Don’t fear the Koch brothers. Fear an election that caters only to billionaires

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

Forget right or left. Dark money in politics means you’ll never know which ‘independent’ candidate’s views were on the market

Popular sentiment may tie the GOP and the infamous Koch brothers to unregulated campaign financing – while Democrats rail against it – but the post-Citizens United world can’t be understood within the framework of party politics. Citizens United isn’t good for one party and bad for another; it’s good for rich people and bad for everyone else.

The Koch brothers’ place in American politics as the big-spending bogeymen changing electoral outcomes with gobs of cash will find some help this week with the release of the documentary Citizen Koch and the book Big Money (by Politico reporter Ken Vogel), a good portion of which narrates the battle between the Koch brothers and Karl Rove for the soul of the Republican Party, such as it is.

There is a delicious irony in the the fracturing of the GOP coalition: it was made possible by the death of meaningful campaign finance reform – an agenda that Republicans have fought with increasing vehemence as the party morphed into the most reliable ally of big business. Conservatives may have celebrated the Citizens United decision that unleashed the torrent of unregulated outside spending, but they wouldn’t be facing a possible Democratic upset in the Mississippi Senate race without it.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been mostly gleeful about that ongoing GOP civil war, and Citizen Koch in particular cements the notion that the brothers are responsible for the drift of the GOP rightward on all fronts (and the mortal enemies of all Democrats). And it’s true that the Kochs have no real counterpart on the left (or at least they didn’t in 2012). But the singularity of their influence is not a permanent condition – liberal dark money outpaced conservative spending in 2013 – nor really the point.

Big money is big money, and the distinction between right and left, or Democrat and Republican, will matter less and less as billionaires become the only real voters in the democratic process. In that sense, unregulated campaign spending is bad for both Republicans and Democrats, because it likely means the end of the two-party system in general.

The Kochs don’t represent the threat of lasting Republican party rule as much as they are a harbinger of a political system grounded exclusively in billionaires’ caprice. After all, the Kochs came to be GOP donors out of strategy rather than ideological affinity, in a marriage of convenience mandated by the persistence of party labels. But what about those billionaires who proclaim themselves “non-partisan” and are so willing to fund any candidate who can check the appropriate box on a given issue (your Michael Bloombergs, your Tom Steyers, and even your your donor-collection funnels like the League of Conservation Voters)?

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