Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

For Adelson, Koch brothers, buying a politician is good business

By Donna Brazile
April 7, 2014 -- Updated 0434 GMT (1234 HKT)
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, seen here in 2008, has pumped millions of dollars into GOP campaigns.
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, seen here in 2008, has pumped millions of dollars into GOP campaigns.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile says billionaires spend money to get politicians who help them
  • Adelson, Koch brothers want politicians who favor lower taxes, she argues
  • Such political spending is legal, thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings, she says

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Despite Republicans' claims that they're going to shorten the 2016 primary process, the contest is already under way.

At the end of March, potential Republican presidential candidates Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush were among those who rushed to Las Vegas to compete in the first primary for an all-important constituency of one: billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

In 2012, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, spent at least $93 million backing Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and other Republicans in their effort to defeat President Obama and Democrats at every level. These candidates are all too eager to try to court and please the likes of Adelson, who's trying to buy the White House.

But the problem's not just that Adelson is writing blank checks to the candidates of his choosing. The problem is that Adelson and other super-wealthy Republican donors are directing their largesse to buy elected officials who support policies that benefit their bottom lines at the expense of middle-class American families.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

People like Sheldon Adelson support candidates who are in favor of lowering tax rates for corporations and the super-wealthy -- people like Sheldon Adelson.

But those tax giveaways aren't free. Rep. Paul Ryan's House GOP budget pays for those tax breaks by gutting funding for investments in education and infrastructure, ending Medicare as we know it, and raising taxes on middle-class families with children.

Sheldon Adelson's not alone.

The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and their allies have given hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Republican candidates and causes.

And their focus isn't limited to the White House, or even House and Senate seats. They're opening their checkbook to tip the scales in local races in towns and neighborhoods across the country.

Inside Politics: GOP Vegas primary
Jeb, Christie & others courting Adelson

The Washington Post and The New York Times report that the Koch brothers are investing resources in local races, such as county board and small-town mayoral elections. They're exerting their influence in debates over local issues such as property taxes. It's a tall task to stand up to, especially when people like the Kochs are spending with no end in sight.

Even Gingrich, whose 2012 candidacy was kept alive month after month by Adelson, is now turning on his former patron and his ilk:

"Whether it's the Koch brothers or (George) Soros on the left or Sheldon (Adelson)," Gingrich told the National Journal, "if you're going to have an election process that radically favors billionaires and is discriminating against the middle class — which we now have — then billionaires are going to get a lot of attention."

According to a George Washington University Battleground Poll, about half of Americans know who the Koch brothers are. Considering the lengths that they have gone to keep their involvement in local affairs secret, that figure is a victory for watchdogs and government sunshine groups, not to mention Democrats. But it's alarming for anyone disturbed by their ability to exert disproportionate influence with millions of dollars that represent little more than pocket change to them.

The Koch brothers are legally allowed to flood "dark money" into your town, influencing who represents you in Congress or the Senate, or who sits in your mayor's office. They can do so anonymously, thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court in Citizens United.

And with the court's recent ruling lifting the cap on the number of candidates Adelson, the Kochs and others can give money to, there seems to be little left in their way.

Even though it's only April, the Koch brothers are already breaking spending records. Americans for Prosperity, one of the Kochs' front groups, has spent more than $30 million since last August running ads in at least eight states. According to The New York Times, AFP has more than "200 full-time paid staffers in field offices in at least 32 states."

It's no coincidence that these targets tend to follow Koch Industries' business interests.

In Michigan, Rep. Gary Peters has called attention to the toxic mountain of petroleum coke -- a byproduct of refining oil sands -- that stands in Detroit and is owned by Koch Minerals. Also called petcoke, the substance poses environmental and public health concerns when the dust blows into the air and water.

Peters called out the Koch brothers in a news conference at the restaurant of Jacques Driscoll, who lives near one of the petcoke storage sites in southwest Detroit and said he was fearful for the health of his then-pregnant wife and then-unborn child.

In return for his efforts to represent the well-being and safety of his constituents, Peters's bid for the United States Senate has been targeted with millions of dollars in attack ads from the Kochs and AFP. And like the petcoke, the commercials play dirty.

One such ad featured Julie Boonstra, who has cancer, claiming that she lost her doctor under the Affordable Care Act and that insurance became "unaffordable." A fact check showed that neither claim was true and noted that she even experienced "substantial savings" under the law.

No community is too small. AFP's Wisconsin chapter flooded Iron County, home to fewer than 5,000 voting-age residents, with a thousand brochures attacking seven county board candidates as "anti-mine radicals." Another full-color mailing supported the organization's preferred pro-mine candidates.

The dispute? A debate over new mining regulations friendly to Gogebic Taconite and their proposal to construct a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Iron and Ashland counties. David Fladeboe, state director of Americans for Prosperity, recently admitted, "the mining issue has been a big one for us."

One candidate attacked by AFP told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "I have a hard time understanding why the Koch brothers think I am such a threat to their well-being — that they single me out in poor little Iron County?" Sure enough, on Election Day, four out of the seven Koch- and AFP-backed candidates won.

Whether billionaires are buying federal candidates who will lower their taxes or local officials favorable to their business interests, their outsized influence is a threat to our democracy, particularly when it is obscured in the form of "dark money."

Middle-class Americans -- who can't afford to buy a school board seat, let alone a U.S. Senate seat -- deserve elected officials and a system that will ensure their voices are heard.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT