The Koch brothers are done being shy. That’s the conclusion one would have to draw from their announcement that they hope to spend $889 million on the 2016 election, an unprecedented amount of outside money. It won’t all be theirs — they’re assembling a kind of plutocrat Politburo, a group of billionaires and zillionaires who will contribute — but with a combined worth of over $80 billion, they’ll surely be the ones opening their wallets the widest and determining the strategy and the agenda.

But unlike some previous reporting on Charles and David Koch’s political efforts, this revelation didn’t require any secret meetings with anonymous sources to unearth. They just told everyone. The Washington Post, The New York Times and Politico all published stories with ample details and on-the-record quotes. Reporters may not have been invited into the gathering in beautiful Rancho Mirage, Calif., of Freedom Partners — the organization through which the Kochs and their allies will distribute all these millions — but they were allowed to hang around and talk to the participants. And no fewer than four potential GOP presidential candidates (Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) showed up as well, obviously unconcerned about any charge that they’re kowtowing to the uber-rich.

So the Kochs appear to have concluded that the efforts by Democrats to turn the Koch name into a symbol of everything that’s wrong in American politics have failed. No longer must they cower in their mansions and take pains to conceal their political spending, fearful of the piercing barbs aimed by liberal politicians and commentators, when all they want is for Americans to fully appreciate the majesty of laissez-faire economics. Free at last, free at last, thank Citizens United, they’re free at last.

If you were expecting journalists to express much consternation at the idea that a group of the super-wealthy would announce their intention to buy the next election, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, the news is being reported more like that of a record-breaking contract for a professional athlete: wonder at the sums involved but precious little moral outrage. That’s mostly because political reporters tend to believe that election campaigns are already nothing but a parade of deception and manipulation, an enterprise that’s inherently corrupt. So what’s a little more?

The Kochs are probably right that they have little to lose by being public about their plans. Yes, they’ll have to absorb some stern editorials, and maybe even some ads from the Democratic National Committee criticizing Republican politicians for associating with them. But weighed against what they have to gain by putting nearly a billion dollars into the next presidential campaign — more than the two parties spent, combined, in 2012 — that’s a price so small it’s barely worth worrying about.

Paul Waldman is the American Prospect’s daily blogger, and a contributing editor. He also blogs for the Plum Line at The Washington Post, where this column first appeared.


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