When news broke Monday that conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch (pictured) planned to spend almost $1 billion in the 2016 campaign cycle, Democrats fretted. Not only would that hefty sum be spent against them, but there’s no comparable billionaire on the left, Democrats noted to TPM, to counter that.
The new funding means that even in a cycle more favorable to Democrats than the last, they will face extreme fundraising pressures. The significance goes beyond just the amount of money the Kochs are spending, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at University of California at Irvine.
“They also have a ground operation and can rival political parties in what they can do, both in influencing the [Republican] primary and in get out the vote and registration efforts in the general election,” Hasen wrote in an email to TPM.
The Kochs’ plan to spend $889 million through their network of 17 allied groups in the 2016 cycle would more than double the $407 million they spent in 2012. By comparison, the Republican National Committee and its Senate and House counterparts spent a total of $657 million in 2012.
“That amount of money can create all kinds of things,” said Nick Rathod, a former staffer in the Obama White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and founder of the State Innovation Exchange, which aims to be a liberal alternative to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Through their network of organizations, the Kochs can shape “an issue environment” and frame debates around issues they want to focus on.
Rathod said “to have a billion dollars to spend on any kind of debate or frame around issues I think is very scary because you can just drown out any other voice.”
The problem is hard to remedy for Democrats. The spending advantage among the wealthiest Americans is with Republicans.
“There’s nothing on our side that can come close to matching that,” Rathod said, adding that even though people cite George Soros or other wealthy Democratic donors “we don’t have anything like that.”
“I don’t think we’re as strategic as the Kochs have been, particularly at the state and local level,” Rathod said.
Rathod’s sentiment is shared by Ben Ray, the communications director at the American Bridge 21st Century PAC.
“Nobody is going to show up with a billion dollars on the Democratic side of the aisle,” Ray told TPM. “And I think that’s okay because I think our donors understand why that would be and our donors in the Democratic Party understand why that sort of injection of money is bad for the people we want to help.”
Democrats expect the $1 billion to also affect the Republican candidates for president as well.
“They can essentially define an agenda for someone like a Scott Walker or a Chris Christie,” Rathod said.
After news broke about the spending, Democrats quickly warned of the effect that the $1 billion spending push could ultimately have on policy.
“The Koch brothers have one powerful fundraising advantage — what investors call Return on Investment. A Republican President would likely roll back environmental protections, worker protections and consumer protections which could benefit the Kochs and their corporations,” Peter Kauffman, a spokesman for the pro-Hillary Clinton Priorities USA Action super PAC said in a statement to TPM.
At this point, the Kochs have essentially “superseded” a political party, former top Obama adviser David Axelrod said to The New York Times.
“It’s no wonder the candidates show up when the Koch brothers call,” Axelrod said. “That’s exponentially more money than any party organization will spend. In many ways, they have superseded the party.”