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West writes: "The answer to the question of whether rich people can buy elections is 'Sometimes, but not always.' President Obama won reelection despite the massive amounts spent to defeat him by conservative business leaders."

David Koch and Sheldon Adelson. (photo: AP/Evan Agostini/Scott Roth/photo montage by Salon)
David Koch and Sheldon Adelson. (photo: AP/Evan Agostini/Scott Roth/photo montage by Salon)

The 1 Percent's Scheme to Buy the White House

By Darrell M. West, Salon

28 September 14


Kochs and co. learned their lessons from Obama v. Romney, and can't wait to apply them in 2016. Here's the strategy

he answer to the question of whether rich people can buy elections is “Sometimes, but not always.” President Obama won reelection despite the massive amounts spent to defeat him by conservative business leaders. He beat back their spending by having a weak opponent who was seen by voters as pro-rich and out of touch. Mitt Romney lacked the personal skills to connect with voters and persuade them that he cared about the middle class.

Clearly, then, money is not the only thing that decides election campaigns. Public opinion, media coverage, campaign strategies, and policy positions matter as well. During a time of rising campaign costs and limited public engagement in the political process, money sets the agenda, affects how the campaign develops, and shapes how particular people and policy problems get defined. It takes skilled candidates, considerable media coverage, and strong organizational efforts to offset the power of great wealth.

There are no guarantees that future Democratic candidates will replicate Obama’s 2012 electoral success. The conservative financiers involved then regard the money that they spent that year as the initial down payment on a long-term investment, even if it did not immediately pay off. After the general election, Sheldon Adelson announced that he planned to “double” his investment in future races. “I happen to be in a unique business where winning and losing is the basis of the entire business. So I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand coming up. I know in the long run we’re going to win.” Marc Short, one of the strategists behind the political activities of Charles and David Koch, echoed that thought: “Our members are committed to the long term, not to one individual cycle.”

In preparation for the long-term battle, these billionaires already have altered their campaign approach to maximize the odds of winning. After studying what went wrong with the 2012 campaign, individuals such as Adelson are aiming for a different kind of GOP nominee. According to Adelson’s friend Victor Chaltiel, “he doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee. He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is reasonable in his positions, who has convictions but is not totally crazy.” Meanwhile, Republican National Committee member Shawl Steel said that Adelson has learned from the 2012 defeat: “The candidate will have to have a strong resume—no sudden lightning-new guy—will have to build a formidable fundraising apparatus and really be emotionally tethered to bringing in middle-class Latinos, Asian Pacifics, Jews and blacks like never before.”

Understanding the importance of the top conservative billionaires, GOP strategist and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that one of the most important elements in the 2016 presidential campaign would be who would win the “Sheldon Primary.” Referring to the super-wealthy benefactor, Fleischer noted that “anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.” The same is true for Charles and David Koch. With their abundant resources, grassroots network, and willingness to spend to influence elections, their role in the GOP is of utmost importance. And like Adelson, they have sought to learn from 2012 and develop new electoral strategies. From their perspective, it is crucial to adapt to the political environment and alter public outreach strategies. James Davis of Freedom Partners, a Koch-financed group, said donors must test and refine their message: “Being in the field and testing during the slower periods, and in smaller areas, allows you to refine strategy and tactics so that you can make the larger investments with confidence.”

For the 2014 midterm elections, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is focusing on field operations and broadcasting ads that employ moving personal stories to deliver policy messages. Central to their approach is the idea that Obamacare is a failure and is hurting ordinary patients. “Too often, we did kind of broader statistical ads or messages, and we decided that we needed to start telling the story of how the liberals’ policies, whether it’s the administration or Congress, are practically impacting the lives of Americans every day,” explained Tim Phillips, the president of AFP. Media expert Elizabeth Wilner of Kantar Media/CMAG noted that those kinds of ads have a greater likelihood of electoral success. “Ads that tell stories are more compelling than ads that don’t,” she said. “And ads that use sympathetic figures are more compelling, generally, than those that don’t.”

