If you’re a Republican, you surely thank the heavens for the Koch brothers, billionaires willing to spend vast sums to help Republicans get elected. But could the Kochs actually pose a serious threat to the Republican Party itself?
That’s the question raised by a fascinating new report from Jon Ward of Yahoo News on a brewing conflict between the Kochs and the Republican National Committee over voter files. While this looks like a somewhat arcane dispute over data and software, it actually gets to the heart of a transition now going on in American politics — one Republicans initiated, perhaps without quite understanding it, and one that now threatens to make their party wither on the vine.
For years, Republicans have been fighting to empower people like the Kochs and increase their political power, and now the Kochs may end up swallowing the Republican Party itself.
This current dispute is about whether Republican candidates for office will use the RNC’s voter file to target their campaign activities, or whether they’ll use a system created by the Kochs’ political operation. According to Ward, the RNC sees the Koch’s system as a real threat, and things are getting ugly:
Since then, relations between the two sides have soured, turning into what one Republican operative described as “all-out war.” Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts — which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC — is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.
The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over — some even say control of — the GOP.
“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.
There’s a pretty rich irony in hearing an RNC spokesperson complain about the influence of unaccountable rich people on politics. That’s because the power the Kochs (and other mega-donors) are building is a direct consequence of everything Republicans have advocated for years. They’re the ones who filed lawsuits to try to weaken campaign finance laws. They’re the ones who celebrated when those lawsuits succeeded. They’re the ones who rush to exploit every new loophole so the most amount of money can be spent with the least amount of accountability. They’re the ones who say that money equals speech, and liberty demands that the wealthy be able to spend all they want on campaigns.
But it’s possible that party leaders may not have predicted just how serious and involved the Kochs would become in their political activities.
This reminds me of something you’ve probably seen in a half-dozen movies about the mafia. A struggling business owner comes to the don and begs for a loan — he knows his business will succeed, he just needs some help getting through a rough patch. The don agrees, and the business owner is happy to have the don’s nephew come work for him while he puts the loan to good use. Then more of the don’s people keep coming, and before he knows it, the place is full of made guys. Eventually he complains to the don’s lieutenant. “This is my business!” he says. “You don’t seem to understand,” replies the lieutenant. “You work for us now.” (No, I’m not drawing a moral equivalence between the Koch brothers and mobsters.)
The model followed by most billionaires in the Kochs’ position is basically to just throw money at existing operatives and institutions to fund a bunch of TV ads, which is what they did when they first started. But as time has gone on, the Kochs have gotten smarter and smarter. They’ve invested in building a grassroots network through Americans for Prosperity, which is labor-intensive and time-consuming, but can ultimately yield results that advertising can’t. They’ve successfully created this data operation, which is supposedly superior to the RNC’s. They are obviously not content to just make big donations and let other people decide how the money gets spent.
Some other mega-donors are trying to do something similar, but none of them, on the right or the left, is doing it with the scale and success that the Kochs are. And if they want, they can go much bigger. The Kochs’ combined wealth is over $80 billion; so far they’ve barely dipped into the ocean of their resources.
We shouldn’t overstate things — the Republican Party is a long way from beginning to wither away. The RNC still raises plenty of money, its local affiliates still make up the default avenue through which rank-and-file conservatives all over the country can participate in politics, and it still has the ability to do things like sanction presidential primary debates and thus set their rules (though if the Kochs decided to hold their own series of debates, I’m pretty sure the candidates would come). But there is a dangerous future on the horizon, one in which the party still carries symbolic value, but not much practical influence.
It’s too early to tell whether that will occur, or whether it would be good or bad for conservatives in the long run if it did occur. On one hand, the party argues, quite reasonably, that while someone like the Kochs might lose interest and pack up shop one day, the party will always be there trying to elect Republicans, so it makes sense for them to be the locus of organizing, spending, and coordination. On the other hand, Republicans succeeded in creating something like a free market in political organization, where any new entrant with the means can come in and try to win market share.
