All politics - and political contributions - are local

Billionaire brothers moving influence from national to local elections


Distorted campaign contributions by a wealthy, politically active duo may be coming to a local election near you, courtesy of the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) super PAC funded by David and Charles Koch.

The billionaire barons are infamous for their political proclivities, often articulated through huge campaign contributions to right-wing and industry-friendly candidates. In 2012 alone, AFP spent over $120 million campaigning against President Obama and like-minded candidates.

Super PACs, political action committees, allow for unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and other groups to spend on political causes. Though super PACs cannot officially work with a candidate's campaign, they can - and do - spend on ads and other forms of tactics, some coercive, to influence elections and political decisions.

Super PACs are a recent legal creation following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010. The case effectively allowed for unlimited campaign contributions, giving corporations First Amendment rights to free speech, often through spending for political causes.

The ruling has been controversial, with the floodgate of political funding it opened being the primary target. The influx of so much money for attack ads, fliers and robocalls at the national level is certainly an appalling distortion of the democratic process, but a more disturbing trend has started to emerge.

Spearheaded by AFP, huge contributions and vitriolic advertisements are beginning to force their way into much smaller, local elections where stakes are high for local constituencies and alteration far easier than at the national scale.

The Koch brothers and their super PAC were largely unsuccessful at the national level in 2012, despite the money they spent. But some of the smaller elections they are targeting now may be more susceptible to outside influence

AFP has been active in campaigns across small towns in Kansas, Ohio, Texas and other states. In Coralville, Iowa, AFP turned a typically cordial race into a venomous matchup with attack ads and fliers blanketing the town, according to The New York Times.

Though the candidate the brothers fiscally supported for city council lost, the debacle brought attention to the new targets for the Koch brother's cash, and the dangerous precedent it sets.

Money is already a distortive force in our democracy at the national level, and allowing such tactics to be employed at local levels strikes directly at the heart of our democratic process.

It is less that money is not speech and more the undue influence that money can have on unsuspecting voters. Limits to political spending are the only practical method to stymie the debasing influence money often has in elections.

Most recently, AFP has targeted politics in Iron County, Wisc., to encourage a mining venture in the area, environmental degradation and the good of the community be damned.

This saga has yet to play out, but the efforts by AFP will likely have some influence, if only to muddy otherwise affable political decisions.

The influence of money in elections is usually deplorable, but striking on this level makes the issue that much more influential, and reprehensible.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com