Midterm elections tend to see lower voter turnout and less interest from the media. Midterm primary elections have even more paltry turnout numbers among those that even are able to vote.
This year’s primary season though has been particularly interesting so far from Mississippi’s surprising run-off election between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel to Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat in Virginia.
Now, heading into the general election, there is another twist from two Koch brothers, David and Charles: they founded a new super PAC called the Freedom Partners Action Fund.Super PACs, or super political action committees, originated in 2010 with the now widely known Citizens United Supreme Court case. Before the case, PACs existed that could support a cause or candidate; however, they were heavily regulated, particularly in how much individuals were allowed to contribute. The max before 2010 per individual was $2,500, while unions and corporations were restricted from making donations.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that there would no longer be a limitation on how much individuals could donate to these organizations, nor could corporations or unions be restricted in their funding. Campaign donations were equated with free speech, and therefore, could not be limited. Corporations and unions were granted that same right.
Soon after, in a correlate ruling, SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, the legality of super PACs was established and a new sort of political donation entity was born.
The Koch brothers have a storied history in contributing money to political issues they cared about that far predates these cases. Specifically with PACs, as Daniel Schulman explains in his recently published book, Sons of Wichita, it was during the Clinton administration that the Koch brothers worked through advocacy groups such as Citizens for a Sound Economy to fight health care reform and other parts of Clinton’s legislative agenda.
An outshoot of that group eventually became Americans for Prosperity, which funded the most ardent anti-Obama activity early in his term.By the time the
Citizens United ruling came down, the Koch’s were liberated to use their vast fortune to fight Obama’s agenda and push for libertarian causes. Schulman reports that the Kochs and their advisers agreed to spend $400 million on these activities which was made possible by “the gradual weakening of campaign finance laws and the rise of super-Pacs and ‘dark money’ nonprofits that allowed individuals and corporations to influence the political system as never before.”
This staggering amount of funds tended to focus on issue-based campaigns that were ideologically grounded instead of focusing on individual candidates. For example, the Koch’s vast political funding supported projects like Act 10 in Wisconsin, which limited the right to collectively bargain in the state.
With their new super PAC though, for the midterms alone, the Freedom Action Partners Fund said they aim to spend $15 million as part of a larger effort to raise a total of $290 million that shifts from issue-based backing to specific campaigns. The super PAC’s new treasurer, Thomas Maxwell, stated that the money will go to “support candidates who share our vision of free markets and a free society and oppose candidates who support intrusive government policies that push the American Dream out of reach for the American people.”
There is already a lot at stake in the 2014 midterm election to determine the direction of President Obama’s last two year in office. While political pundits such as Nate Silver strongly believe Republicans will continue to control the House, Republicans are only slightly favored to win the Senate, which means that current campaigning period is critical.
In breaking with their past emphasis on issue-based funding, the Koch brother’s new super PAC is a powerful signal of how they hope to be able to contribute to the elections.