Politics

03.06.14

The Democrats’ Dumb Koch Strategy

Why Harry Reid and his friends’ demonization of the right-wing brothers won’t change anyone’s vote.

George Soros may lend his personal fortune to a number of causes with which I disagree, but I do have to thank him for one thing: letting me see Dave Matthews Band live in concert for free.

In 2004, musical acts fanned out across the country, playing free shows on the “Vote for Change” tour, presented by America Coming Together (ACT), a 527 group funded by Soros and a variety of “1 percent” liberal donors. Gainesville, Florida was visited by Dave Matthews Band, and despite my budding love for limited government, I was not prohibited from attending.

Soros and his fellow Democratic heavyweights sunk millions into ACT, funding anti-Bush advertising and turnout efforts. By summer of 2005, ACT was running out of cash and disbanded. Two years after ACT closed down, it was socked with a $775,000 fine from the Federal Election Comission for violating campaign finance laws. Citizens United was years away, and yet here were some very, very rich men putting their personal funds behind a multi-million dollar political operation, one that ultimately failed to elect a President Kerry but did let a broke college girl enjoy a live performance of “Warehouse” and “Grey Street.”

But a free concert ticket 10 years ago isn’t why you’ll never see me get bent out of shape about Soros and those like him spending money on political advocacy efforts. Not only do I generally think Soros has the right to spend his money to speak his mind, I suspect railing against Soros is among the least effective ways for me to win converts to my side of the aisle.

Yet Harry Reid obviously disagrees, and took things to the next level on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to rail against individuals by name for spending money to mobilize and persuade voters.

Charles and David Koch, bogeymen of the left, have indeed spent quite a bit of their own money to encourage the sort of political change they’d prefer, providing funding for groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Generation Opportunity. Nevermind that Americans for Prosperity has been supportive of trying to reform our immigration system and have been cautiously positive about Sen. Marco Rubio’s efforts and that David Koch has supported marriage equality; they are Public Enemy No. 1 for Democrats.

The left’s fixation on the Koch brothers is not new. For instance, in a bizarre 2011 prank, a liberal blogger from upstate New York called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker posing as David Koch and subsequently recording a 20 minute conversation that failed to yield much besides the revelation that no, Walker had never spoken with either of the Koch brothers before. For the upcoming midterm elections, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote “The message is clear: the Koch Brothers are the real enemy, not the Republican party in November. The bigger question: Will it work?”

Doubtful. Going after the Koch brothers is the ultimate “inside baseball” message. There’s no public polling about how many voters even know who the Koch brothers are, but only two thirds of independent voters even know who Harry Reid is, and most of them don’t like him much.

It’s not only the left that gets up in arms about the other sides’ deep-pocketed donors. Soros’s spending has certainly been a target of the right, but it’s hard to imagine a single voter casting a ballot for the GOP because they want to send a message to George Soros.

Campaign finance issues are perennially a low priority to voters. While voters often bemoan the role of money in politics, fewer than one out of four said that spending by outside groups would have a negative effect on the election, and six out of ten couldn’t say what the term Super-PAC refers to. With 72 percent of Americans saying that the economy these days is “not so good” or “poor” and with over four out of ten saying they don’t think the economy has recovered from the recession, most voters are far more interested in issues than in donors.

If you’re a Democrat, it is understandable that you’d be upset about the Koch brothers’ spending in key Senate races, where Republicans are poised to pick up a variety of seats (putting Harry Reid’s leadership in the Senate in jeopardy). If the goal is to “stir up the base” with a targeted message to a narrow, liberal audience in order to bring in fundraising dollars, that’s one thing. But Reid’s speech on the Senate floor suggests a broader Democratic strategy to run on a message focused on the Koch brothers, two wealthy men most whom voters have never heard of and probably could care less about.