Charles and David Koch became national news about two years ago when a Jane Mayer exposé in the New Yorker revealed the billionaire brothers were funding “stealth attacks on the federal government,” especially the Obama administration. Since then, the evidence of the Kochs’ nefariously outsized influence on American politics has only grown: The echo chamber they fund spreads misinformation about Social Security, undermines labor rights, works to re-segregate public schools, and pushes voter ID initiatives that would deny voting rights to millions. The Kochs themselves undermine academic integrity by buying the right to appoint professors at universities. And residents of Crossett, Arkansas, are giving powerful testimony to links between a Koch chemical plant and the disproportionate number of cancer deaths in that community. Our new film, Koch Brothers Exposed, gives the dirty details on all of these stories.
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But why, in the end, does it matter? Let’s say everything that we progressives say about these guys is true. Is there anything that can or should be done about two men participating in the political process?
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When it comes to the kind of influence the Koch brothers wield, the answer is yes. Democracy, fundamentally, is about ensuring everyone has influence over the way their society functions. Power cannot be concentrated in a few hands; it’s supposed to be spread across everyone. The Kochs, who use their wealth to perpetuate and expand their own fortunes, aren’t just exercising their rights as humble citizens; they are keeping others from doing the same. Remember when a journalist called Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin at the height of the worker protests, pretending to be David Koch? The governor spent like 20 minutes trying to suck up to him and prove that he was doing all he could to crush the unions. But let’s say a teacher in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, had called Walker. Is there even the slightest chance he’d get to talk to the guy? Is there any remote possibility Walker would feel a desperate need to prove his bona fides to the teacher?
Or consider those people dying of cancer near a Koch plant in Arkansas. Do government officials listen to their cries for help when they’re considering what pollution rules should be and whether they’ll be enforced? Or are they more concerned with what the Kochs want?
To ask these questions is to answer them. That’s because Koch brothers aren’t just rich; they’re using the resources they have to step on the backs of the 99%. And so our job in pursuing an ever-more robust democracy is not just to demand more equitable policies on health and the environment and all that good stuff. It’s also to look to the root of our democracy to ensure that when we make our demands, there’s a level playing field that gives us a real chance at winning.
For now, the Kochs are rigging the game in their favor. But it needn’t always be thus. Occupy Wall Street has built national momentum for cleaning up politics to guarantee that regular people get power back. Will we push that movement forward, even in the face of the formidable opposition of people like Charles and David Koch? That’s up to us.