The political network backed by right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaigns, a stunning amount on par with both the major political parties, the Washington Post reported Monday.
According to the Post, "[t]he new $889 million goal reflects the anticipated budgets of all the allied groups that the network funds. Those resources will go into field operations, new data-driven technology and policy work, among other projects, along with likely media campaigns aimed at shaping the congressional and White House elections."
"We have never seen this before. There is no network akin to this one in terms of its complexity, scope and resources."
—Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
The Koch Brothers announced the historic budget to donors attending the annual winter meeting of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce in Palm Springs, California. About 450 donors and supporters attended the gathering, including four GOP presidential hopefuls (Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) and six newly elected Republican senators.
"We have never seen this before," Sheila Krumholz, who runs the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, told USA Today. "There is no network akin to this one in terms of its complexity, scope and resources."
That network aims to advance a conservative platform that prioritizes austerity, deregulation, and privatization while opposing efforts to address climate change.
Of Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that sits at the center of the Koch-backed political operation, the Post's Matea Gold writes: "the group’s ultimate goal is to make free-market ideals central in American society."
The New York Times points out:
The Kochs are longtime opponents of campaign disclosure laws. Unlike the parties, their network is constructed chiefly of nonprofit groups that are not required to reveal donors. That makes it almost impossible to tell how much of the money is provided by the Kochs — among the wealthiest men in the country — and how much by other donors.
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A 2014 analysis by the Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics found that together, the 17 conservative groups that comprise the Koch network raised at least $407 million during the 2012 campaign, the sources of which were masked by "a labyrinth of tax-exempt groups and limited-liability companies."
In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, in which the Koch Brothers spent between $100 and $300 million, Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch wrote: "The Kochs are not your average oligarchs, they are a political party."
Now, that statement seems more true than ever. "The $1 billion the Koch network plans to spend in 2016 should dispel any doubts that the Kochs are operating their own secretly-funded shadow political party," read a post on the PR Watch blog published Tuesday.
But unlike their Republican and Democratic party counterparts, the Koch Brothers can weild their influence from the shadows. As PRWatch notes: "[T]he Kochs will have free reign in 2016 not only to pour astonishing amounts of money into U.S. elections, but—in contrast with traditional parties—to do so in secret, without disclosing the financial interests behind the spending."
"The $1 billion the Koch network plans to spend in 2016 should dispel any doubts that the Kochs are operating their own secretly-funded shadow political party."
"This is the natural consequence of regime with essentially no contribution limits—a smaller and smaller number giving larger and larger amounts,” Harvard professor and campaign finance reform advocate Larry Lessig told Politico.
"Democracy in Action!" environmentalist Bill McKibben quipped on Twitter.
Less than one week ago, a set of eight pro-democracy groups issued a fleet of reports examining the outsized influence of big money in politics in the five years since the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
"A handful of deep-pocketed donors gets to determine who runs for office, what issues make it onto the agenda, and too frequently, who wins," said Dan Smith, democracy campaign director with U.S. PIRG, at the time. "Since most of us can’t afford to cut a thousand dollar check to candidates for elected office, we need to counter the outsized influence of mega-donors by amplifying the voices of small donors."