The impact of money on American politics is the focus of Citizen Koch, a documentary that follows the 2012 reelection campaign of Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and explores how big money can threaten the democratic electoral process.
Filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin examine the influence billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch wielded over Walker's campaign.
According to the documentary, Walker’s ultraconservative Tea Party message was defined by corporate campaign money.
The film suggests that the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that loosened restrictions on campaign donations paved the way for wealthy donors to influence elections behind the scenes. Groups receiving the money do not have to disclose where, or who, it comes from.
Billionaire businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit in New York, May 5, 2014.
Lessin believes the people of Wisconsin might have voted differently had they been made aware that corporate money was behind Walker’s campaign.
“He gave enormous corporate tax breaks, tax breaks to the wealthiest and he cut social services and he went after public employees and their unions,” she said.
Citizen Koch also shows how big money politics can backfire.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean just because a lot of money is put into a campaign, that candidate is going to win,” said political science professor Richard Benedetto.
He says that, unless Americans demand the disclosure and a ceiling on campaign funding, the Supreme Court ruling is here to stay.
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker reacts at his victory party in Waukesha after winning a recall election, June 5, 2012.
“Yeah, the guys with the big money get all the influence, where the little guy doesn’t get any but it hasn’t risen to the level where the public is ready to revolt about it," Benedetto said. "If the public was ready to revolt about it, and then you’d see changes being made.”
So, go out and vote, says one Wisconsinite featured in Citizen Koch.
“We forgot where the real power is," he says in the film. "You know, you can be living in a cardboard box, underneath the highway somewhere and you at one moment in time have as much power as the guy down the street living in the mansion. And that’s when you go to vote.”