Monday, June 23, 2014

Memo to Democrats: Get Over the Koch Brothers.

While no one can argue that Citizens United was one of the most intellectually corrupt Supreme Court decisions in history (corporations, as everyone knows, are not people) in Democratic fundraising and political circles the Koch Brothers and the money they spend supporting candidates and policies of their choice have gone from the realm of political science to the realm of  political medieval superstition and horror, political bogeymen who come out at night and steal Democratic children.

But the truth is, and the facts show, and have always shown, money does not, has never,  and cannot buy elections.

The problem for Democrats is not and has not been, the Koch Brothers or their money. Or that Democrats don't have enough, as they constantly cry in their fundraising emails. The problem for Democrats is that as far back as 1988 they have had the worst collection of political stratgegists,advisors and advertising since Marie Antoinette. 

Who can forget the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign and those silly videos of Dukakis riding around in a tank wearing a crash helmet looking like a misplaced Mouseketeer? It was mocked by everyone. Ignored in all that silliness was the fact that Dukais was the first presidential candidate back in 1988 to warn about the dangers of the deficit as a problem for the country. It was Dukais who said, "the country cannot go on living on a credit card".  It was Democratic strategists who gave us  Dukais in a crash helmet riding in a tank.

The lone exception to the Democrat's decades long political ineptitude was Bill Clinton's campaigns in 1992 and 1996.

The writing of this piece began before David Brat's stunning defeat of Republican majority leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary but nothing illustrates the point better that money does not and cannot buy elections. Cantor, the incumbent and House Majority Leader,  out raised and outspent Brat  according to some media estimates by as much as 26-1.  He lost. Cantor had the power, the money, the name recognition. And he lost.

The Sunlight Foundation is an organization that uses a formula to calculate political return on investment for money spent. According to theirs and other reports,  the Koch Brothers return on investment for political spending during the entire 2012 election cycle - an amount estimated at $240 million (with some estimates as high as $640 million), -  was zero.  That's right. Nothing. They had no effect on the outcome of any election anywhere in America. Not a single congressional or legislative seat changed hands anywhere because of the Koch Brothers.

The return on investment was so low that the Koch Brothers fired all 100 employees of American Prosperity, the PAC through which they funnel much of their money, right after the elections.

Karl Rove's American Crossroads didn't do much better. According to the Sunlight Foundation they showed a 1.29% return on investment for the $104 million they spent. The NRA did even worse. The NRA American Political Victory Fund saw a  0.83% return on more than $11 million spent on candidates.

On the other hand the big winner during the 2012 election cycle according to the Sunlight Foundation was Planned Parenthood who saw a 98%  return on the money they spent on candidates who supported their policies and won.

There is an old adage in advertising that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. Not that the Republicans advertising was any good. But Republicans were offering a lousy product. And people knew it. If you try a product and don't like it, all the advertising in the world won't get you to buy it again. Unless you change the product and then try to sell it as "New and Improved". Which is what some Republicans are trying to do now.

The Democrats have had a track record of having been proved right on policy about 95% of the time (Obamacare excluded)  while Republican policy has been proved to be catastrophic and yet Democrats cant find strategists that know how to make that case.

In 2000, despite having been Vice President in a spectacularly successful two term Clinton administration, Al Gore, with Donna Brazile as his campaign manager, insisted on keeping Bill Clinton away from his campaign, proclaiming  " Im my own man"  and ran a campaign designed to distance himself from the White House. He succeeded. Permanently.

Four years later John Kerry was even worse. Despite the fact that George W. Bush had arguably the worst four years of any president in American history, from the 911 attacks and the 911 Commission exposing that Bush and his administration had ignored nine months of warnings and specific actionable intelligence that would have prevented the 911 attacks, blowing a balanced budget and zero deficit inherited from Clinton, skyrocketing unemployment, creating record deficits and the fiasco of of Iraq, a product of not just lies, but called  the worst military planning in history and with no WMD ever found, Kerry still lost.

Republicans, in spite of having the worst four years in history, went on the offensive, and Democrats, as usual, went on the defensive. And played badly.  Kerry never made a case against Bush. And Kerry's military record was attacked by the so called Swift Boat Veterans For Truth who tried to claim Kerry's medals in Viet Nam were fake. Having received the Purple Heart ( among other medals) Kerry could have reminded people that the only bleeding George W. Bush ever did for his country while in the Air National Guard was when he had his teeth cleaned. He could have. But he didnt.

After losing, Kerry's response was he thought he did pretty well considering he ran against a sitting president in time of war. No kidding. That's what he said.

But Democrats try to convince their consitutents that  the Koch Brothers are their biggest problem especially when it comes to political advertising, the men who will destroy the Democratic agenda and even the party itself unless "10,000 of you can make a contribution and stop the Koch Brothers before tonight's midnight reporting deadline .Otherwise all is lost". Sounds like another Little Orphan Annie pitch from A Christmas Story.

