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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Small Contributions of Millions of Workers vs. Big Bucks from a few Sugar Daddies — Not the Same Thing

After acknowledging that the sky is not falling In the wake of the narrow Republican victory in FL-13, Dems do have to face the fact that Koch Brothers money is a huge problem in this and future election cycles. Toward that end, check out the New York Times editorial “The Democrats Stand Up to the Kochs,” which states:

…By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.
Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal — no party should — but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs.
The leader of this effort has been Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, who has delivered a series of blistering attacks against the Kochs and their ads on the Senate floor over the last few weeks. In addition, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has set up a website, www.kochaddiction.com, to remind voters of just what the Kochs stand for, and why they raised $407 million in the 2012 election. And individual candidates are making sure voters know who is paying for the ad blitz.

As for the motivation of the Koch brothers, the editorial explains:

Mr. Reid’s comments have gone to the heart of the matter. In his most recent speech, he pointed out that the fundamental purpose of the Kochs’ spending is to rig the economic system for their benefit and for that of other oligarchs. They own an industrial network that ranks No. 14 on the list of the most toxic American air polluters, and got their money’s worth in 2010 by helping elect a Republican House majority that has resisted environmental regulation.
“That Republican majority is, in fact, working to gut the most important safeguards to keep cancer-causing toxins and pollution that cause sickness and death out of the air we breathe and the water we drink,” Mr. Reid said. “Without those safeguards, the Koch brothers would pass on the higher health care costs to middle-class Americans while padding their own pocketbooks.” He called it “un-American” to spend lavishly to preserve tax breaks and end workplace safety standards.
…What the Kochs want — and polls show they have a strong chance of getting it — is a Senate led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now the minority leader, who promises in his latest campaign ad to “be the leader of the forces that take on the war on coal,” the most polluting power-plant fuel. Nothing could be better for the owners of Koch Carbon, and they are willing to spend whatever it takes to make it happen.

It’s an excellent editorial, which says a lot about what is at the center of congressional dysfunction and governmental paralysis — big money pouring into GOP coffers from vested interests.
But the real fun begins in David Firestone’s follow-up article in the Times, “There’s a Difference Between Union Money and Koch Money,”in which he obliterates the much-parroted Republican argument that Labor contributions to political campaigns somehow justify unlimited donations from a few self-interested billionaires. Here’s Firestone, responding to a comment complaining about union money following the editorial:

…Two brothers, aided by a small and shadowy group of similarly wealthy donors, spent more than millions of union members. The fortunes of just a few people have allowed them an outsized voice, and they are openly trying to use it to turn control of the Senate to Republicans.
The Koch group Americans for Prosperity has also joined the right-wing drive to reduce union rights and membership around the country, with the goal — made explicit at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference — of muzzling the voice of union members in politics.
…But for the most part, unions, unlike the Koch network, don’t try to disguise their contributions in a maze of interlocking “social welfare” groups. Their contributions on behalf of candidates or issues may be unlimited, thanks to Citizens United, but they are generally clearly marked as coming from one union or another. (They want Democrats to know which unions raised the money.)
Union members aren’t coerced into giving political money, either, despite the claims of several commenters. Thanks to a 1988 Supreme Court case, workers have the right not to pay for a union’s political activity, and can demand that their dues be restricted to collective bargaining expenses. The union members who contributed to that $400 million pot in 2012 opted in to the system.

It’s just another version of conservative “false equivalency,” this time focused on money in politics. As Firestone concludes, “…There’s a world of difference between a small group of tycoons writing huge checks, and a huge group of workers writing small ones.”

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