With ads that have greater impact, a stronger field operation, and better candidates, conservative billionaires are likely to have greater success in the future. Worried about that possibility, Democrats have countered with a “running against the billionaires” strategy. This is a tactic that was used successfully by Barack Obama in his re-election bid. He tied his GOP opponent Mitt Romney to billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers, who were spending hundreds of millions against him. Obama appealed to basic fairness and argued that a candidate backed by the mega rich would not fight for the middle class and help ordinary people.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has copied this approach for the 2014 elections. In a series of speeches on the Senate floor, he bemoaned the unfairness of tycoons and the millions that they are spending to defeat vulnerable Democrats in key swing states. Reid decried the radical agenda “that benefits billionaires at the expense of the middle class.” Continuing, he said that “the oil baron Koch brothers are very good at protecting and growing their prodigious future and fortune. There’s nothing un-American about that. But what is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent.”

Democratic senators under attack by Americans for Prosperity ads costing millions of dollars responded with their own ads directly targeting the Koch brothers. One spot broadcast by Alaska

Democratic senator Mark Begich complained about a local oil refinery shut down by Koch Industries: “They come into town, buy our refinery, and just run it into the ground, leaving a mess. A lot of Alaskans are losing jobs, and I’m definitely concerned about the drinking water. I don’t go down and tell them what to do; I expect them not to come up to Alaska and tell us what to do.”

Upset with these personal attacks, Charles Koch penned an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “I’m Fighting to Restore a Free Society,” in which he decried “collectivists [who] engage character assassination.” He said that his companies employ 60,000 Americans and that his workers have won “over 700 awards for environmental, health, and safety excellence.” Continuing his self-defense, he said that “far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies, and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful and should be abolished.”

Irritated that Reid was focusing on the Kochs, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said that he “wondered why he left out billionaire Tom Steyer, who plans to spend as much as $100 million pushing the issue of climate change in the 2014 election and appears positioned to rival the deep-pocketed Koch brothers.”

Democrats face interesting strategic decisions with respect to billionaires. For more populist-leaning candidates, the preferred approach is to attack billionaires, complain about unfairness, and criticize the lack of transparency in their electioneering activities. Other Democrats, though, have chosen a different tack. They have embraced liberal billionaires rather than running against billionaires as a general class. Their thinking is that “if you can’t beat them, you should join them.”

An example of that alternative comes from Democrats loosely aligned with Hillary Clinton. Thinking ahead to a possible presidential campaign in 2016, her super PAC, Ready for Hillary, has signed up George Soros as co-chair of its national finance council. In contrast to his aloofness from Obama in 2012, Soros agreed to assist the group laying the groundwork for her campaign three full years before the election. Michael Vachon, the political director for\ the billionaire, explained Soros’s early action by saying that “his support for Ready for Hillary is an extension of his long-held belief in the power of grass-roots organizing.” The Clinton super PAC also has received contributions from billionaire Alice Walton, one of the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, and Marc Benioff, the billionaire CEO of Salesforce, along with a number of other wealthy individuals. Mrs. Clinton’s family foundation is working with billionaire Tom Steyer on an early childhood development project.

Clinton’s accommodationist approach clearly reflects the pragmatic conclusion that Democrats need abundant resources to fight the conservative billionaires aligned with the Republican Party. In light of recent Supreme Court decisions opening up the big money spigot, Democrats appear to believe that they must join the arms race that now characterizes U.S. campaign finance. However, that approach comes with some pitfalls. In cozying up to billionaires, Clinton and her supporters risk alienating the populist wing of her own party and turning off voters still stewing over the Wall Street interests that they think brought down the American economy during the financial collapse. If she goes too far with this strategy, she risks facing a progressive backlash during the nominating process.

The unresolved political question is how this party division over billionaires plays out. Dividing billionaires into warring factions may be the best hope for Democrats. But that choice means that Democrats should downplay the populist rhetoric and embrace pro-growth policies. They would have to quit talking about raising taxes on the rich and endorse actions that broaden social and economic opportunity.