So the men whose hefty political spending resulted in having no impact on the 2012 elections are, according to Democratic fundraising,  the single biggest problem Democrats are facing. Obviously Democratic fundraisers haven't given much thought to the reality that its been Obama who's thwarted and undermined every aspect of the Democratic agenda, reneging on and breaking every promise and pledge he ever made from blowing health care reform by caving in to the health insurance lobby , watering down financial reform to suit Wall Street,  a record on civil liberties the ACLU has called "disgusting",cracking down on whistleblowers,  expanding Bush's NSA bulk domestic surveillance, not closing Gitmo,  just to name a few and all during his first two years when he had the biggest congressional majority of any president in 60 years. But, the pitch goes, unless Democrats can raise more money, it's the ineffective Koch Brothers who will destroy their agenda and election chances.

So are Democrats really living in mortal fear of the Koch Brothers or is it just a patently and blatantly dishonest fundraising ploy? Here is a sampling of some of their fundraising emails sent on a daily basis:

"The Koch Brothers are holding an enormous secret convention in Palm Springs  tomorrow ( if its so secret how come you know about it?) according to an alarming (alarming!) Politico  expose (not report mind you --expose!)

Then comes the pitch:

 "Its absolutely critical that 10,000 folks step up in the next 96 hours to respond. If we cant fill the gap ( what gap?) in our Emergency Response Plan ( what emergency response plan? what's the emergency? and what's the plan? They don't say, because they never have one and if they do, they wasted their money because no one got it)  the GOP could jump out to an insurmountable lead in the battle for the senate."

An insurmountable lead.  According to Democrats if they don't get the money they need in 96 hours all is lost. Really.  LOST. That's what they say. That was three weeks ago. But they are still beating the same drum.

Here are subject heads in Democratic fundraising emails using the Koch Brothers.

Heartbreaking Loss - Devastating blow - Crushing Loss -Crushing Defeat - -Excruciating Regret (one of my favorites) -  Staggering Blow - Staggering Setback -  Obliterated - Throw in the Towel  (yes, Throw in the Towel)- Painful Defeat - EVICERATED (yes, all caps) -All Hope is Lost.

Democratic political strategy at work.  Here's some of the text:

"We told you that the Koch Brothers have a master plan to spend $125 million to destroy Democrats.  Here's the bare truth: if we fail to respond our chances for a Democratic House will be OBLITERATED"(again, their caps).

Here's another:

The Koch Brothers are now planning to spend $125 million to defeat Democrats (how dare they! They should be building Little League fields!) We have a $150,000 hole in our Rapid Response Fund. If we cant respond immediately Rove and the Koch's WILL (their caps) buy the election". (and it's not even buy one get one free.)


"We're beginning to think we should just throw in the towel" (how's that for determination and resolve?) The Koch Brothers shady $125 million is beginning to show up in dirty, lying attack ads. If we don't act immediately people will believe their lies and our hopes for a Democratic House will be dead in the water. We're getting desperate.   According to our records you haven't given since the last Koch spending spree ( that's right, I haven't though I am now. It's called advice)."


"The Koch Brothers are outspending us 3-1" ( pretty good odds actually when you look at David Brat being outspent 26-1 and winning).

"If we don't hit 100,000 responders (responders! Any chance their trying to tap into our inner first responder as motivation?)  in the next 48 hours we wont stand a chance against the Koch Brothers and our chances of winning a Democratic House for president Obama will be EVISCERATED".

Okay so now they've gone from "OBLITERATED" to "EVISCERATED". I wonder how many people were in on the word change.

They also seem to forget, or want you to forget if you're a Democrat,  that president Obama had a Democratic House in his first two years -- the biggest congressional majority any president had in 60 years and used it to cave in to the health insurance lobby on healthcare reform and drop the public option, didn't close Gitmo, caved in on everything and passed fewer pieces of legislation in two years with a 60-40 senate majority than George W. Bush did in two months with a 52-48 senate majority.

Then came this:

"We keep emailing you. President Obama emailed you, vice president Biden emailed you, AND (their caps)  Nancy Pelosi emailed you.....we don't mean to nag but.... we need to respond to the unprecedented $125 million worth of attacks we're facing from the Koch Brothers". Okay, so now they're scolding me. But instead of more money, how about coming up with, you know, a real strategy or idea?

Finally an email supposedly from Harry Reid that said if the Democrats can get another 48,132 donations before the midnight mid year deading " the Koch Brothers will be terrified".
Even before David Brat's victory,  in the Colorado recall election last year, where two Democratic state legislators who voted for stricter gun laws faced a recall election, Democrats and groups who supported them outspent the NRA and the opposition by 10-1. They lost.

The NRA spent a little over $300,000 and those who supported the gun laws spent over $3,000,000. It was  poor strategy and the inability to make an effective and compelling case for some common sense laws that cost Democrats not a lack of money. Just the other day a judge in Colorado dismissed a lawsuit brought by Colorado sherrifs trying to get the laws on ammunition clips and background checks overturned. The judge dismissed the suit ruling it had no merit. Neither did the Democrats TV commercials trying to defend the law that cost those legislators their seats.

