Brock to Dems: Brace for $1 billion deluge from Koch brothers

Brock to Dems: Brace for $1 billion deluge from Koch brothers
© Greg Nash

David Brock urged Senate Democrats this week to look for ways to limit the political influence of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, who have vowed to spend millions in 2016.

But some political experts think striking at the Kochs is questionable in its effectiveness.

ADVERTISEMENT

Brock, one of Hillary Clinton’s chief defenders, and Democratic pollster Geoff Garin met with Senate Democrats on Thursday to discuss the strategies for minimizing the influence of Koch-backed groups such as Concerned Veterans for America and Generation Opportunity.

“I talked about why I thought this was an important issue to be raising,” Brock told The Hill. “The Kochs say they’re going to spend up to $1 billion in 2016. What are they spending it on? I talked about five different areas or capacities they were spending money on from message to data to advertising to grassroots organizing.”

Brock, who is chairman of a Democratic-aligned super PAC, founder of Media Matters for America  media watchdog group and founder of a group defending Clinton from political attacks, emphasized that Koch-backed political groups are active all the way down to the city-council level in Iowa.

“They have the capacity to be in every race they want to be in,” he said.

“They may well lose the next election but the lesson we have to learn this year is that they lost 2012 but they got up, they picked themselves up, they dusted themselves off and doubled down. This is a long-term challenge,” he said.

The challenge for Democrats isn’t just the Koch brothers, but the strategy the party uses to counter their efforts.

Some Democrats like the idea of an outside group filing a suit against what they call Koch-funded “front groups,” alleging fraud on the basis that they do not represent real constituencies.

Other Democrats are exploring the option of executive orders to force these groups to disclose their funders.

“I had no idea the breadth and depth of it,” said a Democratic senator who attended the meeting.

“I understand the First Amendment but if you’re saying one thing and doing another thing with malicious intent, that’s not covered,” the lawmaker said, suggesting a lawsuit by an outside ally might be welcome.

Brock’s super-PAC American Bridge has put out reports detailing the activity of Koch-backed groups that are trying to make inroads with key constituencies -- Hispanics, young people, women and veterans.

Brock argues these groups, LIBRE, Concerned Women for America, Concerned Veterans for America, and Generation Opportunity, are front groups that don’t really have the interests of the voters their targeting at heart.

“Concerned Veterans for America isn’t at all honest about who they are and who they support. They consistently represent themselves as a non-ideological group, just looking out for veterans. That’s not correct,” American Bridge wrote in a report. “The group promotes proposals that are extremely conservative in nature, and indeed, often opposed by every major Veterans Service Organization (VSO).”

Concerned Veterans for America declined to comment.

Freedom Partners, a group that has received substantial funding from Charles and David Koch, and has supported the advocacy organizations cited by Brock, pushed back against his allegations.

“Our efforts are focused on expanding opportunity for all Americans; theirs is about demonizing two private citizens who have created tens of thousands of jobs. The contrast is clear,” said James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners.

Some Democratic strategists question whether bashing the Koch brothers is a sound political strategy, given that voters are most concerned about jobs and the economy.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the Senate floor dozens of times in the last election cycle to bash the Koch brothers but the strategy didn’t stop Democrats from losing nine seats in November.

Former White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer recently cautioned against relying too heavily on an anti-Koch message.

“Targeting the Kochs is a good tactic for generating donor activity and base enthusiasm and the Kochs are a good metaphor for GOP policies. The press shouldn’t confuse this tactic with an overall strategy, which is not what the Dems are doing,” he wrote on Sidewire, a Web forum for insiders and newsmakers.

Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” slammed Reid last year for pursuing what he called an ineffective strategy.

“This Koch brothers thing, it’s ridiculous,” Scarborough said at the height of the battle for control of the Senate.

“It doesn’t even work in Manhattan, where people thank God for David Koch,” he said inference to millions of dollars in philanthropic gifts. The ballet theatre at Lincoln Center is named after David Koch.

Garin, however, argued that Democratic candidates can gain traction against Republican opponents backed by Koch-funded groups.

He told Democratic senators that GOP candidates can be discredited if linked to the Koch brothers, pointing to data from focus groups conducted in August.

“If you tell people that these groups like Libre or Generation Opportunity that they’re Koch funded, it was very easy to discredit the group,” Brock told The Hill, summarizing Garin’s findings.

“If you tie unpopular aspects of the Koch agenda to the candidate, it raised questions in voters’ minds about the character of the candidate,” he added. “If they learned that the candidate was receiving Koch support, they very quickly drew the conclusion that that they were bought and paid for.”

Brock described the reception from senators “as entirely positive and encouraging.  

“We continue to follow the vast right wing conspiracy, which gets vaster and more conspiratorial. We got a briefing on that,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) after the meeting.  

“We’re going to continue to [push] the idea that the American people should decide elections. Not just people who have the deep pockets to buy the election,” she said.