Charles and David Koch, the ultra-conservative billionaires, plan to spend almost $900 million on the 2016 presidential campaign. This stunning amount was announced on Monday, January 26 at their annual winter donor retreat near Palm Springs, California. Hundreds of wealthy conservative donors gathered for three days of issue seminars, strategy sessions and meetings with rising Republican elected officials.
The Koch brothers spent nearly $400 million supporting Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign while the Republican National Committee and the party’s two Congressional campaign committees spent a total of $657 million. There is no question that 2016 will be the most expensive Presidential campaign for both parties. Barack Obama was the most successful fund-raiser in presidential history, and a “super PAC” supporting Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic Candidate, is aiming to raise over $300 million in the coming months. Once the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, July 18, 2008, unleashed the torrent of dollars, the sky appears to be the limit. Although small donors will continue to play a part, the scales have tipped to the coffers of the richest one percent of Americans.
Charles and David Koch own Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States, (Cargill is first) headquarters in Wichita, Kansas. An energy and manufacturing conglomerate, Koch Industries operates oil refineries in Texas, Alaska and Minnesota along with Georgia Pacific lumber, Dixie Cups, Lycra Stainmaster carpet and Brawny paper towels. Annual revenues reach about $115 billion. The Kochs as political libertarians have long advocated drastic cuts in personal and corporate taxes, less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation, and less social services by federal and state governments. Their positions mirror the Republican and Tea Party calls for small government, opposition to health care reform and fewer restrictions on business and industry. A report from Greenpeace called Koch Industries, “a kingpin of climate denial.”
In the August 30, 2010 issue of The New Yorker Magazine, an investigative reporter, Jane Mayer revealed Charles and David Koch and their vast empire and influence to the American public. Up to that date, they had been almost unknown except for certain philanthropic activities. For over four decades, they had been working under the radar to build the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the fifty state legislatures. ALEC’s members are thousands of state law makers who attend retreats and receive model legislation. Their nominal dues make up less than one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues. ALEC’s main funding comes from huge corporations: tobacco, insurance, pharmaceutical, the National Rifle Association (NRA) as well as Charles and David Koch.
Their activities emerged into the public’s consciousness in recent years when news organizations linked ALEC to the voter photo ID laws passed in state capitols controlled by Republican legislatures. These laws have been controversial in presidential and mid-year elections in key states since they were first introduced. They are supposedly aimed at voter impersonation fraud that has never been proved beyond one percent nation wide, documented by the Brennan Center For Justice. The different types of Voter ID actually serve to suppress millions of votes, particularly among older and young voters as well as Afro-American and Hispanic voters. Most state Voter ID laws have been argued in the courts– at times overruled while others have been upheld.
There were three young Republican senators invited to the Koch retreat this year — all probable candidates for president: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They took part in a candidate forum on economic issues on Sunday evening. Rubio spoke about liberals who supported campaign finance reform because of their “Hollywood” sponsors. Cruz ,who usually has repealing Obamacare as his focus, switched to defending business and industry as job creators unfairly attacked by Democrats. Paul joined Rubio and Cruz in dismissing a question about whether the rich had too much influence in politics. For the first time, Koch aides allowed reporters to view live video of the candidate forum. In addition, the Koch brothers have begun to lessen the strict secrecy that has long cloaked their political efforts. They have each granted a series of interviews to talk about their philosophy and views. And their privately held firm, Koch Industries, has started a “We Are Koch” campaign, featuring the company employees. Not quite “just plain folk” but an attempt to soften their formidable image.
The agenda of the expansive Koch network will focus on reduction of regulation by economic and environmental agencies, increased tax cuts for business, industry and the wealthy and of course, altering Obamacare if possible. With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress as well as a majority of state governors and legislatures, the prospects for successful influence and cooperation are strong. The Koch network includes :Americans for Prosperity, a national grass roots organization; Freedom Partners , a trade organization run by Koch advisors that plans the retreats and brings in donors; and Concerned Veterans for America – predominantly politically conservative Republican veterans.
Income inequality has become a major issue and concern throughout the United States. As the income and wealth of the top one percent continue to rise, the earnings of the middle class and working class remain flat and stagnant. The widening gap is vividly displayed on charts. Attempts to raise the national minimum wage appear to be stuck in the Republican Congress although certain states and districts have enacted minimum wage increases on their own. President Obama stressed the need for an increase in the federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address. It will certainly be a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. There is little doubt that the Democratic candidate will favor an increase. Who will be the Republican candidate and what will be his position? What we do know is that Charles and David Koch are committed to winning the 2016 presidential election and will back the Republican candidate with their vast dollar resources.