The $889 Million Question
With all of the GOP Presidential gossip at last weekend’s Freedom Partners political retreat, it would have been easy to overlook the real news: the Koch brothers made a remarkable pledge to spend $889 million supporting Republican candidates in 2016.
That is a staggering, unprecedented sum that requires some context.
Let’s look at party spending. In 2012, the Republican Party, represented by the Republican National Committee, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Republican National Congressional Committee, spent a total of $657 million.
What if we compared that $889 million to President Obama and Governor Romney’s 2012 campaigns, which were the most expensive in history by a long shot?
Again, no contest.
Think about that: in 2016, two billionaire brothers and their supporters plan to outspend not just the 2012 Presidential candidates, but the entire Republican Party! That would have been unimaginable before the Citizens United decision just five years ago.
When asked about all of this, the early Republican frontrunners get defensive. Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul were all on hand for the Koch’s announcement, and they celebrated the sudden influx of billions of dollars in our politics as a wonderful new manifestation of free speech.
Dubious constitutional claims aside, I doubt that anyone with any sense truly believes an avalanche of unregulated outside spending is a good thing for our democracy. All of this money from so few sources begs the question – after paying the bills to get politicians elected, what will billionaires expect in return for their investment?
Last week, Congressman Chris Van Hollen and I introduced legislation that would clarify and strengthen some important provisions in our election laws. Our bill alone cannot undo the systematic dismantling of our country’s anti-corruption system brought on by Citizens United and Republicans’ suspicion of the government. But even without comprehensive reform or a constitutional amendment, we can implement targeted improvements that would help average Americans take their elections back from the billionaires.
The $889 million question is this: When will Republicans get serious about the influence of money in our politics and work with Democrats to build a stronger, more transparent campaign system? We’ll be waiting.