The Koch brothers have set a disturbing pace for what promises to be a record flow of money meant to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. Billionaires Charles and David Koch have recruited about 300 other donors with plans to dump close to $900 million into the elections, backing conservative candidates and causes.
It occurs as the nation marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United case and a federal court’s “Speechnow” ruling, which altered the landscape for campaign contributions in the name of free speech. The high court’s ruling last year in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission made things worse, removing long-standing limits on how much total money an individual could contribute to federal candidates.
The rulings serve to diminish the power of individuals’ votes and ability to make their voices heard. More Americans may shrug their shoulders on Election Day and say, “Why bother?” Our democracy also suffers because politics now has become a plaything for the rich. The Kochs’ planned spending for 2016 may well rival the budgets of the Republican and Democratic parties in the coming campaigns.
Conservative candidates under the Republican Party tent will benefit. But the GOP shouldn’t be cheering too loudly. The Koch money, promoting a specific “free-market” agenda, has the potential to create internecine party warfare and lock out candidates and voters with divergent views.
But the Koch brothers’ pledge should prod the Democratic Party, unions and free-thinking Republicans to increase their efforts to appeal to middle America. The political bullying that the court rulings created mustn’t go unchallenged. Political apathy and staying home on election day should not be options for those who care about American values of fairness, civil political debate and economic opportunity for all. Clearly, the Koch brothers’ ability to flood money into politics is both an effect and a defense of America’s wealth disparity.
Over the long term, voters must elect sensible candidates who will work to fix the flawed political finance system.