Saturday, January 25, 2014

The NYT Editorial Board takes on the Koch Bros' political money machine


"The clandestine influence of the Kochs and their Palm Springs friends would be much reduced if they were forced to play in the sunshine."
-- from an editorial in tomorrow's NYT, "The Koch Party"

by Ken

I've noted that the Koch Brothers have turned up in any number of posts from Howie and Noah, and worry that I haven't been wielding my wee cudgel often enough. That's the thing about Big Money, backed up by its all-but-invariable alter-ego, Deep Pockets: It rolls on and on, tending in the end to outlast and overwhelm contrary voices fueled by mere spunk.

It's hardly an original thought, but it's worth remembering that the measure of the power of Big Money in the political arena isn't measured by what percentage of candidates who outspend their opponents win elections. The way Big Money works is by giving the Big Spender outsize power to affect or even define the discussion cycle. It is, of course, utterly possible to spend money foolishly, but then, it's possible to do anything foolishly. That hardly changes the fact that people who know who to influence or outright control the public agenda . . . well, influence or control the public agenda. Competing voices have to find ways of breaking into the conversation, and that sure isn't easy.

"Only a few weeks into this midterm election year," begins an editorial in tomorrow's New York Times, "The Koch Party," the right-wing political zeppelin is fully inflated with secret cash and is firing malicious falsehoods at supporters of health care reform.
As Carl Hulse of The Times reported recently [links onsite], Democrats have been staggered by a $20 million advertising blitz produced by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group organized and financed by the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists. The ads take aim at House and Senate candidates for re-election who have supported the health law, and blame them for the hyped-up problems with the law's rollout that now seem to be the sole plank in this year's Republican platform.

In one typical example, the group's ad against Representative Gary Peters of Michigan, a Democrat who is running for an open Senate seat, is full of distortions and lies. It accuses Mr. Peters of lying when he said the law bars cancellations of insurance policies. Mr. Peters happened to be right, as millions of people who once faced losing all insurance after they got sick now appreciate. The 225,000 Michigan residents who the ad said received "cancellation notices" were actually told that they could change to a better policy; they were not told they could no longer have insurance, as the ad implies. And though the ad said health care costs are "skyrocketing," national spending on health care is now growing at the slowest pace ever recorded, in part because of the reform law.

Democrats intend to counter this campaign with the facts, but few of the candidates have the money to do so now. As a result, the campaign is taking a serious political toll, increasing the chances that Republicans who support a repeal of the law will win back the Senate majority this fall.
Ever primed for fairness, the NYT editorialist points out that Democrats "naturally" are raising money as hard as they can.
But it is unlikely that they will be able to match the resources or the cunning of the Kochs, who are using vast pools of money earned through corporate revenues to build a network unrivaled in complexity and secrecy. This weekend, they are bringing together some of the biggest Republican bank accounts at a resort in Palm Springs, Calif., to collect money and plan this year's strategy.

As Politico described it on Friday, they have already set up an operation so sophisticated it rivals "even the official Republican Party in its ability to shape policy debates and elections." Its components include a political consulting firm to recruit, train and support like-minded antigovernment candidates, which will be active in the congressional primaries. There is also a center that provides technology and administrative services to right-wing groups and candidates, an office that compiles and analyzes voter data and a youth advocacy group.
The editorial then refers to the Washington Post I reported on (in my January 6 post "Finally a picture emerges of the system by which the Kochs moved and obscured the sources of a bare minimum $407M outside the campaign-finance system in the 2012 election cycle"), with its findings about the size and (clearly intentionally) confoundingly cryptic organization of the Kochs' outside-the-campaigns fund-raising juggernaut in the 2012 election cycle. Again there is an "on the other hand" observation that "the Democrats have smaller versions of these operations," but that "they are more focused on building a super PAC to collect unlimited donations supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016" -- and, oh yes, "they lack the resources to compete with the Kochs at this stage."

At this stage?

Then comes an earth-shaking observation:

"The clandestine influence of the Kochs and their Palm Springs friends would be much reduced if they were forced to play in the sunshine."

Oh, really?
The Internal Revenue Service and several lawmakers are beginning to step up their interest in preventing "social welfare" organizations and other tax-sheltered groups from being used as political conduits, but they have encountered the usual resistance from Republican lawmakers. Considering how effectively the Koch brothers are doing their job, it's easy to see why.
And it's even easier to see why nothing will be done.

Consider how easily the IRS's lamentable feeble effort to look into look into all that blatantly illegal Teabagger fund-raising was engraved into the historical record as the Clinton administration's "IRS scandal." By law all that cash that was raised for ostensibly charitable purposes, and was forbiddent to be used for heavily political purposes. There is simply no possibility that any of that activity could have been by any stretch of the imaginaton legal, for two crudely obvious reasons: (1) The Teabaggers' have absolutely no reason to exist that isn't 100 percent political, and (2) these are people who are opposed from the depths of their being to charity. The only reason the Teabaggers exist is because each and every 'Bagger has only one agenda: "I WANT MINE."

But if you've got a Noise Machine, and in fact an entire PR and action network, supported by Billionaires' Billions and Millionaires' Millions, you can hornswoggle an awful lot of people who don't pay very close attention and wouldn't understand much if they did.

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