One percent's latest crybaby shtick: Why Koch brothers can't whine about Harry Reid

Sure, Reid's anti-Koch crusade may be over-the-top. But by being political players, Kochs want to have it both ways

By Simon Maloy
Published May 16, 2014 12:37PM (EDT)
David Koch                                      (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
David Koch (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

Harry Reid is a troll. He’s an effective majority leader and he knows how to work within the sticky labyrinth of official D.C. to get things done, but he’s also a troll. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a trait that lends itself to excess.

His 2012 campaign to convince America that Mitt Romney had not paid taxes for 10 years is perhaps the best example of Reid’s trolling prowess. “He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain,” Reid said, sourcing the claim to, literally, a guy who called his office. He was using the same sort of I’m-just-asking-questions dodge that Karl Rove used this week to get people talking about Hillary Clinton’s health and age.

That’s why I’m just a bit leery of Reid’s role as chief spokesman in the Democratic crusade against Charles and David Koch. I get that the point of it is to make the billionaire brothers the mascots of economic inequality, but Reid’s enthusiasm for the role makes it start to feel like it’s just a fight between Reid and the Kochs.

As such, Reid throwing his support behind a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United decision gives rise to headlines like this: “Harry Reid Backs Constitutional Amendment to Limit Koch Brothers’ Influence.” The amendment, of course, would not affect just the Koch brothers, but since Reid has made them his money-in-politics bêtes noires, we’re now left with the impression that Reid is using the power of the government to go after two rich guys.

That said, the argument that Reid is out of bounds simply for criticizing the Koch brothers is off-base.

It’s a refrain you hear every time Reid says something about the Kochs, who, the Koch empire would like you to believe, are just two ordinary, unassuming guys. “We are disappointed that Sen. Reid is attacking private citizens rather than the problems facing this nation,” Koch executive Philip Ellender said in March. “Harry Reid, on the Senate floor – the majority leader – going after private citizens?” one incredulous “Koch ally” told Charles Koch himself played the victim card in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed denouncing the evils of collectivism. “Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.)”

The Kochs want to have it both ways. The Citizens United decision empowered them – and anyone else with the means – to spend as much as they desire to influence the outcomes of elections and the political process. And the Kochs are doing exactly that. They are airing ads and setting up get-out-the-vote operations and voter targeting programs. They plan to spend as much, if not more, than the official party committees. The Kochs have positioned themselves as two of the most influential political figures this election cycle, and their primary goal is to remove Harry Reid from his position as majority leader.

And Reid is just supposed to stand there and take it?

The Kochs are not elected officials, but they aspire to have all the political clout that comes with winning elections. You can’t insert yourself that deeply into politics and then call foul when you get caught up in the rough-and-tumble.

And for the Republicans and conservatives who would claim to be aghast that an elected official would attack a job creator simply for spending money to influence the outcome of an election, I’d say that Reid’s criticisms of the Kochs are neither unprecedented nor particularly acerbic.

You all remember George Soros, right? Soros himself was attacked pretty vigorously in 2004 and 2005 for his financial support of 527 groups that worked to defeat George W Bush. And it wasn’t just conservative bloggers who went after Soros. Republican elected officials got in the game too.

During the 2004 Republican National Convention, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert appeared on Fox News Sunday, where he was asked by Chris Wallace about the outside spending of 527 groups. Hastert took the opportunity to speculate on whether Soros’ money came from “overseas or from drug groups”:

HASTERT: Here in this campaign, quote, unquote, "reform," you take party power away from the party, you take the philosophical ideas away from the party, and give them to these independent groups.

You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where — if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from. And I...

WALLACE: Excuse me?

HASTERT: Well, that's what he's been for a number years — George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there.

WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?

HASTERT: I'm saying I don't know where groups — could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know. The fact is we don't know where this money comes from.

In 2006, as Republicans were starting to worry that their congressional majorities were in danger, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., took to the floor of the House and delivered a spirited denunciation of George Soros, hinting that he might be a communist and bemoaning the fact that billionaires could “go in, through undisclosed means, and influence elections.”

Our colleagues on the left, the Democrat Party, said that big money is a corrupting influence in politics. And so you had men like George Soros, one of the richest men in the world, a multibillionaire, George Soros, who I like to call the Daddy Warbucks of the Democrat Party, he spent $18 million to root out big money in politics. Think about that. That is liberal lunacy at its worst, or I guess I should say at its best.


George Soros. What is his agenda? He is one of the greatest leftists this side of Havana and he is trying to influence elections for his left-wing agenda. I think it is important for the American people to be engaged in elections. But you should not allow billionaires to go in and buy elections. You shouldn't allow billionaires to go in, through undisclosed means, and influence elections.

I don’t mean for this to be a “both sides do it” argument. The point is that Soros made himself a threat to Republicans holding elected office, and Republicans hit back. That’s what happens when you become a political player – the other side comes after you.

Could Harry Reid maybe dial it back a bit on the Kochs? Sure. But he’s under no obligation to keep his mouth shut.

Simon Maloy

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