Over the weekend, a network of political donors headed by Charles and David Koch announced that it would raise almost $900 million in the 2016 election cycle in support of conservative candidates and causes.
That bounty — a direct creation of Supreme Court rulings that removed limits on political spending — is more than double the then-record $407 million that the Koch network spent during the 2012 elections. It’s also more than double what the Republican National Committee or Democratic National Committee spent during that cycle.
Now, Democrats will be raising a lot of money too. It’s a war out there, and nobody is going to disarm unilaterally. But surely, Democrats are wrong when they nonetheless warn that such uncontrolled spending undermines democracy and concentrates an immense amount of power in a very tiny minority. Surely that $900 million, for example, isn’t intended to buy political power for its donors, but instead will be invested in politicians with a deep, abiding concern for the disappearing middle class. (Admittedly, we won’t know that for sure, since most of the money will be raised anonymously through non-profit shell agencies. But surely we can safely assume that.)
I’m equally sure that presidential contenders such as Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz won’t craft their 2016 political messaging and policies just to please those 300 or so deep-pocket donors. In fact, I’m sure that’s exactly what Walker, Rubio, Paul and Cruz told those donors when they met this weekend behind closed doors at a Koch-sponsored conference in Palm Beach, California.
Again, you and I weren’t invited, but surely those presidential contenders reminded their hosts that in a democracy like our own, all American citizens have an equal voice and an equal vote in their government, and that the viewpoints of a housewife in Hahira or a factory worker in Columbus must be given weight equal to their own. I’m sure that happened.
The Koch gathering occurred almost five years to the day from the announcement of the Citizens United ruling. I’m sure that the five Supreme Court justices who joined in that ruling have seen no grounds to second-guess their findings in that decision and in other rulings, especially the part in which they promised that unlimited contributions would not produce corruption or even the appearance of corruption, despite what common sense would seem to tell you.
In the most recent of those rulings, McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission (2014), Chief Justice John Roberts laid the logic out plain and simple. Government can’t target “the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.” In fact, Roberts explained, it’s “a central feature of democracy” for candidates to be responsive to those who support them.
So if $900 million buys $900 million worth of “ingratiation and access” for its donors, that’s a good thing. And if the candidates elected with the help of that money turn out to be very “responsive” to the concerns of those who contributed the cash, that too is good. It’s just the system working as the Founders intended it.
I’m sure we all agree with that.
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