Even if Democrats run against conservative billionaires, they are likely to embrace moderate and liberal ones in both 2014 and 2016. The 2016 election will be a multibillion dollar battle for the future of America, and Democrats cannot compete without having ultrarich supporters willing to spend tens of millions on their behalf. It matters considerably to democracy as a whole how Democrats resolve this strategic and policy issue. The outcome of future elections depends in good part on whether 2016 becomes the year of conservative billionaires, liberal ones, libertarian tycoons, or a diverse set of billionaires across the political spectrum. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

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It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+48 # Barbara K 2014-09-28 12:05
It is really up to the Democratic voters whether the other side takes over the White House. We need to show up at the polls en masse and VOTE. If we do not, then we lose. We don't vote according to nasty, lying ads. We ignore those, we already know who we are voting for and why. So be sure to get out there all Dems and VOTE TO GET THE IDIOTS OUT OF OUR CONGRESS IN NOVEMBER! VOTE BLUE!

We know what is in store for us if we don't.

+10 # wantrealdemocracy 2014-09-28 13:03
"The other side"? Come on Barbara---you think there is a difference between a Democrat and a Republican? Both of these corporately funded parties have the same agenda---help the rich get richer. I agree that we must vote to get the idiots our of our Congress but that means don't vote any one in office now. Unfortunately this is not "our" Congress. It has been purchased by the corporate elite.
+9 # RGV.REG 2014-09-28 16:58
It seems we are back at the "lesser of 2 evils" syndrome.
And as you say, neither isn't "our" Congress. So, the question is, "How do we come to know those who are not being bought by the .1%... so that we can get them into office?
Anybody got a solution ????
+18 # 6thextinction 2014-09-28 18:27
Work on getting rid of Citizens United.
0 # MidwesTom 2014-09-28 19:26
Maybe instead of looking at the candidates, we should be looking at who owns them and find out during campaign what the real owners want. i would bet my hippie that Alice Walton (who is backing Hillary) is not for raising the minimum wage.

I have no idea how Tom Steyer made his money. I do know that the Koch brothers pay big wages in the companies that they own. As far as I know George Soros makes most of his money playing money games with the currencies of nations, not employing people.
0 # David Heizer 2014-09-30 21:25
I know it's fashionable to believe there isn't a nickel's worth of difference between the two parties, but I really think this guy's a lot closer to the reality:

"Obviously the Republicans are beholden to these guys. But too many Democrats are nervous about talking about issues including income and wealth inequality." - Bernie Sanders

Our task, then, becomes making them *more* nervous about *not* talking about these issues.
+8 # politicfix 2014-09-28 22:37
The only right that hasn't been taken away from the American people is their right to vote. The GOP is trying to take that away slowly by redistricting and ousting Democrats like Dennis Kucinich, voter registration restrictions, closing polls early, anything else to make it as difficult as possible for people to vote in areas that trend Democratic.

First they took the debates away from the league of women voters. Then both parties made it impossible for third parties to participate in the debates. The GOP had to go far right because the Democratic party went middle right and abandoned the left altogether. We no longer have Capitalism. We have inverted totalitarianism . We need liberal Democrats now to balance the right/far right which has been disastrous. Both parties appeal to the top 1% for campaign money. Libertarians, like the Koch Bros. subscribe to the Ayn Rand brand of politics which is based on selfishness & greed.

The natural force of the universe requires both positive and negative, yin & yang, suction & pressure. We used to have liberals and republicans. Now we have Conservative Democrats and far right Republicans.