In other words, the party fought to give the Kochs as much influence in politics as they were willing and able to take, and the Kochs took them up on it with so much enthusiasm that they now threaten to supplant the party. Maybe a party that lauds the wealthy for their smarts and entrepreneurial spirit should have seen that coming.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, June 11, 2015
One reason Jeb Bush probably won’t raise all the money in 2016 is the existence of very large conservative donor networks that exist beyond the familiar clubby atmosphere of the former 2004 W. rain-makers who seem to dominate “Establishment” circles. The largest and most conspicuous, of course, is the Koch Donor Network, which reportedly aims at raising $900 million towards placing a special friend in the White House.
It’s not clear at this point if the Kochs and their allies intend to spend much of that money during the nomination contest. But if they do, reports Bloomberg Politics‘ Julie Bykowicz, Scott Walker’s probably first in line to become the beneficiary.
Charles Koch, she says, is personally very fond of Rand Paul, but he’s not, as events at the Koch Donor Network’s annual Palm Springs gathering this year indicated, very popular in KochWorld write large. But these folk have a visceral bond with Walker that was forged by Americans for Prosperity’s very direct involvement in his political career, even before his first election as governor:
On a sunny Saturday in September 2009, with Wisconsin in the throes of Tea Party fervor, conservative starlet Michelle Malkin fired up a crowd of thousands at a lakefront park in Milwaukee with rhetoric about White House czars and union thugs and the “culture of dependency that they have rammed down our throats.”
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for governor, casually attired in a red University of Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirt, stepped to the podium to amplify the message. “We’re going to take back our government,” he shouted, jabbing the air with a finger. The attendees whooped and clapped. “We’ve done it here, we can do it in Wisconsin and, by God, we’re going to do it all across America.”
In a way, the event was Scott Walker’s graduation to the political major leagues. The audience had been delivered up by Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party organizing group founded by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire energy executives whose fortune helps shape Republican politics.
The connection became even more intense during the initial wave of demonstrations against Walker’s proposals to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees:
Walker began battling with public employees soon after he was elected, submitting a budget in February 2011 that cut public pensions and sharply limited the collective bargaining rights of many state employees. Koch reinforcements quickly arrived.
A bus caravan of Walker’s friends at Americans for Prosperity disgorged thousands of supporters, carrying signs saying “Your Gravy Train Is Over … Welcome to the Recession” and “Sorry We’re Late Scott. We Work for a Living” into the mass of union activists gathered at the steps of the capitol. It all played out for a cable network audience, with pundits pointing to Walker as the new tip of the spear in a long Republican fight against the labor unions that have helped elect Democrats over the decades.
The AFP’s support wasn’t just a big pep rally. After the governor won the budget battle and his opponents began their effort to recall him, the group deployed hundreds of volunteers to knock on doors and call into voters’ homes to spread Walker’s message that his pension cuts and union reforms were helping solve the state’s budget crisis. The group bought television and digital ads echoing the “It’s Working!” theme—a phrase Walker also frequently used.
Nobody knows right now if these connections will pay off big for Walker in a highly contested nomination battle with so many different players. But he’s certainly got the emotional connection to the money people, and if he can continue to burnish his “electability” credentials, the money spigots will almost certainly be opened for him.
By Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, TheWashington Post, February 17, 2015
If you haven’t seen the new Americans For Shared [sic!] Prosperity ad targeting unmarried women, you might want to check it out and then take a long shower:
Yes, the President of the United States is depicted as one of those sleazy dudes some women meet on internet dating services who turn out to be abusers who routinely lie, cheat, steal and spy. The ad doesn’t suggest Barack the Bad Boyfriend is prone to physical violence, but otherwise the whole rap is highly suggestive of the excuses often made by women who stay in abusive relationships, notes The Wire‘s Arit John:
At one point the woman uses phrasing domestic abuse survivors use to describe why they stayed with their partners. “But I stuck with him, because he promised he’d be better,” the woman says. “He’s great at promises.” This is reminiscent of the recent #WhyIStayed hashtag on Twitter in the wake of the Ray Rice domestic violence video. Women explained that they stuck with their abusers in part because he or she promised they’d stop, promised they’d change, or promised they’d never do it again.
