As the 2014 cycle starts to heat up, we’re hearing once again the cries about the corporate fat cats taking over politics. This means, of course, more hysteria about the Koch brothers, such as this from Reid Wilson at the Washington Post.  Wilson insists that there isn’t anything like the Koch brothers for Democrats because the Kochs are in it for the cash:

That’s because big Democratic donors and big Republican donors are motivated by different types of issues, and therefore give differently, according to Democratic strategists who deal frequently with high-dollar donors.

For the Koch brothers, electing the right candidate can mean a financial windfall. Republican candidates the Koch brothers back tend to favor fewer regulations on businesses and more fracking and right-to-work laws, to name a few. All of those issues benefit, to different extents, the bottom lines of the companies or stock prices or hedge funds associated with the mega-donors from whom the Koch brothers solicit big checks.

Social issues? Not so much. Organizations that spend the Koch brothers’ money may align themselves with conservative hardliners on abortion or gay marriage, but the brothers themselves — and most of their donors — are less concerned with social conservatism than they are with fiscal and regulatory policy. To them, political giving is an investment.

To his credit, Wilson at least skips the nearly-obligatory mention of Citizens United in his piece, but that’s unusual in this genre of lamentation. Perhaps if Wilson had looked at Sean Sullivan’s report on a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of PAC contributions post-Citizens United, he might have found a group that “invests” more heavily in Democrats than corporate givers such as the Kochs do with Republicans.  And that sector is …. Big Labor:


When it comes to writing big checks to favored candidates and causes, unions last year seemed to be taking greater advantage of the landmark Citizens United decision than corporations.

A Sunlight analysis of groups and individuals who wrote checks of $10,000 or more to super PACs and other political committees that report to the FEC revealed big labor bested big business in 2013 by better than 2-to-1.

Our study was focused on determining who is writing the kind of checks that would not have been legal prior to the controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the way for unions and companies to give money directly from their treasuries in unlimited amounts — as opposed to the donations they traditionally made in $1,000 increments from their long-established political action committees.

In fact, the biggest donors are Democratic donors:

Though most donations from corporations went to right-leaning groups, the year’s biggest corporate donor, at $1.1 million, was the Mostyn Law Firm, run by Democratic donor Steve Mostyn. Contran Corporation, founded by the late Harold Simmons, a longtime Republican donor, gave $1 million. Democrats also took the top two positions for individual donors as well.

Wilson’s strange claim that the Kochs uniquely see political donations as “investments” is demonstrably absurd, thanks to this data. Why do unions kick in more than anyone, and almost entirely to Democrats, if not as rent-seeking behavior aimed at securing legislation that expands their ability to collect dues and strengthen their own political power? Given that the most active political unions tend to be public-employee unions (PEUs) like SEIU, AFSCME, and especially the NEA, their influence on regulation and government expansion very much makes this domination an “investment” in future revenue.

And how about other private-sector associations like the American Association for Justice (AAJ), formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA)? Does their heavy contribution — nearly a million dollars already in the 2014 cycle — merely reflect pure civic engagement, or an attempt to block policies like tort reform that would hit members in their wallets?

Newsflash: everyone makes political donations out of a sense of investment in desired outcomes. Let’s not pretend that the Kochs are the only people “investing” in politicians. If we don’t like this system, then let’s throw out the campaign-finance reform enacted since Watergate in favor of full and immediate transparency on all donations directed at candidates and parties, and remove all tax exempt statuses for parties and PACs. At least that way we’ll be able to skip the need for fainting rafts floating on seas of hypocrisy.

Addendum: My friend Warner Todd Huston wrote a takedown yesterday of the same article for Breitbart:

This is an odd claim considering that the left has spent the better part of the last 40 years creating dozens of purported think tanks and agenda shops like the Center for American Progress (CAP), and in George Soros has one of the richest men in the world funding Democrats and their issues at nearly every turn.

It seems that the crux of the Post‘s argument is that liberals donate their money and focus their efforts on social issues while Charles and David Koch focus on regulatory issues.

However, this might be a distinction without a difference. If you focus on left-wing social issues and elect politicians that support them, you will undoubtedly get liberal regulatory rules sought after and passed; if you focus on conservative regulatory issues and elect politicians that support those you’ll undoubtedly get more conservative social policy. One leads to the other either way.

Be sure to read it all.