Money in politics. Lots and lots of money.
Widely you hear laments that huge money pumped into political campaigns by wealthy donors with an agenda is wrecking the nation’s electoral system.
Much of the focus centers on Charles and David Koch of Kansas, the billionaire brothers whose fortunes come from energy and chemical companies.
The Kochs are best known as patrons of Republicans and are said to have spent more than $30 million so far in television ads and related attack material in a dozen or so races involving the most vulnerable Democrats.
Many of the attack ads take aim at President Barack Obama’s health care reform law – high on the Kochs’ hit list – even using bogus information dispensed through their high-sounding “Americans for Progress.”
Koch money has been showing up all around the country, but especially in neighboring Louisiana where the Koches are trying to toss Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (whose family has long been prominent in Louisiana politics) out of the Senate because she voted for the health care reform act.
The Kochs would insist they are only using their constitutional right of free speech. Nothing “free” about that. More like “bought” speech – the guy with the most money gets the biggest microphone.
Landrieu is remembered after Hurricane Katrina for helping to round up congressional support to secure billions in recovery money for Mississippi – as well as her own state – and other Gulf states.
Accusing the Koch brothers of trying to “buy America,” Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada last week launched a campaign to counter the Kochs’ assault on Democratic candidates (several in the South) using phony information. Reid’s prime point is the Koch ad blitz is aimed at dismantling progressive programs that are beneficial to the middle class.
We in Mississippi haven’t seen any direct evidence of Koch dollars coming into our political campaigns in recent years, but the vast spread of their agenda doesn’t make our state politics immune to their grasp. In fact one of their front groups is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council which sponsors legislative junkets to mock legislative forums where so-called “model” bills that have a Koch imprimatur are handed out. Interestingly among the bills pitched by ALEC are Voter ID, charter schools, and blocking expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. Do those sound familiar down in this neck of the woods?
It must be remembered last year more than 50 Mississippi legislators (including only a handful of Democrats) were hosted by ALEC for a session in Orlando, Fla. At least Rep. Credell Calhoun of Jackson, one of the few Democrats invited, saw through the whole scheme. “The corporations seem to be taking over our government, from the state level all the way to Washington,” he said after returning from the Florida trip.
In 2013, Common Cause, the long-standing “citizens lobby” filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service challenging ALEC’s tax-free status, based on thousands of pages of points showing the group was actually a corporate lobby “masquerading as a public charity.” So far, the IRS hasn’t clamped down on ALEC.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.