WASHINGTON – The announcement this week that the political network run by the billionaire Koch brothers plans to spend an unprecedented $900 million US to promote conservative candidates in the 2016 presidential election cycle has sent shock waves through the capital.
This massive spending goal establishes Charles and David Koch, whose combined wealth of $80 billion makes them the richest twosome on the planet, as a political force that rivals that of the Republican and Democratic parties.
It also raises the ultimate question: can billionaires buy elections?
That’s exactly what is happening, Darrell West, an expert on big money and politics at the Brookings Institute, claims.
America, he says, is heading towards an oligarchy run by the richest one per cent of the one per cent of the one per cent.
“Raises the ultimate question: can billionaires buy elections?”
“I think we are approaching a perfect storm of big money and limited accountability coming together in ways that really threatened American democracy,” he said in an interview. “It’s going to be decisive in 2016.”
Having large financial resources allows the money elite to define the issues, set the agenda and even shape the images of politicians, he said in an interview.
“So it’s a way to communicate with a wide range of voters and really get your messages out there. I mean in 2014 we saw a lot of evidence of big money that went into the top 10 senate races and almost all of them ended up breaking in favour of Republicans and money was a big part of the overall story.”
Mega buck influence on U.S. politics for many Americans has been a growing concern that parallels the widening gap between the very rich and everybody else.
Fear of the moneyed elite taking control of government grew significantly after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that opened the door to unlimited corporate and private interest spending on political ads. A second Supreme Court ruling last year loosened the purse strings even more for individual contributions.
“Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that opened the door to unlimited corporate and private interest spending on political ads”
As a result, major donors for both parties have dived in head first to try shape America in their image. The total money raised by 1,310 outside groups in the 2012 election was $828 million, which is below what the Koch network alone hopes to spend in 2016, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks campaign spending.
Truth is spending has been rising steadily since 1996. But the Koch’s 2016 spending goal cries out for a whole new paradigm.
It means that to stamp their conservative agenda on Washington, the two richest men in America are ready to spent about $250 million more of their oil and consumer goods wealth than both Republicans and Democrats spent on all the senate races in 2014.
“It means Democrats are going to be seriously outspent,” West said. “Essentially we have a party of rich conservative activists and they are going to spend as much as Republicans or Democrats.”
But does money alone buy elections? Evidently not. Republicans outspent Democrats in 2012 and lost badly.