Unhappy 35th Anniversary to the Kochs & Campaign Finance Laws

February 20, 2015

It’s a milestone anniversary for the Koch brothers. 2015 marks 35 years that the billionaire brothers have been attacking campaign finance laws, and to mark the occasion, they’ve made an appropriately bold gesture: hiring a former FEC commissioner and longtime opponent of campaign finance enforcement as counsel. Last week, Donald McGahn testified at an FEC hearing on behalf of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce — aka the Kochs’ “secret bank” — and provided written comments encouraging the FEC not to enhance disclosure requirements for the group and others like it.

The unhappy relationship between the Kochs and campaign finance laws dates back to David Koch’s 1980 run for vice president on a Libertarian Party platform that sought to “abolish the FEC and all limits on campaign spending.” Now, on the cusp of an election cycle where the Koch network has pledged to spend upwards of a billion dollars supporting candidates who back their agenda, the Kochs have hired counsel who shares their extreme views on gutting campaign finance regulations. Donald McGahn, who was appointed to the FEC in 2008, is also a “fierce proponent of weakening FEC enforcement powers,” according to the New York Times. McGahn later admitted that during his time at the FEC, he did not fully enforce the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Before the Koch brothers, McGahn represented Tom DeLay, defending him against numerous campaign finance violations.

This year finds McGahn and the Koch brothers urging the FEC not to require enhanced disclosure for nonprofit groups that engage in “issue advocacy,” rather than expressly advocating on behalf of a particular candidate. For the Kochs, “issue advocacy” is shorthand for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Freedom Partners and the brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, on political advertisements that attack Democratic candidates. Neither of these groups — or several others in the Koch network — are required to disclose their donors because they are nonprofits, despite the fact that the groups “more closely resemble the traditional functions of a national political party,” according to POLITICO.

Paid for by American Bridge 21st Century Foundation