Sen. Ron Johnson is getting more exposure in Politico for his ties to the Koch brothers.
In a lengthy article about how mega-donors such as the Kochs have transformed the American political landscape, reporter Kenneth Vogel describes overhearing Johnson, who he said is referred to as the Kochs’ “model legislator,” speaking to donors in a poolside cabana at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort in Indian Wells, Calif. Vogel describes the 2013 gathering as “the latest in a running series of secretive political gatherings” hosted by Charles and David Koch.
Johnson was discussing the benefits of putting political money into the Kochs’ network of nonprofits rather than into traditional campaign groups, including the Republican Party.
“It was just me, the Kochs’ model senator and the two wealthy backers he was talking to, identified by their name tags as Ned Diefenthal and Rob Ryan. Diefenthal, it turns out, is a Louisiana metal titan, and he was complaining to Johnson about the incompetence of the Republican National Committee. Johnson did not reject Diefenthal’s complaint, and he implied that the Kochs might be a viable alternative to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus — at least for the issue in question. ‘That’s what they’re trying to do here and that’s what Reince is trying to do,’ Johnson said. But Diefenthal, whose family over the years had donated more than $280,000 to the RNC, was riled up. Priebus ‘keeps sending me letters asking for money. I’m not giving him any money. He doesn’t know what to do with it,’ said Diefenthal, suggesting that he considered the Koch political network a better investment.”
Vogel apparently caught Johnson and the donors off guard when he interrupted the conversation to ask whether they believed large contributors and outside groups wielded too much power in American politics.
“Before I finished my question, Johnson rose from the cabana couch and stepped around me. ‘It’s—it’s—it’s pretty hot,’ he stammered, marching toward the nearby doors to the hotel lobby, donors in tow. Ryan, a tech billionaire, started to follow, but pivoted toward me. Pointing a stubby finger in my face, he scolded, ‘That’s pretty rude, you know? You interrupted a private conversation,’ which, of course, I had. I didn’t disagree, and apologized again.”
A spokeswoman for Johnson declined to address the specifics of the conversation Vogel captured.
“Senator Johnson feels that Mr. Vogel’s account of his eavesdropping and interrupting other people’s conversations needs no further comment,” said press secretary Melinda Schnell.
In the same article, Vogel also describes a scene, relayed to him from those present, of President Barack Obama explaining to ultra-wealthy contributors, including Bill Gates, that recent court decisions authorizing unlimited spending by outside groups had resulted in a situation in which a small group of rich people could handpick a president. Obama, speaking with Gates and others at an event that cost $17,900 to attend, highlighted a number of those present and informed them that they had the power to anoint the country’s political leaders.
“I mean, there are five or six people in this room tonight that could simply make a decision — this will be the next president — and probably at least get a nomination, if ultimately the person didn’t win. And that’s not the way things are supposed to work,” Vogel reports Obama saying.
Whether or not he liked it, Obama was already playing the same game as the Kochs, giving his nod to the creation of a Super PAC that would spend gobs of money to tarnish the image of his opponent, Mitt Romney.In Wisconsin state elections, conservatives reign supreme in the outside spending game, but not for a lack of effort from Democrats and liberal groups, who for years have funneled millions to independent groups that run bruising ads against Republicans.