates (Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz) showed up as well, obviously unconcerned about any charge that they’re kowtowing to the uber-rich.
So the Kochs appear to have concluded that the efforts by Democrats (especially Harry Reid) to turn the Koch name into a symbol of everything that’s wrong in American politics have failed. No longer must they cower in their mansions and take pains to conceal their political spending, fearful of the piercing barbs aimed by liberal politicians and commentators, when all they want is for Americans to fully appreciate the majesty of laissez-faire economics. Free at last, free at last, thank Citizens United, they’re free at last.
If you were expecting journalists to express much consternation at the idea that a group of the super-wealthy are openly announcing their intention to buy the next election, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, the news is being reported more like that of a record-breaking contract for a professional athlete: wonder at the sums involved, but precious little moral outrage. That’s mostly because political reporters tend to believe that election campaigns are already nothing but a parade of deception and manipulation, an enterprise that’s inherently corrupt. So what’s a little more corruption?
There’s no doubt that the behind-the-scenes machinations are fascinating to anyone interested in politics. By putting themselves on par with or even above the parties, the Kochs will make the conflict within the Republican Party even more complex, and potentially vicious, than it already was. Ken Vogel of Politico described the move as “a show of dominance to rival factions on the right, including the Republican National Committee.” What happens when the insurgents are even better funded than what we’ve taken to calling the establishment? It will certainly be interesting to find out.
In any case, the Kochs are probably right that they have little to lose by being public about their plans. Yes, they’ll have to absorb some stern editorials, and maybe even some ads from the DNC criticizing Republican politicians for associating with them. But weighed against what they have to gain by putting nearly a billion dollars into the next presidential campaign — more than the two parties spent, combined, in 2012 — that’s a price so small it’s barely worth worrying about.
In his 2003 novel Jennifer Government, Max Barry imagines a future in which the penetration of capitalism and marketing has become so total that people take the names of their corporate employers as their own last names; characters are called things like John Nike, Nathaniel ExxonMobil, and Calvin McDonalds.
We may not have gotten quite that far yet, but the next Republican president — whether that person is elected in 2016 or after — will have been sponsored, supported, elevated, and outfitted by the Koch brothers and their friends. Should a Republican candidate they don’t like show promise in the primaries, he will surely be crushed by the awesome machine they’re building. The winner may not take their name (Scott Walker-Koch, perhaps?), but he or she will be in their debt to a degree we have not previously contemplated. And the consensus will be that that’s just how things work now.