Enter the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren whose message is liberal & resonates to a great many Americans. It's the best indication that our country is out of balance and needs to go further left, but both parties lean toward money which is to the right. Dems criticize their own party. The GOP never criticize there own party.
0 # tauzinger 2014-09-28 12:11
The folks at freakonomics made a good point. True, electoral success is highly correlated with money, but it says nothing about causation. More likely, more popular candidates will also attract more funding, making money just a secondary expression of popularity and not a cause for it.
+19 # wrknight 2014-09-28 12:17
What's he talking about? They already own the White House.
+23 # reiverpacific 2014-09-28 12:23
Whatever happens, you'll still have a 1.5-party system starting right of center and roaming as far right as you want, all other voices of any persuasion -particularly progressive and outward looking, eliminated from what passes for Socio-Political Debate.
All of course, encouraged by the ever-more consolidated corporate owner-media (Now down to six I believe and PBS with it's corporate "Grants" a.k.a. ads, by the same owner-conglomer ates they should be watchdogging) who are the main profiteers, constantly jacking up the price of getting air time in the total usurpation of OUR airwaves, completely eliminating free speech to a narrow, blinkered channel of references, including the US's place in the wider world.
Sadly, it's ALREADY well-cemented in place folks!
+26 # James Marcus 2014-09-28 13:05
Hogwash. The Bankstas Own (most) all candidates. If a JFK 'rogue' should make it through, well.... Dallas-to-wit!
+5 # Inspired Citizen 2014-09-28 18:47
Ergo OWS. We are embedded in a system of legalized corruption thanks to the Louis Powell-inspired Roberts Five.

The best a movement might accomplish is a breaking up of the banks again, but offshore wealth and shadow banking is going to require coordinated, international movements to regulate. Ultimately, the U.N. needs to regulated international finance.
+2 # Inspired Citizen 2014-09-28 18:48
+2 # Old Uncle Dave 2014-09-28 13:16
The 1% have owned the white house since 1963.
+25 # dyannne 2014-09-28 13:33
Nope. Since 1981.
+19 # goodsensecynic 2014-09-28 13:42
It's easy to claim that the 1% own and control government in general & the White House in particular.

But, if so, how come women got the vote? How come labor unions got recognized? How come the 1960s civil rights laws got passed? How come the EPA was created? How come social security was created and Bush II didn't get to privatize it?

Of course, the vast majority of decisions favor the rich, the "military-indus trial-congressi onal-financial- commercial-manu facturing-ideol ogical complex"; but, the progress that's been made (despite recent set-backs) is not trivial.

People need to get control of the Democratic Party just as the Tea Party got control of the Republican Party, or they need to form a new one.

A coalition among Greens, trade unionists, peace activists, aboriginal rights advocates, LGBTQ people, minority rights supporters, elderly people, young people, library card holders and public transit users (and so on) would easily form a majority of voters and (unless the tanks return from Iraq and lock up Indiana and Idaho and the drones start pointing toward Manhattan and Massachusetts), an election of progressives could happen.

But not if everyone just complains and surrenders. It may be that we "can't fight City Hall," but that's no excuse for letting City Hall win without a fight.

It took the right a decade to take over (from the Powell memo on August 23, 1971 to Reagan's Inauguration on January 20, 1981). Have you the wit and the will to take it back?
+4 # politicfix 2014-09-28 22:59
@goodsensecynic - The things you mentioned were enacted before 1963. The authentic Democratic party died with the assassination of JFK, and the country has been sliding downhill into a quagmire ever sense with Nixon, Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2. When Jimmy Carter got in they all but crucified him for advocating solar energy and have degraded him as a horrible President, but had we done what Carter said back in the 70's we'd be leading the world in solar energy rather than Germany. They're destroying Obama in the same way. The financiers have America by the throat and their choking everything good out of this country, and the GOP are their touts and means of getting it done. The goal of the financier is to enslave the people while they stuff their coffers with ill gotten money. As Bob Dylan many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died. The answer is still blowin' in the wind. It's in the hands of the people themselves and they must ban together in great numbers for the good of the country and their own best interest.
0 # goodsensecynic 2014-09-29 21:51
Sorry to be picky, but you're wrong when you say that the things I mentioned happended before 1963.

