Our billionaires in Wichita make headlines again


March 3, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Charles and David Koch of Wichita are in the news again. The billionaire brothers are the major backers of Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax, anti-government regulation, non-profit which has paid for at least two multi-million-dollar ad campaigns against the president.
Last week Jim Messina, campaign manager for President Obama, accused the Kochs, whose main business is oil, of “jacking up prices at the pump” and bankrolling “Tea Party extremism.” Messina also said the brothers had pledged $200 million for AFP to spend to defeat Obama.
Philip Ellender, Koch public relations man, said AFP is funded by many, not just by the Kochs alone, and, besides, the president “does a disservice to the nation” by criticizing the Kochs “simply for the act of engaging in their constitutional right of free speech about important matters of public policy.”
Give the Kochs their due. They have not been at all bashful about their willingness to ladle out tens of millions to bankroll ultra-conservative candidates and causes. What they have been doing for years has been above board and legal. The Supreme Court has reinforced their right to use their enormous wealth to influence elections with last year’s ruling that corporations had the same right as individuals to “free speech.”
Correction: amend the above comment to read, “almost above board.” Yes, they have acknowledged their support for AFP and the Sam Brownbacks in politics; but, no, they have not revealed how much they have given, either directly or through various blind fronts, to those causes and candidates.
And that makes all the difference.
The campaign finance law called McCain-Feingold after their Senate authors limited the amounts that backers could give to candidates or parties. The Supreme Court, in effect, repealed McCain-Feingold and said that any limit on the amount that could be donated to a political cause would be an infringement of the right of free speech.
It would, therefore, be perfectly legal for Charles and David to give AFP $200 million to use against the president, even though they have denied an intent to do so.
The logic of McCain-Feingold was that allowing rich people and corporations to spend without limit to back or oppose a candidate gives the rich a louder voice in our democracy than the rest of us have. The caps the law placed on contributions was an effort to limit the role that money plays in elections; to make individual voters in all walks of life more equal. It also provided that the contributions made would be recorded and available to the public.
But the justices not only removed the limits, but also allowed those individuals and corporations to remain anonymous. As a consequence, candidates and their parties need not reveal just who it is who is trying to get on their good side -and how hard they are trying.
This legal restriction on transparency in our political system enhances the power of the special interests dramatically.
In our system, a constitutional amendment is the most direct remedy to a Supreme Court decision which gives the rich and powerful excessive clout at the ballot box. Putting such an amendment before the states for their adoption should be priority number one for the next Congress.

– Emerson Lynn, jr.

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