Charles and David Koch, the nefarious Koch Brothers, have vowed to spend as much as $889 million on the 2016 elections in the United States. This money will be funneled through a massive network of faux grassroots organizations, lobbyists, and direct candidate donations. This $889 million is the single largest sum ever committed by individuals, meaning that Charles and David will have more financial sway over the 2016 elections than any other individual, or group, in the history of American politics.
Of course, the Koch brothers have spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, on political activities in recent years, and their seemingly unlimited spending finally drew the ire of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). This week it was announced that three Koch-linked groups are being fined a combined total of $233,000 for violating campaign finance laws by concealing the sources of their funds. The three groups are the American Future Fund, 60 Plus Association and Americans for Job Security.
The Sunlight Foundation points out that the money given to these groups was expressly for the purpose of purchasing political advertisements and therefore the sources of the funding were legally required to be disclosed to the public. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed the original complaint against the groups to the FEC.
These three organizations spent at least $22 million on political activities in 2012, meaning that the $233,000 fine represents a little more than 1% of their activity, a paltry sum by any standards. But at least it is something, and now they are clearly on the FEC’s radar.
Unfortunately, these fines are not likely to even slow down the Koch money machine, and so far they’ve already managed to spend about $400 million of their pledged $889 million. The big question is where this money has gone.
Unlike previous elections, the lion’s share of the Koch money isn’t necessarily flowing to individual candidates in tight races. Instead, they’re trying a new tactic this year that seems to be paying off in big ways.
The Kochs have figured out that it is much easier and cheaper to buy off state legislators than it is to buy the White House or a U.S. Senate seat. So the Koch money is flowing to state races and initiatives.
As Alex Kotch recently pointed out on Facing South, the Kochs are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the South, hoping that this bastion of right wing politics and dirty energy will help to keep their companies prosperous for a few more years. This involves the creation and funding of hundreds of political nonprofit organizations (similar to the ones that just got popped with FEC fines). This process, according to Kotch, began at least six years ago and is just now beginning to pay off for the Kochs.
Several clean energy projects have been killed as a result of the Kochs’ political spending in the South, including a solar initiative in the state of Florida. They have also been successful in helping to push dirty energy projects in states, for example their push to increase fracking activities in the Carolinas.
All of this is part of the Koch brothers’ state strategy that they laid out a few years ago. Again, they’ve learned that it is much more difficult to change national laws, so they are working to change laws state-by-state where politicians and lobbyists are cheaper than they are in Washington, D.C.
And of course, all of their goals are completely self-serving, whether it is busting up unions in Ohio, or fighting against modest tax increases in South Dakota, or preventing the Sunshine State from actually using solar energy.
At this point, the best weapon against the Kochs is education. As long as the attention is on Charles and David Koch, it will be nearly impossible for them to operate in the shadows, hiding behind astroturf groups who only exist to push the Koch agenda. If we continue to keep up the pressure, and as long as the FEC continues to pay attention, we might actually be able to counter their hundreds of millions in political spending.
Image via NextGenClimate.