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The (Koch) Empire Strikes Back

On Sunday, nearly 2,000 citizens converged on the resort town of Rancho Mirage, California to confront a secretive meeting of billionaires meeting behind closed doors.  The event has generated widespread coverage in the LA Times, NY Times, Politico, Reuters and many more.  As a result, the Koch Brothers recently hired a public relations firm to transform the coverage to be more favorable to Koch Industries and their web of front groups, as revealed in Politico.  Unfortunately, some of the reporting and opining completely omits key reasons why the organizers of the protest decided to Uncloak the Kochs.

The LA Times Editorial Board wrote an editorial saying:

“The point of the rally was to decry the corrosive impact of money on American governance, but we're not sure that the marchers were quite clear on the concepts of democracy and free speech.”

Let me respond on behalf of an unprecedented coalition effort - we are quite clear on the concept of democracy and free speech.  Our problem with money in politics (and why we were protesting the Koch Brothers’ secretive billionaires retreat) is that it is drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens in the United States and elevating the interests of CEOs, bankers, polluters, and corporations.

Joel Francis, a Marine Corps veteran and student leader said it on Sunday:

“We need real solutions to the jobs crisis, rising health care costs, our addiction to fossil fuels, climate change, the foreclosure crisis and other economic problems facing families across the country. We need public officials who will stand up to the private interests and take the side of America's middle class. We need an economy that works for working families and a democracy where the people and citizens of our great nation count more than private profit.”

The Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates for people like Charles Koch (and other billionaires) to influence our democratic elections process through direct campaign contributions, front groups, television advertisements and more. Unfortunately, our democracy, post-Citizens United will continue to put corporate interests over people until we level the playing field.

The Wall Street Journal (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, whose employees have been regular guests at Koch retreats) reported that:

“Billionaires have political views (often strong ones) and they aren’t afraid to use their money to support them. There are activist billionaires on all points of the political spectrum, and their influence often is kept in check by each other. In the end, it is unclear what impact they really have on the country beyond funding a vast industry of think tanks, panel discussions, vanity publications and golf retreats for legislative aids.”

Yes, there are billionaires on both sides of the aisle influencing public policy, but unfortunately there is no balance of power.  Billionaires are still putting their interests over the interests of working families and ordinary citizens.  Furthermore, there is a huge difference between funding a think tank or front group to promote your interests and meeting with Supreme Court Justices while they are considering a case on corporate spending in democratic elections.  Justices Scalia and Thomas both attended previous Koch retreats and as a result, Common Cause sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation into a possible conflict of interest -  an investigation that could undermine the 5-4 Citizens United ruling.

Finally, Sunday was NOT about liberals versus conservatives.  Sunday was about We the People.  It was about rebuilding a democracy of We the People – a country where you don’t need to have millions of dollars to have your voice heard.  Where the government is small, but it protects the public health from polluters, protects our economy from bankers and speculators, and protects our national security even when the oil companies don’t want to invest in homegrown American energy.

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