John clearly thinks the ad is deliberately exploiting the recent publicity over domestic abuse by NFL players.
It’s not, however, entirely new. As MSNBC’s Anna Brand shows, the theme of Barack Obama as a bad boyfriend was used in the series of ads Republicans and pro-Republican groups aimed at 2008 Obama voters in 2012.
Similar words were uttered in a 2012 ad called “Boyfriend” launched by conservative group Independent Women’s Voice.
“I wanted to believe him, I trusted him,” one woman says to her friend sitting beside her on a couch. “Listen, we all did,” the friends responds.
“Why do I always fall for guys like this?” the first woman laments.
In a 30-second ad by the Republican National Committee in 2012 entitled “The Breakup,” a woman “breaks up” with a cardboard cutout of President Obama sitting across from her at a white tablecloth restaurant. “You’re just not the person I thought you were. It’s not me, it’s you,” she says over cocktail music followed by a prompt to “tell us why you’re breaking up with Obama.”
This pitch obviously didn’t work in 2012. Why are Republicans (at least some of them) going back to it now? One might be tempted to think it reflects a strain of persistently contemptuous attitudes towards women, those incorrigibly “emotional” critters for whom snaring Mr. Right while avoiding Mr. Wrong is the center of their existence and the most powerful metaphor imaginable.
I’d say this “argument” also may reflect some frustration on the part of conservative men who just don’t “get” the Democratic voting predilections of women, and thus have to mark it up to seduction. Back in the 90s, some wag (don’t remember exactly who it was) attributed some of the conservative male fury at Bill Clinton to astonishment that a dog like the Big Dog could get so many women to “sleep with or vote for him.” It’s almost as though Republican men aren’t quite adequate themselves, you know? The “‘Dating Profile” ad does look like it was conceived in a man cave with the assistance of a twelve-pack of beer.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 24, 2014
“Mitch McConnell’s 47 Percent Moment”: There For Millionaires And Billionaires, They Know They Can Count On Mitch
A year ago, President Obama convulsed the White House Correspondents Dinner when he responded to complaints that he wasn’t meeting enough with the Republican leaders in the Congress: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask. Really?” Obama asked the audience incredulously. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
The Kentucky senator, continuously partisan and mean spirited in public, earned the jab by leading a record number of filibusters as Senate minority leader during Obama’s tenure, forcing more than a quarter of all cloture votes in the history of the Senate since the beginning of the Republic.
Now, many political bookies, however prematurely, have made Republicans favorites to win the Senate majority. What will McConnell do if he must go from opposition to governing? Last week, the Nation Magazine, which I edit, along with Lauren Windsor of the Undercurrent, released an audiotape of McConnell’s revealing remarks to a private June strategy session of deep-pocket Republican billionaire donors, convened by the Koch brothers.
Introduced by the general counsel of Koch Industries, McConnell begins by paying tribute to his patrons, thanking the Koch brothers personally “for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you . . . rallying, uh, to the cause.”
So what is the cause? Putting Americans to work? Rebuilding the middle class? Unleashing free market answers to catastrophic climate change?
No, McConnell can’t seem to get himself to address a positive agenda. He envisions only more obstruction. If he is majority leader, he promises, “we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage . . . extending unemployment . . . the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse.”
With Republican majorities, McConnell tells the fat cats, “We own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And . . . we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or do that”
So what parts of government would McConnell starve of funds? Although many Republicans are campaigning as faux populists against crony capitalism, McConnell doesn’t suggest that he’ll cut subsidies to Big Oil or the lard-filled budgets of the Pentagon. No, McConnell pledges to his millionaire funders “We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board [inaudible].”
