Leaked Audio Reveals Republicans Cozying Up to the Kochs — But the Problem Is Much Bigger

Leaked Audio Reveals Republicans Cozying Up to the Kochs — But the Problem Is Much Bigger
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

While Republican candidates have benefitted greatly from the financial assistance of the Koch brothers and their network of mega-donors, it's unlikely you'll ever see them owning up to that on the campaign trail.

Behind closed doors, though, is another story. That's why we get regular leaks from Koch conferences and meetings featuring conservative candidates seemingly kowtowing to a room full of billionaires. It's what makes the Koch empire the Left's biggest boogeyman.

But while these leaks make for good campaign soundbites, the real problem isn't politicians heading to these conferences and retreats. It's the lax campaign finance rules that make buddying up to donors so damn profitable.

The clips: The Huffington Post's scoop Tuesday showcased leaked audio recordings made during a June 16 Koch retreat in Dana Point, Calif. The audio features Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner and Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst, all of whom are Republicans running for Senate, talking about their respective races.

Source: YouTube

"We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election," Ernst said during her talk, in a quote that will likely get repeated as November gets closer. "And this is the thing that we are going to take back — that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network."

Meanwhile, the Nation got a clip of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaking frankly at a secret Koch-organized meeting. "I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill," he told those in attendance. "No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board."

Source: YouTube

Here's the thing: It's understandably infuriating to hear politicians praising billionaire donors and speaking more honestly in a secret gathering than they would in a stump speech. And candidates get called out — Cotton's Democratic opponent, Mark Pryor, ripped him for attending a Koch conference instead of the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival in Warren, Ark.

And while there's certainly shame to be had in remorselessly skipping out on the Third Annual Grand Tomato Ball, the real culprits here aren't the politicians. After all, if you were running for office and were offered the chance to pitch yourself to a roomful of rich people, wouldn't you?

With Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, which in 2010 struck down regulations of corporate campaign donations, and McCutcheon, which got rid of the two-year individual donation cap earlier this year, the door is wide open for lawmakers to court donors like the Kochs.

Fighting back against campaign finance deregulation would be the best way to cut off these conference appearances at the source. But it's not just Republicans who are thriving in the new electoral landscape — Democrats have come to accept it too, from anonymous donations to super PACs. After all, it's hard to take a stand on money in politics. It's even harder when your chances of keeping the Senate require all the money you can get your hands on.

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Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

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