By Sen. Bernie Sanders
As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires and large corporations can now spend an unlimited amount of money to influence the political process. The results of that decision are clear. In the coming months and years the Koch brothers and other extraordinarily wealthy families will spend billions of dollars to elect right-wing candidates to the Senate, the House, governors’ mansions and the presidency of the United States. These billionaires already own much of our economy. That, apparently, is not enough. Now, they want to own the United States government as well.
Four years ago, the Supreme Court handed down the 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. A few weeks ago, they announced another horrendous campaign finance decision in McCutcheon v. FEC giving even more political power to the rich. Now, many Republicans want to push this Supreme Court to go even further. In the name of “free speech,” they want the Court to eliminate all restrictions on campaign spending – a position that Justice Thomas supported in McCutcheon – and a view supported by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Importantly, as a means of being able to exercise unprecedented power over the political process, this has been the position of the Koch brothers for at least the last 34 years.
The Koch brothers are the second wealthiest family in America, making most of their money in the fossil fuel industry. According to Forbes Magazine, they saw their wealth increase last year from $68 billion to $80 billion. In other words, under the “anti-business,” “socialist” and “oppressive” Obama administration, their wealth went up by $12 billion in one year.
In their 2012 campaigns, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each spent a little more than $1 billion. For the Koch brothers, spending more than Obama and Romney combined would be a drop in their bucket. They would hardly miss the few billion dollars.
Given the reality that the Koch brothers are now the most important and powerful players in American politics, it is important to know what they want and what their agenda is.
It is not widely known that David Koch was the Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate in 1980. He believed that Ronald Reagan was much too liberal. Despite Mr. Koch putting a substantial sum of money into the campaign, his ticket only received 1 percent of the vote. Most Americans thought the Libertarian Party platform of 1980 was extremist and way out of touch with what the American people wanted and needed.
Fast-forward 34 years and the most significant reality of modern politics is how successful David Koch and like-minded billionaires have been in moving the Republican Party to the extreme right. Amazingly, much of what was considered “extremist” and “kooky” in 1980 has become part of today’s mainstream Republican thinking.
Let me give you just a few examples:
In 1980, Libertarian vice-presidential candidate David Koch ran on a platform that called for abolishing the minimum wage. Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, not only does virtually every Republican in Congress oppose raising the $7.25 an hour minimum wage, many of them, including Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and John McCain, are on record for abolishing the concept of the federal minimum wage.
In 1980, the platform of David Koch’s Libertarian Party favored “the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.” Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of one percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party, as seen in the recently passed Ryan budget, is to end Medicare as we know it, cut Medicaid by more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade, and repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Under the Ryan plan, at least 40 million people — 1 in 8 Americans — would lose health insurance or fail to obtain insurance by 2024. Most of them would be people with low or moderate incomes.”
In 1980, the platform of David Koch’s Libertarian Party called for “the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system.” Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party is that “entitlement reform” is absolutely necessary. For some, this means major cuts in Social Security. For others who believe Social Security is unconstitutional or a Ponzi scheme this means the privatization of Social Security or abolishing this program completely for those who are under 60 years of age.
In 1980, David Koch’s Libertarian Party platform stated “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes … We support the eventual repeal of all taxation … As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.” Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, 75 Republicans in the House have co-sponsored a bill that Paul Ryan has said “would eliminate taxes on wages, corporations, self-employment, capital gains, and gift and death taxes in favor of a personal-consumption tax.”
Here is what every American should be deeply concerned about. The Koch brothers, through the expenditure of billions of dollars and the creation and support of dozens of extreme right organizations, have taken fringe extremist ideas and made them mainstream within the Republican Party. And now with Citizens United (which is allowing them to pour unlimited sums of money into the political process) their power is greater than ever.
And let’s be very clear. Their goal is not only to defund Obamacare, cut Social Security, oppose an increase in the minimum wage or cut federal funding for education. Their world view and eventual goal is much greater than all of that. They want to repeal every major piece of legislation that has been signed into law over the past 80 years that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick and the most vulnerable in this country. Every piece of legislation!
The truth is that the agenda of the Koch brothers is to move this country from a democratic society with a strong middle class to an oligarchic form of society in which the economic and political life of the nation are controlled by a handful of billionaire families.
Our great nation must not be hijacked by right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers.
For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we must fight back.