DAUK Film Night: Citizen Koch and Skype conversation with the filmmakers
was held in London on October 16, 2014
The Main Characters
Further Information & FAQs
Organizations & Publications on Campaign Finance and Transparency
The Film Night
In 2012 we screened Bill Moyers’ investigation of the role of “Dark Money” – hidden donors, opaque sources – in our politics. In 2014 the situation is much worse.
As this Washington Post article details, in the 20 months from January 2013 to August 2014, the Koch brothers funded 44,000 TV ads to further their attacks on Democrats and our key policies in battleground states. Citizen Koch provides a stark picture of the Koch brothers’ power and influence during the political storm in Wisconsin in 2010.
That is why so many Democrats are receiving emails similar to this one sent by Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas:
“We’ve led in five of the last seven polls, BUT Citizens United allows the Koch brothers to spend millions in an attempt to buy a Senate that benefits billionaires – not us.”
From the Citizen Koch website
“America — they’re coming for you next. That’s the warning from a Wisconsin state employee after her union rights were destroyed by a Republican governor funded by corporate and billionaire donors whose ultimate goal was to break the unions nationwide – and cripple the labor-backed Democratic Party.
It can truly be said that this film follows the money – and in the Wisconsin case it was mainly from out of state. But as most of you know, out of state money is not unusual. You may know that the Citizens United ruling gave a lot of financial power to corporations – and greatly damaged our democracy. But until you see Citizen Koch, you may not know how much.
Set against the rise of the Tea Party in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, a citizen uprising to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker collides with the Tea Party-aligned “Americans for Prosperity,” a group founded and lavishly financed by two of the world’s richest men —David and Charles Koch. As Republican working class voters find themselves in the crosshairs of their own party and its billionaire backers, they are forced to choose sides.”
About the Film Night Speakers
Via Skype with Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, directors and producers of Citizen Koch
Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, directors and producers of Citizen Koch, were nominated for an Academy Award for their documentary Trouble the Water (2008), which also won the Gotham Independent Film Award and the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for best documentary. Both were co-producers of Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, Fahrenheit 9/11 (winner of the Palme D’Or) and the Academy Award-winning Bowling for Columbine
Tia Lessin won the Sidney Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism and L’Oréal Paris/Women in Film’s Women of Worth Vision Award for her documentary Behind the Labels, a film about labor trafficking in the US garment industry. She also line produced Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan and was consulting producer for his Living in the Material World: George Harrison. In television, Tia’s work as producer of the series The Awful Truth earned her two Emmy Award nominations.
Carl Deal has contributed to many other documentaries. As a broadcast news producer and journalist, he has reported throughout the US, Latin America and in Iraq, and has written investigative reports on environmental, civil and criminal justice for Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Public Citizen. Columbia University’s journalism school awarded him its social justice prize.
Further Information & FAQs
**This slideshow “Everthing you need to know about SuperPacs and dark money” produced by Andrew Prokop on Vox, September 2014 is an excellent primer! **
Key questions on Campaign Finance and Citizens United:
What was the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision?
In essence, it asserts that corporations, associations and unions have the same rights of free speech as individuals and that spending on campaign ads is free speech.
In the past, corporations, associations and trade unions could – and did – spend vast amounts on issue-related ads or lobbying, but faced restrictions on direct electioneering. In Citizens United, 2010, the Supreme Court held that corporations (and associations and unions) enjoy the same free speech rights as individuals and lifted the caps on their donations to independent organizations and the prohibitions on electioneering. This decision, combined with the appellate court SpeechNow case, gave birth to Super PACs and unleashed the capacity of organizations to run what the Sunlight Foundation calls ‘shadow campaigns’ for candidates (via what is called independent expenditure) as long as they are not directly coordinated with candidates’ own campaigns .
What has been its impact?
It has opened the floodgates for massive campaign expenditure, the creation of Super PACs, and thereby the growth of ‘dark money’ in campaigns. The ‘darkest money’ currently comes from 501(c4)s and 501(c6)s (trade associations-e.g. Chambers of Commerce) and to some extent 501(c5)s (trade unions)—so called after their tax code classifications. 501(c4)s are meant to be ’primarily’ (used to be ‘exclusively’) social welfare groups. Karl Rove’s CrossRoads GPS and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and the pro-Obama Priorities USA function under this category.
The links between 501(c)s and Super PACs are often close and can circumvent disclosure. This is because people or corporations can anonymously donate to a 501(c) which then donates onto a Super PAC, which only has to name the donating 501(c) and not the individuals or organizations who donated initially.
What have Democrats been doing about this?
In 2013 Democrats were active in pursuing a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. It failed to pass in the Senate. As a constitutional amendment, it required 67 votes to pass. All Democrats voted in favor of the amendment and all Republicans voted against.
Erika Eichelberger. Could This Be the Senate Race Where the Koch Brothers Meet Their Match? Koch-affiliated money is pouring into Alaska like never before. Labor unions are going all out to fight back. Mother Jones October 13, 2014
Highlighting Dark Money
Mother Jones (search for dark money), a reader-supported investigative news organization, coined the phrase Dark Money to highlight the fact that the role of money in campaigns has become more opaque and powerful. Voters are increasingly kept in the “dark” about who is funding campaigning activities.
In 2012 we screened Bill Moyers’ investigation of Dark Money in Politics . In 2014, the situation we face is much worse:
The controversy behind the film’s late release:
Jane Mayer. A Word from Our Sponsor: Public television’s attempts to placate David Koch. New Yorker. May 27 2013.
Andrew O’Hehir. “Citizen Koch”: The movie about our sick democracy PBS tried to kill. Salon.com
PBS Ombundsman’s response to the New Yorker article is here
Organizations and publications that focus on campaign finance and transparency
Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets
Andy Kroll. Four Surefire Tips for Following the Money in Your State, Bill Moyers & Company. January 3, 2014.
Andy Kroll. 5 Signs the Dark-Money Apocalypse Is Upon Us Welcome to the Year of Dark Money. Mother Jones. Sep. 18, 2014
Bill Moyers. Who’s buying our mid-term-elections?, Bill Moyers in conversation with investigative journalists Kim Barker and Andy Kroll.
More about the Koch Brothers
Find out more about where the Kochs’ money is going, the organizations and activities that they fund (updated 2016)
Tim Dickinson. Inside the Kochs Brothers’ Toxic Empire. Rolling Stone. September 24, 2014.
Tim Dickinson. Koch Industries Responds to Rolling Stone – And We Answer Back. Rolling Stone, September 29, 2014.
Chris Cillizza. The Koch Brothers have funded 44,000 ads in the 2014 election. Washington Post. September 4, 2014.
Zachary Roth. Koch group investigated for faulty mailers. MSNBC. September 29, 2014. About the investigation into the mailings sent out by the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity that contained inaccuracies about voter registration procedures in North Carolina.
Al Shaw, Theodoric Meyer and Kim Barker. How Dark Money Flows Through the Koch Network. ProPublica, Feb. 14, 2014.
Robert Greenwald has also produced a film about the Koch Brothers – The Koch Brothers Exposed – and their role in funding various campaigns, such as, against diversity in a local school district, as well as the Scott Walker campaign.
Disclaimer: The screening of this film does not constitute an endorsement or promotion of the film, nor of any views expressed therein or any association with The Film Committee, DAUK, Democrats Abroad or the Democratic Party. Screenings are solely conceived as educational activities: offering an opportunity for members to discuss issues.
Links to other organizations or publications imply neither endorsement of their policies nor any association with the Democratic Party or Democrats Abroad – UK.