Let’s talk money

As kids, we’re told money can’t buy happiness — but our parents never said anything about presidential elections. The Koch brothers announced last month their intentions to spend $889 million on the 2016 presidential election.

$889 million. Let’s get some perspective on that number. $889 million is twice as much as Mitt Romney spent in the 2012 election. $889 million is more than George Bush and John Kerry spent combined in the 2004 election. Dad joke of the year: “What can you buy with 889 million dollars? A President!”

All joking aside, the Koch brothers are a simple reminder of the dangers of money in politics. Their network is made up of a plethora of advocacy groups and nonprofits; a system that allows their donors to stay mostly anonymous. Which means we don’t know where the money is coming from (although a safe bet is that it’s the 1%).

The announcement was made at a donor meeting for Freedom Partners, a business lobby that serves as the head of the snake. Keep in mind that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) — all likely candidates for the Republican nomination in 2016 — were all in attendance and available for mingling with the wealthy Americans pulling the strings of politics. The conservative donors also stuck around for strategy sessions and issue seminars, according to The New York Times.

The strategy sessions must be paying off though, as the Koch brothers have been using their wealth to influence more than just national elections. They have played a role in state elections as well.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is a conservative advocacy group, and a part of the Koch network, that has more than 2,000 state legislators as members. ALEC has been most useful in their fight against the Obama administration’s energy and environmental regulations.

Does this sound familiar? In December I wrote about Republicans not only taking over the Senate, but also dominating state legislatures across the country, as well as about the combined efforts of Republican State Attorneys General to overturn environmental regulations. The Koch brothers, and their money, have seeped into every crevice of American policy and politics.

When it comes to state campaign finance, it’s mostly uncharted waters. The rules vary a lot more already. But on the national stage there has been a lot more influence from a select few in recent years, mostly due to the significant new changes in campaign finance law.

Without delving too deeply into the Citizens United v. FEC, the court majority’s main argument was restricting political spending was restricting free speech, even of associations of individuals (i.e. corporations). The court went even further in 2014 with the ruling of McCutcheon v. FEC, which places no cumulative limit on individual contributions to candidates. The trend continued in Congress, when in December 2014 they passed the “CRomnibus” (continuing resolution omnibus spending bill), which rolled back more campaign finance rules, significantly lifting the caps on donations to campaign committees. These decisions and new laws have had many different impacts, but the one to focus on here is that the billionaire Koch brothers get a louder and more influential voice in politics because their pockets are deeper than most Americans.

I say most Americans, because there are other wealthy people (besides the Koch brothers) who have increased their donations to political campaigns since the Citizens United decision. As the chart below illustrates, spending that once hovered under $10 million has skyrocketed in the past 7 years. Still, conservative donors are, by volume of donations, effectively the only ones throwing money at candidates. True, names like Michael Bloomberg and George Soros show up on the invite list to big Democratic donor events, but even their combined contributions for 2014 were less than $30 million. That’s equal to 3% of my new favorite number: $889 million. And the rest of Americans are barely noticeable.

The dramatic growth of independent expenditures in presidential elections following the Citizens United decision. (Center for Responsive Politics via Reclaim Democracy)

The dramatic growth of independent expenditures in presidential elections following the Citizens United decision. (Credit: Center for Responsive Politics via Reclaim Democracy)

The pressure is on for Democrats and anticipated frontrunner candidate Hillary Clinton. While Barack Obama spent just under $800 million in the 2012 election, he managed to raise more than any other presidential candidate in history. So despite claims that liberals run most of Hollywood and the news media, it’s clear that they don’t come anywhere close to scrambling up nearly a billion dollars to elect a president. The Koch brothers are essentially doubling the Republican war chest with the extra $889 million, while the Democrats will be lucky to raise half of that combined total.

Even so, the reason $889 million is so outrageous is not because there is no way Democrats can compete. It’s because, for working and voting Americans, I think it highlights the question: Who is really electing our President?

Correction: An earlier version of this article included a numerical error in contributions to Democratic candidates due to an editing mistake. Tom Steyer donated $74 million to Democratic candidates in the 2014 cycle. He should not have been included in the $30 million / 3% figure in the original version. Steyer’s 2014 contributions amount to about 8% of $889 million.

December 17, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 111


Topics: Torture Report, CRomnibus spending package, video game review – This War of Mine. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: December 15th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Torture Report: Why US actions after 9/11 are symptomatic of a wider unresolved White Supremacy in American policymaking and society — and why torture and drones are the logical extension of daily police brutality and accidental shootings.
– CRomnibus Spending Package: Should Democrats and President Obama have stood more firmly on principle against the new funding measure even at the cost of a shutdown?
– Political Pop Culture: Nate reviews “This War of Mine,” a survival game set in the Siege of Sarajevo

Episode 111 (53 min)
AFD 111

Related links
Segment 1

Boston Globe: 20 key findings of Senate’s CIA torture report
Arsenal For Democracy coverage of the 2014 Torture Report
Arsenal For Democracy archive coverage of the 2009 Torture Memos

Segment 2

AFD: The Terrible CRomnibus
NYT Dealbook: Wall Street Seeks to Tuck Dodd-Frank Changes in Budget Bill
Huffington Post:The Levee Breaks: Democrats Rage Against Obama Over Wall Street Giveaway
AFD: US prepares to give sacred Native land to Australian mining firm
AP: Federal budget would raise limits on big donors in campaign finance

Segment 3

AFD Review by Nate: My War
Steam: “This War of Mine”


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

The terrible CRomnibus

The White House should be ashamed of itself for supporting the Continuing Resolution omnibus (“CRomnibus”) funding package the House of Representatives passed. This bill includes rollbacks to Dodd-Frank Financial Reform (written by Citigroup!) and campaign finance rules, it would allow cuts to current (not future!) retirees’ pension agreements, it cuts the EPA’s budget and SEC’s budget, and it will give sacred Apache land to a mining company … among a lot of other awful things. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, was personally whipping House votes for this “funding bill,” and that alone should tell you everything you need to know.

Is all this really worth it to keep irresponsible Republicans from shutting down the government?


US prepares to give sacred Native land to Australian mining firm

Congress may be about to trade Federal public land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest that includes a sacred Native American site to a subsidiary of the giant Australian mining company Rio Tinto for copper mining:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Saturday criticized a last-minute addition to a major defense policy bill that would hand 2,400 acres of land in Arizona to an Australian mining corporation.
But the land also includes sites sacred to the San Carlos Apache tribe, including Apache Leap, where warriors once leapt to their deaths rather than being killed or captured by U.S. troops moving west through the frontier.

The proposed land exchange had failed several times before, including once in 2013 when House Republicans scheduled a vote while Native American leaders were meeting with White House officials in Washington. Tribal activists pressured lawmakers into spiking the vote.

But it returned again this week, in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass bill that sets the nation’s defense policy.

San_Carlos_Apache_sealThis is a yet another demonstration that Federal abuses of the Native American people are still ongoing (and Native interests and voices are still callously disregarded), rather than such treatment being some relic of a harsh but distant past. Interior Secretary Jewell called the provision “profoundly disappointing.”

Activists have launched an official WhiteHouse.gov Petition called Stop Apache Land Grab in an effort to get the provision removed.