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Campaign Legal Center

Isn’t It Ironic?: Koch-Backed Group Rails Against Corrupting Influence of Money in Politics

It is incredibly hypocritical for the Koch political network to exploit voter discontent over our broken campaign finance system while fighting to shatter what protections remain.

After spending countless millions fighting to protect unlimited secret money in elections, the Koch political network has adopted a surprising new approach: railing against the corrupting influence of money in politics.

New ads from the Koch-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund attack Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in Nevada and Virginia for allegedly supporting policies that benefited their campaign supporters, even as the Koch network fights to keep campaign spending secret. 

“After taking $70,000 from taxi companies, [U.S. Senate candidate] Catherine Cortez Masto drove Uber out of Nevada,” says one ad, which reportedly cost $1.2 million to air. It comes on the heels of another $1.2 million ad buy in the race making similar claims and asserting that Cortez Masto “put campaign donors ahead of Nevadans and protected special interests instead of us.” 

In another ad, Freedom Partners Action Fund asserts that Virginia U.S. Senate candidate “Katie McGinty helped steer millions of our tax dollars to favored companies. Helped them navigate government and land big contracts. What did she get from them? Board positions, a six-figure salary, and campaign cash,” referring to around $28,000 in donations to her gubernatorial and senate campaigns. Freedom Partners reportedly spent $1.3 million to air that ad.

In an earlier (controversial) ad attacking Wisconsin U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold, the narrator declares “You can follow a dollar from a federal worker’s paycheck, through union dues, through campaign contributions to Democrats like Russ Feingold.”

These attacks, of course, are fair game. The public has a right to know who is financially backing a candidate, and a right to ask whether that campaign support resulted in special treatment.

But Freedom Partners, and the Koch political network it is part of, have actively fought against the public’s right to know who is funding our elections.

Freedom Partners Action Fund is the super PAC arm of the “Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce,” a 501(c)(6) organization that the Washington Post said was “carefully constructed with extensive legal barriers to shield its donors” and that raised $400 million in the last presidential election – while keeping its funders secret. Freedom Partners has been described by Politico as the “Koch brothers’ secret bank.”   

Although Freedom Partners’ super PAC does disclose most of its donors, the source of the vast majority of Koch political network spending remains under wraps. And Freedom Partners and other Koch-backed groups have repeatedly bankrolled efforts to fight political spending disclosure. In one recent court case, Koch groups even cited the civil rights era NAACP v. Alabama decision as justification for keeping their donors secret.

In its latest ads, Freedom Partners suggests that candidates were influenced or corrupted by campaign spending – a claim only made possible because their financial supporters complied with disclosure laws. But if Freedom Partners and the Kochs had their way, those contributors’ names would never have become public.

If, as Freedom Partners asserts in its latest ads, candidates can be influenced by a few thousand in campaign contributions, then surely the hundreds of millions spent by the Koch political network supporting and opposing candidates poses a similar risk of corruption – and should be publicly disclosed.

These cynical allegations of political corruption mark a new tactic for the Koch network. But the appeals are likely aimed at exploiting  broad discontent with a broken campaign finance system. 

Last year, a New York Times-CBS News poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe that politicians promote policies that help those who donated to their campaigns “most of the time” or “sometimes.”

Yet that same poll found that 66 percent of Americans believe the wealthy – like the big donors in the Koch network -- have more of a chance to influence elections than average people. And fully 84 percent (including 80 percent of Republicans) said “money has too much influence” in our democracy.

Indeed, in his opening remarks at this week’s Koch donor summit, Charles Koch spoke of powerful interests “rigging the system.” But the Kochs helped create this broken system, and continue fighting to make it worse.

It is incredibly hypocritical for the Koch political network to exploit voter discontent over our broken campaign finance system while fighting to shatter what protections remain.

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Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is associate counsel at The Campaign Legal Center. Formerly with PR Watch, he graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Prior to law school, Brendan served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural community in Northeastern El Salvador. Twitter: @brendan_fischer

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