Koch oligarchs gather to plot 2016

David Koch, pictured, and his brother Charles plan to spend nearly $1 billion on Republican candidates and causes in 2016 races.
David Koch, pictured, and his brother Charles plan to spend nearly $1 billion on Republican candidates and causes in 2016 races. Associated Press file

Once again, Charles and David Koch had their Palm Springs election cattle show when 450 of the nation’s wealthiest Americans gathered last weekend to break bread, talk politics and hear wannabe presidents.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, along with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, strutted their stuff before some of the nation’s richest Republicans.

That is understandable. This being January 2015, Campaign 2016 is well underway.

The Washington Post reported that the Koch brothers set a fundraising goal of $889 million for 2016. That mind-numbing sum would be spent on presidential and congressional races. The 17 groups in the Kochs’ network spent $407 million during the last presidential campaign election in 2012.

The magnitude of the effort makes clear that the Kochs and their friends are creating a shadow political party that will carry out many if not all the functions of national political parties, with an important exception.

Koch-funded nonprofit political organizations generally operate in the dark, using antiquated Internal Revenue Service code sections to avoid the mess of having to publicly disclose their spending.

The Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee, by contrast, identify contributors and expenditures in regular, public campaign finance filings.

The travesty is not merely the amount of the money being spent to sway your vote. The lack of transparency is worse.

By failing to disclose, the Kochs ignore the public’s right to know who is buying the elections, further sullying their reputation and, worse, diminishing the democracy they claim to cherish.

The Koch brothers aren’t your run-of-the-mill billionaires. They place No. 4 and 5 on the Forbes list of billionaires, at $40 billion each, earned in part from inherited an oil company founded by their father.

Wealthy Democrats spend heavily, too. San Francisco liberal Tom Steyer, whose $1.6 billion places him No. 383 on Forbes’ list of 400 billionaires, spent $73.7 million in a mixed attempt to elect Democrats in 2014.

That’s more than anyone else last year, at least of those donors we know of. Unlike much of the Kochs, Steyer disclosed how much he spent and where he spent.

The U.S. Supreme Court says rich people and corporations can spend as much as they want on independent campaign efforts. It is a First Amendment right, the justices say.

The Kochs’ political philosophy of smaller government and an unfettered free market is a subject they’re free to promote. That’s not the point. If the Koch brothers are proud of what they’re espousing, they should, at minimum, publicly disclose which groups they’re funding and how much they’re giving.