Business tycoons with no moral rudder are nothing new. Barely a month seems to go by without one of them being brought up on charges by federal prosecutors, getting fined by the Environmental Protection Agency, or running afoul of labor laws. Yet, even among this group of seemingly conscienceless people, the Koch brothers have managed to achieve the dubious distinction of an even lower low. Finding the usual abnegations of basic decency to lack the old thrill, the Koch brothers have decided to embark on an exciting new adventure in human failure: the subversion of democracy.
The theoretically independent advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, recently upped its game from skirting legal boundaries to flagrantly crossing them in North Carolina. The AFP sent out inaccurate voter registration information to hundreds of thousand North Carolina residents. They targeted black and low-income residents, those who are most likely to vote for a Democrat candidate and also to benefit from Democrat initiatives.
The fake forms instructed voters to return to the completed form or direct questions to North Carolina’s Secretary of State. There are a few little hitches with those instructions. Voter registrations don’t go the secretary of state in North Carolina, and the secretary of state’s office doesn’t handle voter questions. Nor do forms go to the state board of election, which is where the return envelopes would have sent the fake forms. The return envelopes also listed the wrong zip code, meaning the forms would not have gotten to the state board of elections in a timely fashion, even if that was where they were supposed to go. In fact, actual voter registration is done through your local election board.
The AFP is the political wing of the ultra-right/libertarian Americans for Prosperity foundation, which is backed by the Koch brothers. Nor is the connection between the Koch brothers and the organization a passive one. David Koch sits on the Board of Trustees for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Between the economic relationship and board position held by David Koch, it’s not a stretch to imagine that the AFP’s agenda is strongly informed, if not dictated, by the political and business agendas of David and Charles Koch.
Of course, proving that connection is always more difficult that drawing the obvious inference. The Koch brothers will assuredly deny any direct knowledge or involvement with the day-to-day operations of the AFP, as per corporate protocol. These kinds of denials represent a particularly unseemly strategy for avoiding liability, a bit like corporate structures themselves. Why we accept such denials, when ignorance does not constitute an excuse for non-billionaire citizens, remains mysterious. If a parent can be held liable for the children’s behaviors, it seems corporate masters should be liable for their employees’ behavior. In all likelihood, though, some lackey in the AFP will take the fall for sending out false voter registration information. Assuming anything happens at all.
What makes the AFP’s activities in North Carolina so meaningful and egregious – as opposed to the usual political back room deals, graft and fraud – is that control of the United States Senate hangs in the balance. Democrat Kay Hagan, an incumbent Senator for North Carolina, is currently in an extremely tight race against Republican Thom Tillis – the North Carolina State House Speaker. If Hagan loses this election, control of the Senate would tilt back to the Republicans, who have consistently proven themselves more amenable to the lower taxes and looser environmental controls the Koch bothers want to get into place.
Much like the connection between the Koch Family and the AFP, the connection between them and Tillis is not passive. Tillis has been anointed by the Koch machine. Charles Koch’s family all made the maximum contributions to Tillis’s campaign, in addition to a donation from a Koch political action committee and vast sums of advertising money poured into the campaign from Koch-influenced groups. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizen’s United case has made this kind of corporate cash influx legal, though the cozy relationship between the Koch brothers and Justices Thomas and Scalia throws that decision into morally questionable territory.
Given the vast freedom their collective wealth provides them to influence politics legally, one might wonder why the Koch brothers – or henchmen acting on their behalf – would risk the brazen felony of fake voter registration forms. It’s a numbers game. The polling numbers show Hagan and Tillis within a few points of each other, which currently makes this election anyone’s game.
A handful of states don’t show up as clear “red” or “blue” states. These “purple” states have a more or less even mix of voters from each party. The numerical parity makes it hard to predict if any given election will go Republican or Democrat. More to point, elections victories in these states frequently come down to an incredibly narrow margin of votes. If the AFP’s strategy had kept even a few hundred, let alone a few thousand, likely Democrat voters from casting a ballot, it could legitimately tip the election in favor of Tillis. It probably seemed like a worthwhile risk with control of the Senate as the prize.
The Koch brother’s blatant disregard for the democratic process – especially in the apparent pursuit of profit – offers a powerful indictment of unchecked corporate influence in politics. The leaked audio recording of Kentucky’s Republican Senator Mitch McConnell all but admitting that the Koch brothers set the Republican agenda is another. The entire purpose of a democratic system is to ensure that no one tyrant or oligarchic cabal can control the direction of government. Democracy places that power in the hands of the citizens who must live under the government.
When the Koch brothers and their underlings undermine that process, it isn’t an attack on a different party. It’s not a disagreement with a rival ideology. It is a conscious, malicious attack on the core principle that a democratic society vests the power in its citizens. To intentionally try to deprive citizens the opportunity to exercise their fundamental democratic right is something beyond illegal. It is unconscionable and unforgivable.