In fact, the 1960s civil/voting rights laws came in 1964 and 1965. The EPA was created in 1972. The Bush's attempts to privatize social security came in 2005.
0 # David Heizer 2014-09-30 20:29
Quoting goodsensecynic:
The Bush's attempts to privatize social security came in 2005.

That wasn't so much a political victory as the Bushies simply never did the math as to how much it would cost to continue to support retirees for decades as workers shifted their payments from the Fund to their own private accounts. Like so many of their ideas [*cough* Iraq] it was never a truly workable possibility.

The Nixon presidency was the beginning of the end, but there was still some good left (the EPA, the continued adherence to Keynesianism). By Reagan, however, the juggernaut was fully underway.
+1 # Seadog 2014-09-29 07:47
The answer is that the playing field hasn't always as far right as it is today. Many of us remember a different America where things were more or less in balance politically. There were even times when Progressive forces held the power and in these short periods great progress politically, economically and socially were accomplished. So, the right didn't always hold all the cards as it seems today.
+13 # 2014-09-28 14:24
Amazing! After the now obvious OBAMA "CHANGE" ruse, and preceding that, the GEORGE BUSH debacle, and before even that, CLINTON'S embrace of NAFTA and the destruction of GLASS-STEAGALL, … I could easily go all the way back to NIXON … and people outside the very wealthy still believe this system does something or can operate for them. They still believe it still works at all, except for the very rich. And so, like zombies, they are actually going to vote again. and for HILLARY CLINTON?! But expecting what? Like EINSTEIN said -- Insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting a different result".
+15 # PABLO DIABLO 2014-09-28 14:32
Clinton turned the Democratic Party into Republicans and the Republicans moved to the far right. Obama took hundreds of millions from Wall St. and Big Pharma. Instead of solving the problem of money in politics, we are being told we must "outspend" the other guy. What "bullshit". Vote independent and hope to tie up the race until one opponent starts taking the side of the people. The corporations and the military machine are running our government. WAKE UP AMERICA. Take back "our" government.
0 # politicfix 2014-09-28 23:11
The Democrats abandoned the left and even scorn anyone who is far left. There is no balance in this country. The universe requires balance. Positive/Negati ve, Yin/Yang, suction/pressur e. With the Democrats moving center right, it forced the republicans to move even further right (enter the tea party) We need are liberal Democrats back in order to attain balance. Maybe the country would at least shift back to moderate Republicans again. We do not have Capitalism, we have inverted totalitarianism . What we need is Capitalism with IMPROVED FINANCE which means getting rid of the Federal Reserve which is an antiquated financial system and replacing it with an updated financial system that will create justice for everybody that harms nobody. It will be necessary for all the people to ban together against the financiers to demand their God given rights and to save this country from the quagmire we're sinking into.
+5 # 2014-09-28 14:34
Sorry GOODSENSECYNIC … All those things you mentioned are from a time which has long since passed. They are the result of a system which is long gone. That system no longer exists. It has been wiped out. It's like"CLOTHES ON A DEAD MAN". The dead man has deteriorated, but only his clothes remain. Until you realize that, you will be forever chasing ghosts and delusions. REIVERPACIFIC, you seem to be the only one who fully understands the true reality!
+17 # Inspired Citizen 2014-09-28 14:57
No less a conservative movement icon than
Republican Senator Barry Goldwater
of Arizona uttered these words in support of bipartisan campaign finance reform in 1983: "[O]ur nation is facing a crisis of liberty if we do not control campaign expenditures.
We must prove that elective office is not for sale. We must convince the public that elected officials are what James Madison intended us to be, agents of the sovereign people,not the
hired hands of rich givers, or what Madison called factions."

