Celia Murray

Celia Murray

By Celia Murray, Columnist

There was a remarkable shortage of sunshine last month in Palm Springs, CA, where the billionaire Koch brothers convened some of the country’s richest Republican donors.

Charles and David Koch, owners of the second largest private company in America, have conducted a long-running series of twice-a-year meetings, which they call “seminars.”

These gatherings routinely attract some of the top operatives and biggest names in Republican politics, and typically conclude with pledge sessions that can raise tens of millions of dollars.

The Koch brothers are best known for their financing of the right-wing Americans for Prosperity, but their involvement goes much deeper. In a documentary about the industrialists, filmmaker Robert Greenwald portrayed the brothers as “bankrolling a vast network of organizations that work to undermine the interests of the 99 percent on issues ranging from Social Security to the environment to civil rights,” and says that they represent the “1 percent at its very worst.”

In California, the industrialists were raising millions of dollars and plotting their 2014 strategy. As the Washington Post reported, in 2012 the Kochs “raised $407 million, which was secreted among 17 groups with cryptic names and purposes that were designed to make it impossible to figure out the names of donors the Kochs worked with.” The Koch network is intentionally designed to be opaque.

Politico describes the Koch brothers as having set up an operation so sophisticated it rivals “even the official Republican Party in its ability to shape policy debates and elections.” Indeed, it has become among the most dominant forces in American politics.

This year, they look to be an even more powerful force, rolling out a new, more integrated approach to politics. The new Koch network will expand its efforts to include a political consulting firm to recruit, train, and support like-minded anti-government candidates, which will be active in the congressional primaries. Politico reports that the brothers are also creating a center to provide technology and administrative services to right-wing groups.

The Kochs hide their activities in a complex labyrinth of “social welfare” and other tax-sheltered groups. In doing so, they use the U.S. tax code to do what ordinary citizens cannot.

The Internal Revenue Service and several lawmakers on Capitol Hill are stepping up their interest in reforming laws to force such groups to be more transparent, both with regard to their donors as well as their expenditures, which is meeting considerable resistance from Republican lawmakers.

Transparency is good for democracy. Closed door deals and secret expenditures are almost never in the public interest. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” And, as the editorial board of the New York Times put it last week, “the clandestine influence of the Kochs and their Palm Springs friends would be much reduced if they were forced to play in the sunshine.”

Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Committee.