The Koch Brothers Are Back

HERE COME the big money boogeymen. Be very afraid.

Yesiree, if Charles and David Koch didn’t exist, liberal fund-raisers would have to invent them. What perfect role players! Here they come again, the freespending, deep-pocketed, right-wing bros from Wichita, Kansas (by way of MIT), ready to steal another national election.

Just last month, at their annual conservative hoe-down in Palm Springs, California, the Kochs committed to spending $900 million on the 2016 election cycle, “an unparalleled effort by coordinated outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history,” according to The New York Times.

What about the always-terrifying Sheldon Adelson, who pumped between $50 and $150 million into the 2012 election, depending on who is counting? We miss Dorchester-lad Shelly tooling around Newton and Brookline in his purple Rolls-Royce, but let’s face it, he’s moved on to bigger things. He’s an international casino billionaire, ferociously opposed to Barack Obama’s Democratic Party policies.

So what did Shelly get for his big bet in 2012? Bupkis, as they say in Las Vegas when you’ve rolled a line of snake eyes. Yes, that’s right. Mitt Romney turned out to be a very expensive losing bet, all $50 or $150 million of it.

Adelson lavishly backed American Crossroads, the political action committee godfathered by Karl Rove. (Sample website pabulum: “American deserves better than this… It’s up to us to bring the change about.”) Right after the 2012 election, the Sunlight Foundation calculated that Crossroads got a 1.29 percent return on its $100 million-plus investment in conservative races.

Don’t feel bad, Shelly. I, too, read those Karl Rove columns in the Wall Street Journal. He sounds so convincing! I see he’s rattling on again about a “Democratic defeat in 2016.” But you know what? Writing columns is easy. Winning elections is hard.

For that matter, how did the Kochs do in 2012? Gosh, not so well either. The Washington Post reported that they spent over $400 million to unseat President Obama — oops. After processing the “disappointing” election results, Charles Koch told his supporters that “our goal of advancing a free and prosperous America is even more difficult than we envisioned, but it is essential that we continue, rather than abandon, this struggle.”

Translation: We are doubling down in 2016.

Happily for the likes of spin doctors and advertising gurus, free-spending loons can be found all across the political spectrum. Remember: Money doesn’t care who owns it. Meet Tom Steyer, billionaire hedge fund manager who spent at least $57 million in 2012 trying to rally the “climate vote,” backing candidates who took the threat of global climate change seriously, and opposing those who did not.

That was an easy choice in New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen, yes; Scott Brown, no.

Steyer lost more than he won. He might have had better luck at The Venetian, one of Shelly Adelson’s Las Vegas casinos. “Mr. Steyer appears to have largely wasted his time and money,” The New York Times reported. The impish Republican political consultant Mike Murphy told the newspaper: “The worst thing that happened to the environment this cycle is the bonfire from Tom Steyer burning $80 million on a wasted campaign.”

Do you detect a theme here? Rich guys push their single-issue political agendas on blocs of voters, who remain supremely indifferent. It turns out that the person in the voting booth makes his or her decision based on more complicated factors than who is bombarding them with marginally credible propaganda.

Maybe our democracy is healthier than we think, after all.e




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