Share

Citizen Koch is agitprop for political censorship

By |
Sean Higgins,Federal Budget,Campaign Finance,Analysis

Does the Republican Party live in fear of Buddy Roemer? That's one of the more novel arguments advanced by the buzzed-about documentary "Citizen Koch."

Roemer is the former Republican governor of Louisiana who mounted a quixotic bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

According to "Citizen Koch," it went nowhere because Roemer ran as an anti-corporate populist. The GOP elites did not want him speaking truth to power.

This was a terrible shame because Roemer was such a great, accomplished candidate. We know this because Roemer tell us so, repeatedly.

The Roemer segments are meant to illustrate the film's theme that corporate money is undermining democracy by suppressing voices like Roemer's.

But the segments tend to undercut that: Roemer is shown to be a cranky eccentric with no name recognition, no political base and a self-imposed $100 campaign contribution limit that forced him to run a shoestring campaign.

In other words, he was a fringe figure in the race because he is a fringe figure.

Roemer's scenes are nevertheless the most entertaining thing about "Citizen Koch." The film is otherwise a fairly standard left-wing polemic. It doesn't unearth any particularly new information and its lacks Michael Moore's gonzo sense of humor — despite coming from one of Moore's producers.

Conservative funders David and Charles Koch are featured prominently, but the film is less an expose of them than an attack on corporate involvement in politics in general. A more accurate title would be the Case Against Citizens United.

The film presents the Supreme Court's 2010 decision as an epic turning point in U.S. politics by allowing corporations to flood campaigns with money.

As one grassroots activist puts it: "I don't want ads paid for with out-of-state money trying to influence me. I consider myself a smart person. I can figure things out for myself."

It is telling, though, that Roemer's is the only example that comes from the 2012 election. Most of the film actually deals with Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his battles with his state's unions.

The last presidential election was, yes, notable for the vast amounts of money some big donors threw into it ... most of which was wasted.

Karl Rove's group American Crossoads spent $105 million and lost nearly every race it contested. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson cut a $20 million check for Newt Gingrich and couldn't even sell him to Republicans.

Political spending can get a message out, but it cannot hypnotize people into supporting something with which they don't agree.

Nevertheless, money is the film's explanation for Walker's recall election victory. It seems a slight to Wisconsinites to argue that after more than a year of protests and intense media coverage, they were not aware of what he did and hadn't formed an opinion.

Walker even got 28 percent of the union vote. Presumably, they liked that he gave state and local government workers the choice to participate in a union — something they didn't previously have.

"Citizen Koch" became a cause celebre for liberals last month when the New Yorker reported that PBS had pulled funding to finish the film. David Koch is a major public broadcasting contributor. The PBS suits grew belatedly worried about underwriting films that attack their donors.

I was able to see a "festival cut" Friday at the AFL-CIO's D.C. headquarters, where it was well received.

This was a bit ironic since the AFL-CIO filed an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs in Citizens United, calling the old campaign finance system an "unworkable censorship regime." It also opposed the Democrats' Disclose Act, the bill meant to remedy Citizens United.

Under the old system, Big Business and Big Labor faced the same political spending restrictions. The AFL-CIO wanted those restrictions lifted — but just for them.

The Supreme Court decided no, these free speech rights apply to everyone. As "Citizen Koch" shows, some people are still upset with that.

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner