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This week the Watchdog (the Center’s email newsletter, which you can subscribe to here) points out two new investigative reports that shed light on how big money continues to saturate politics in the U.S.

The first, “D.C.-based groups spent big in special elections,” is a Center for Public Integrity analysis of carpetbagging super PACs and nonprofit groups that are dominating this year’s special congressional elections.

The second, from the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, is an exhaustively researched report and the most detailed analysis to date of the political spending of the Koch brothers.

The Center report notes that unlimited outside spending by out-of-state groups is a potential harbinger of the 2014 midterm elections. It seems that even the sleepiest locales aren’t immune from major out-of-state, cash-flush special interests.

So far this year, just 4 percent of the $12.4 million spent by political groups or party entities on congressional races came from groups based within the state where they’re doing their spending, the Center analysis shows.

Such spending by outside groups has become a pivotal element in elections thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed super PACs, unions and certain nonprofits to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates.

Where is this flood of outside cash coming from? Washington, D.C., is far and away the biggest source of funding. In all, groups with headquarters in the nation’s capital account this year for about two-thirds of independent expenditures on congressional races. That figure jumps to nearly 72 percent when factoring in organizations from New York City and the D.C. suburbs.

Meanwhile, in an extensive series of reports, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University lays out the most detailed analysis to date of the political spending of Koch Industries, one of the largest privately held corporations in the world.

Led by Center founder Charles Lewis, the Workshop spent two years working on its “Koch Club” investigation. Researchers studied a vast amount of publicly available information about Charles and David Koch’s political activities, including donations to political campaigns from the Koch brothers personally, donations to political campaigns from Koch Industries’ political action committee and the lobbying activities of Koch Companies Public Sector.

The cumulative cost to Koch Industries and Charles and David Koch for this extraordinary alchemy of political and lobbying influence, nonprofit public policy underwriting and educational institutional support was $134 million over a recent five-year period.

“From direct political influence and robust lobbying to nonprofit policy research and advocacy, and even increasingly in academia and the broader public ‘marketplace of ideas’ this extensive, cross-sector Koch club or network appears to be unprecedented in size, scope and funding,” the report reads.

“And the relationship between these for-profit and nonprofit entities is often mutually reinforcing to the direct financial and political interests of the behemoth corporation — broadly characterized as deregulation, limited government and free markets,” it continues.

The analysis found:

  • From 2007 through 2011, Koch private foundations gave $41.2 million to 89 nonprofit organizations and an annual libertarian conference.
  • Koch Industries and Charles and David Koch contributed $8.7 million to candidates and the Republican Party in the three election cycles between 2007 through 2012.
  • In addition, Koch private foundations contributed $30.5 million to 221 U.S. colleges and universities and $46.3 million to the arts and other more traditionally charitable purposes during this period.

And while Koch Industries’ lobbyists were spending $53.9 million to further the giant corporation’s federal and state policy agenda, the nonprofits it funded were simultaneously “educating” the public and lawmakers about energy, the environment and other issues in public testimony on Capitol Hill.

The sheer magnitude of the amount of special interest money being spent in the nation is laid bare in each of these investigative reports. In other countries we might say this is evidence of corruption, but here it is business as usual.

And when a nominal democratic political system responds more to the money being spent than the citizens it represents, soon the only question being asked is how much does it take?

Clearly, quite a lot.

Until next week,


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Bill Buzenberg was the Center for Public Integrity's executive director from 2008 to 2015.