Harry Reid rips the Koch brothers for trying to "buy the country"

The Senate majority leader calls out the libertarian billionaires for their political dealings

Published January 30, 2014 9:13PM (EST)

David Koch                                     (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
David Koch (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got into it on Thursday with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — but it was the Koch brothers who ended up receiving most of the Nevada Democrat's ire.

It all started with McConnell complaining about the Obama administration's new attempt to better regulate nonprofit groups who list themselves as devoted to "social welfare" rather than partisan politics. Within politics, these groups are usually referred to as 501(c)(4) nonprofits. The administration — and many outside observers — worry that too many 501(c)(4)s are making a farce of their social welfare designation by effectively advocating for certain politicians or political parties.

Mitch McConnell disagrees. "Democrats think 2014 is shaping up to be a tough year for them politically. So instead of trying to persuade the public that they’ve got the best answers to the problems we face, they try to shut everybody else out of the political process, they try to shut them up,” McConnell said. He went on to accuse the president of wanting "to use the IRS to drive conservatives right off the playing field."

Reid wasn't having it, and pointed to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers — who directly and indirectly fund many of these organizations — as a prime example of how the rules are being disregarded or abused by outside political actors. "Because of a United States Supreme Court decisions called Citizens United, there’s been some really untoward stuff going on in the political world," Reid said. "We have two brothers who are actually trying to buy the country."

“What they're doing is spending their … dollars on governors races, and on the state level and, of course, spending huge amounts of money around the country attempting to defeat Democrats both in the House and the Senate,” Reid continued. "The Koch brothers hide all their campaign efforts. They disguise themselves with rare exception as social welfare organizations, with all these fancy names going after people who are trying to improve the country."

Reid's got a point: A recent, in-depth story from the Washington Post looked at the Koch brothers' political network and described it as "unrivaled" in its "complexity." The report also found that the Kochs had spent at least $400 million on the 2012 elections.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

MORE FROM Elias Isquith