If outside spending by wealthy special interests played a decisive role in the 2014 midterms, the 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be even worse. According to details leaked from an attendee at an annual donor meeting at a high-end resort in Rancho Mirage, California, the Koch-funded political network plans to spend $889 million in the 2016 election, more than double the amount spent by the Republican National Committee in the last presidential election cycle.
Charles and David Koch, worth about $40 billion apiece, hold gatherings like the one in Rancho Mirage twice a year, attracting a growing roster of multimillionaires and billionaires, as well as occasional elected officials, conservative media personalities and Supreme Court Justices. The brothers have been highly effective in convincing other wealthy conservatives to contribute to their political agenda. The 2014 election cycle marked the most expensive midterms in history, in large part due to the enormous spending of the Koch network. Freedom Partners spent $290 million backing right-wing candidates, propelling Republicans to sweeping victories in Congress and state legislatures across the country.
Our democracy is not supposed to be run by billionaires in closed-door meetings. Fortunately, some in Congress are recognizing the need for reform in order to level the political playing field and protect the promise of American democracy. Last week, on the 5th anniversary of Citizens United, nine campaign finance reform bills were reintroduced together in the House and Senate. This “Defending Democracy” legislative package has the support of dozens of grassroots advocacy organizations representing a broad spectrum of issues. Collectively these groups have millions of members. The reform package includes small donor empowerment bills, disclosure legislation, and a proposed constitutional amendment to put reasonable limits on the amount that can be spent in elections.
The Koch network has made clear that their flood of money is not slowing down anytime soon. Now it’s up to grassroots activists to push for money in politics reform and make clear that we want a democracy that’s run by the people, not the Koch brothers.