If any doubt was left about the power of big money in our politics, the Wisconsin election destroyed it. Charles and David Koch goosed Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign with $10 million through their front group Americans for Prosperity, $1 million through the Republican Governors Association, and more from members of the “million-dollar donor club” of financial titans that meet regularly at Koch-hosted secret summits. Meanwhile, the official campaign of Democratic opponent Tom Barrett raised about $4 million. Is it any wonder that Walker climbed steadily in the polls and ultimately won?
Yet as my new film Koch Brothers Exposed illustrates, the Kochs’ political influence goes beyond buying the public debate. The Kochs have also been investing in suppressing the vote — providing a one-two punch to democracy. First they try to change your mind, and failing that, they try to take your vote.
The invaluable Lee Fang reveals at Republic Report that a $100,000 donation linked to the Koch brothers went to a Florida group called Protect Your Vote in 2010. The perversely named organization was formed to fight ballot initiatives demanding fair redistricting. Specifically, the initiatives — known as Amendments 5 and 6 — said district boundaries couldn’t be drawn to favor a political party, deny minorities equal opportunity, or be gerrymandered.
The initiatives ended up winning. But who could have opposed such sensible guidelines? Anyone with a vested interest in maintaining control over the political process instead of trusting the public to govern itself. Anyone, that is, who wants to preserve the illusion of public accountability while rigging results behind the scenes — creating suppression in effect, if not in name. Could there be a more apt description of the Koch brothers’ modus operandi?
Indeed, Kurt Browning, the official who ran Protect Your Vote, is the man behind Florida’s recent effort to purge the rolls of potentially eligible voters. Naturally, the disenfranchised folks are disproportionately likely to vote for Democratic candidates. The Justice Department has now demanded that Florida stop the purge in light of evidence that the list — which at one point had around 180,000 people — has numerous mistakes and is violating federal voter protection laws. So the man the Koch brothers backed shifted from shady redistricting to denial of the vote, removing even the appearance of fair democracy.
The Kochs have supported outright suppression in the past. They are longstanding leaders in the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has pushed voter ID bills making it more difficult for vulnerable populations to vote. In 2011, 34 state legislatures introduced such bills, potentially disenfranchising up to 21 million voters.
The Kochs, then, have a crafty strategy for commandeering the political process: spend vast sums not only for TV ads, “grassroots” campaigns, and think tanks that manipulate public opinion, but also on direct efforts to ensure that many of those who aren’t fooled are unable to vote anyway.
This is the Koch vote — a constituency of two with the bullhorn of millions.