For all his posturing about Obama’s dictatorial usurpations, McConnell reassures the millionaires that “we now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times.” Why? Because in the Citizens United decision, the conservatives on the Supreme Court overturned established precedents to give corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in elections. This is a victory for “open discourse,” McConnell argues, making clear just how he expects the corporations to make their opinions known:
“The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways. You can give to the candidate of your choice. You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government.” (Americans for Prosperity is the right-wing Koch funded political vehicle that has been called the “third-largest political party in the United States.”)
For McConnell, the court’s decision to unleash corporate contributions helped heal the pain from what he described as the “worst day of my political life.” Not the 9/11 terrorist bombings or the disastrous vote to invade Iraq. No, according to McConnell, the worst day of his political life was when a Republican congress passed and George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms, that put some limits of big money in our politics.
Mitch McConnell is surely a man for these times. Big money dominates our politics and corrupts our politicians (including, most recently, McConnell’s campaign manager, who resigned because of his possible involvement in bribing an Iowa state legislator to change his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the 2012 Iowa Republican presidential primary). Legislators like McConnell openly serve “the private sector,” currying their donations while serving their interests.
As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said while campaigning for Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s underdog challenger: “Mitch McConnell is there for millionaires and billionaires. He is not there for people who are working hard playing by the rules and trying to build a future for themselves.”
Voters aren’t stupid. Given his views and his record, it is not surprising that McConnell is one of the most vulnerable of Republican incumbents, with Grimes running only a few points behind him. Nor is it surprising that more than $100 million may end up being spent on the race, making it one the most expensive contests in Senate history. Millionaires know they can count on McConnell.
McConnell ended his talk by repeating the Republican mantra against taxes and regulation, arguing, “If we want to get the country going again, we need to quit doing what we’ve been doing. Was it Einstein that [sic] said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?” Let’s hope the voters of Kentucky come to the same conclusion about reelecting a senator who represents donors far better than voters.
By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 3, 2014
A week ago today, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal condemning “interventionists,” who are quick to use military force abroad “with little thought to the consequences.” Over the course of his 900-word piece, the Republican senator was dismissive of the “hawkish members of my own party.”
“A more realistic foreign policy would recognize that there are evil people and tyrannical regimes in this world, but also that America cannot police or solve every problem across the globe,” Paul wrote. “Only after recognizing the practical limits of our foreign policy can we pursue policies that are in the best interest of the U.S.”
But a few days later, the Republican senator attended the annual summit of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ main political operation, where Rand Paul took a very different line.
Speaking to a ballroom later, some of the loudest applause for Paul came when he quipped: “If the president has no strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president.”
In an emailed comment, however, Paul elaborated by saying: “If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”
On Wednesday, Paul said he had no use for “interventionists” and the “hawkish members” of his own party who are calling for using force in the Middle East. But just 48 hours later, Paul supports U.S. military intervention abroad to destroy ISIS?
Also keep in mind, less than a month ago, Paul was asked about U.S. airstrikes targeting ISIS targets in Iraq. The senator said he had “mixed feelings” about the offensive. Apparently, those feelings are no longer mixed and Paul is now eager to “destroy ISIS militarily” – says the senator who complained last week about Hillary Clinton being a “war hawk.”
At what point do Rand Paul’s loyal followers start to reconsider whether Rand Paul actually agrees with them?
Sarah Smith recently noted that the Kentucky senator has changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, Guantanamo Bay, and even accepting donations from lawmakers who voted for TARP.
Now, even the basic elements of his approach to using military force are up for grabs.
I suppose a Paul defender might take heart by assuming the senator doesn’t actually believe these new policy positions; he’s just saying these things to bolster support from centers of power within the Republican Party in advance of a presidential campaign. His genuine beliefs, the argument goes, are the ones he espoused before he started pandering to GOP mega donors.
But if that is the argument, it’s cold comfort. For one thing, once a politician replaces his fundamental beliefs with a more palatable worldview, it’s hard to know which version is the “real” one. For another, the “don’t worry, he’s lying” defense just never seems to resonate with a broad spectrum of voters.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2014