That is what we have, a system of hired hands picked by the oligarchs.
+4 # goodsensecynic 2014-09-28 15:37
The reason they're hard to remember is that the Republicans carried out a cunning plan, from Nixon's "southern strategy" to the creation of "think tanks" which, in collusion with the corporate media, defined the political and economic agenda and dominated political discourse, aided and abetted of course by the so-called populists led by Sarah bin-Palin who are so wrapped up in ignorance and resentment that they don't even know that they're spouting the Koch Brothers' line when they sound off about "elitists" while being not just the "useful idiots" but the pathological instruments of the right.

So, this is not a call to raise the dead, but to revitalize the living. Americans are not (as individuals) especially stupid or particularly evil. Good grief! Some of my best friends are Americans!

What's needed are some of the qualities that made your country an object of admiration (though perhaps never the veneration you craved). All I'm asking is for your citizens to act in their rational self-interest.

Considering your military and economic power and the your consequent capacity to do (even more) destruction, we are counting on it.

As Naomi Klein said (here or elsewhere) recently, it's getting down to the last straws - capitalism vs. climate, for a start. So, no matter what the odds, it's worth a potentially last shot. Surely there is political work to be done, and there is nothing ennobling about a pre-emptive cringe.
+4 # ericlipps 2014-09-28 16:03
It's worth noting that one has to go back to the Roosevelt-Truma n era to find a time when Democrats won three straight presidential elections (unless one counts 2000 as a "win" based on Gore's edge in the popular vote--but it wasn't Gore who was sworn in on January 20, 2001 ).

Republicans have had a systemic edge literally since the 1860s--not enough to lock out the Dems, but enough to tilt the playing field.
+4 # fredboy 2014-09-28 17:24
A wee bit late with this one: They've owned the White House and every soul in it since 1980.

Lock. Stock. And barrel.
+3 # PaineRad 2014-09-28 17:56
The best antidote to big money is big media attention. That is why Rove and the Kochs, etc. did so poorly in 2012 so far as the WH and Senate went. But the lack of big media attention is why they did so well at the House and state levels. Without lots and lots of big press attention, all the moderately attentive people pay no attention and become as deer in the headlights in the aftermath of yet another mid-term slaughter.

But there is still another angle here. And that is the utter cowardice of the battered spouse party that still calls itself the Democratic Party. Without any clear principles, the Party has no real claim on the loyalty of anyone. It's only rational slogan is "At least we're not crazy." Not much of a rallying cry and motivational crowd pleaser. It is constantly giving away the store to the least Democratic members and state leaders; taking its base, environmentalis ts and labor for granted; and quietly sucking up to and selling out to every BIG MONEY donor not already in the GOP pocket (and often even to them).

There seems not to be a single strategic and longer term thinker with the slightest idea of what is going on outside the Beltway in the Democratic Party leadership. Rahm Immanuel threw out Howard Dean, perhaps the only strategic thinker in the last 20+ years. Dean was preceded by Terry McAuliffe and followed by Tim Kaine and Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- corporatists and Blue Dogs all.
+1 # jcdav 2014-09-29 05:42
actually, the internet is the best antidote considering big $ owns all the other media..why do you think they want to control the web?
0 # CuttySark 2014-09-28 18:15
Will someone please remind Mr. West that this piece was billed as one that would describe "the 1 percent's scheme to buy the White House?"

Thanks for giving him a nudge.
0 # curmudgeon 2014-09-28 19:17
The game is already over as far as anyone other than rich folks getting share of economic gains...

Note that our share started diving under Reagan according to chart in foolowing linked article....a real eye-opener.
+3 # Cdesignpdx 2014-09-28 21:49
I'm thinking the Koch Bros. created the institutions that awarded their industries the more than 700 environmental awards.
+1 # Aaron Tovish 2014-09-29 01:33
It is dishonest -- or ignorant -- journalism to write an article like this without mentioning the grassroots movement to overturn Citizens United by amending the Constitution. Folks: stop depending on those have bought into the corrupt system to defend you from it. Rely on yourselves; organize state-by-state until the democratic intent of the Constitution is restored.
0 # Texan 4 Peace 2014-09-29 19:56
Republican strategy: "Find a candidate who isn't completely crazy." Got it.

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