Five years ago the Supreme Court changed campaign financing rules so drastically that today two billionaire brothers are able to decide the results of elections throughout the country.
People buying elections may be nothing new in American history but the influence peddling and subversion of democracy connected to the story of the oil billionaire Koch brothers is beyond anything that has happened in the country in the past. The New York Times reported today that Charles and David Koch have vowed to use their web of tax-exempt organizations to spend nearly one billion dollars to get their candidates of choice elected in 2016.
Spending on that level, observers note, rivals what is typically spent in a national election by either of the two major political parties.
“It’s no wonder the candidates show up when the Koch brothers call,” David Axelrod, former adviser to President Obama, told the Times. “That’s exponentially more money than any party organization will spend, in many ways, they have superseded the party.”
The brothers held secret meetings in Palm Springs recently and four Republican presidential candidates were in attendance – Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The problem with the Citizens United decision is not just that it allows unlimited contributions but that it allows them to remain secret. That means the Koch brothers can keep much of the anti-democracy web of which they are a part completely hidden from the public. The Democratic and Republican parties must release the names of their donors but the Koch brothers and the groups to which they are connected are under no such obligation.
Beyond the power of the Koch brothers, however, Citizens United has paved the way for money to dominate the entire electoral system.
A recent report By Demos in 2013 found that the richest 1 percent of Americans are “extremely active politically and that they are much more conservative than the American public as a whole with respect to important policies concerning taxation, economic regulation, and especially social welfare programs.”
The same report showed that in the 2014 midterm elections, in the highly competitive races, candidates got 86 percent of individual contributions from donors giving more than $200.
Polls now show that Americans believe corporate money is weakening democracy. In a recent study CNBC poll done by Burson-Marsteller, 73 percent of Americans believe that government most often takes the side of corporations rather than average citizens.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and others are circulating a petition to tell Congress to end Citizens United now. Here is the link.
Photo: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has sought the backing of the Koch brothers for years. He is seen here with David Koch. (A P/Jacquelyn Martin/Phelan M. Ebenhack/Photo montage by Salon)