Yes you have to have some money, but as Executive Director of the Denver Group in 2008,  we created controversial  political  ads on behalf of Hillary Clinton on a shoestring budget of $100,000 that generated at least $20 million worth of media exposure because of all the media attention they received which resulted, along with the impact of the ads themselves, coverage by the NY Times, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, Huffington Post and media outlets as far away as Japan.

Democrats can't depend on Republican candidates who claim they used to be a witch, or saw headless bodies in the Nevada desert or talk about things like "legitimate rape" or candidates getting undone by a cell phone video. They need to forget about using the Koch Brothers as their ploy when they have had no impact on anything and try and find strategists and advisors who can make their case on the merits.

Recently, Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee was quoted in the Times as saying, " Up and down the map, Democrats are out polling and out fund raising their Republican opponents and we enjoy cash on hand advantages at both the campaign and committee level. We feel very confident that, going forward, this will ensure Democrats have the resources we need to win in November".

So if Democrats lose it won 't be the  Koch Brothers fault . Or not having enough money.

Instead what Democrats need to do is get over the Koch Brothers.  And groups like MoveOn and other progressive groups should stop fraudulently using them and their non- influence as a dishonest excuse to raise more money. If they don't they're no better than the things they complain about .  It's not more money Democrats need. It's knowing what to do with  the money they have.


Anonymous said...

You obviously don't follow Kansas politics. The Kochs have had plenty of influence there. And Gov. Brownback is "their boy".

Marc Rubin said...

"You obviously don't follow Kansas politics. The Kochs have had plenty of influence there. And Gov. Brownback is "their boy"."

So you didnt understand the facts in the article or you have your own facts that contradict them? The point was that the Koch Brothers MONEY does not, has not, and never has influenced an ELECTION. Their money has never been the difference between ANY candidate winning or losing, regardless of the fact that they try. And the other point was, this holds true across the board -- money cannot buy an election as David Brats beating Eric Cantor showed once again.

The Koch Brothers might have influence with Kansas politicians who kow tow to them for money, but when people go to the polls to vote, the money is inconsequential. Which is why the Sunlight Foundation statistics I quoted showed the Koch Brothers for all their money had a zero return on investment: not one candidate that they tried to defeat with their money lost. And the candidates they gave money to, like that lunatic Brownback would have won anyway.

Anonymous said...

Dumb argument any number of ways. Basically, a few cherry-picked anecdotes, a badly chosen criterion of effectiveness, and a lot of overstated bluster.
1. The general topic of effectiveness of campaign expenditures has been extensively studied.Expenditures do matter, but so do other factors, and there is a declining marginal effectiveness of large expenditures.
2. Contributions have political influence even when they go to losing candidates. For example, a large campaign chest scares off opponents. For example, even if your guy loses he still made a case for your position and those cases add up over time.
3. Percentage of dollars going to winners is an innately bad criterion. If you play it safe and give all your money to winners you get a score of 100% but have zero effect on outcomes. If you bet on marginal cases you might get a score less than 50% yet still have a highly disproportionate impact on Congress.
4. Cherry picking a guy who was drastically outspent yet won tells us nothing we didn't already know: factors other than campaign expenditures also matter. How come you didn't mention all the guys who outspent their opponent and DID win? A majority of the time the biggest spender wins.
5. Campaign contributions are usually not aimed at making a difference in an election (though Koch's may have been). More commonly they are aimed at buying influence.
6. There several anecdotes from Kansas where Koch expenditures did seem to make a difference. For example, "Brownback has received nearly $100,000 from Koch and its employees, and during his neck-and-neck race in 1996, a mysterious shell company called Triad Management provided $410,000 for last-minute advertising on Brownback's behalf. A Senate investigative committee later determined that the money came from the two brothers who run Koch Industries (Sharlet, 2006).
The Triad money was used in a stealth campaign advertising that opponent Jill Docking was Jewish, which most likely determined the outcome of the race.
7. I agree with Rubin's attacks on Democrat campaign incompetence. However Rubin leaves out a major cause of this incompetence: when half the Dems started relying on businessmen for campaign finance, they lost the ability to take many progressive positions that actually resonate with voters, and instead adopted a lot of "third way" capitulationism.
8. Oh and by the way, everyone knows that total expenditures are what matter, not any one contribution. Predicting winners from single contributions is just plain silly.
David Burress
Lawrence KS

Marc Rubin said...

"Dumb argument any number of ways."

I think we can just stick to the facts and let who is making the dumb argument speak for itself.

You obviously cant tell the difference between an argument and a fact since the facts quoted here and presented by the Sunlight Foundation are inarguable and fly in the face of everything you said. Facts are not anecdotes. You clearly do not understand the facts since the criterion is NOT only about money who went to winners so maybe you need re-read it or go to the Sunlight Foundation web site and read their definition of return on investment. Or maybe you think the Koch Brothers fired everyone at American Prosperity after the 2012 election and Karl Rove was mocked for how much money he wasted and what a failure he was because they were so astoundingly successful and somewhow they missed it and you got it right.