It appears that Republicans have found their own pair of billionaire brothers to demonize this election cycle.
While Democrats hammer away at the influence of the Koch brothers, conservatives are swinging back by pointing to the liberal campaign activism and free-spending ways of the wealthy Steyer brothers, Jim and Tom.
A video released this week by American Commitment, a conservative PAC, shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, railing on the Senate floor against Charles and David Koch, but the ad demonstrates that Mr. Reid’s remarks could apply just as easily to the Steyers.
“This is about two very wealthy brothers who intend to buy their own Congress,” Mr. Reid says in the ad, titled “Steyer Infection.”
Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer made headlines last month for vowing to raise and spend $100 million to help elect Democrats who will push for legislation intended to stop climate change. Jim Steyer isn’t a billionaire, but he and his brother have founded Next Generation, an advocacy group promoting “children’s issues” and actions against climate change.
The Kochs are far richer, but Tom Steyer’s $100 million pledge has them looking like cheapskates in the political field. Koch Industries spent $18 million on federal elections from 1989 to 2013, placing it 59th on a list of campaign donors compiled by Open Secrets.
SEE ALSO: EDITORIAL: Kochs vs. Steyer: When ‘evil’ campaign cash is OK
There is no doubt that the Kochs are major players in the current election cycle. Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Kochs, reportedly has spent $30 million so far, according to The New York Times.
Faced with a rough election cycle fueled by public opposition to Obamacare, Democrats have cast the Kochs as evil rich guys as part of the party’s “villain” strategy. They used the Kochs as talking points in virtually every tight Senate and House race.
In North Carolina, voters might be excused for assuming that Sen. Kay R. Hagan’s election opponent is named Koch, given the Democrat’s constant barrage of criticism against the Kansas-based industrialist brothers.
In a March 6 statement on her website titled “Thom Tillis & the Koch Brothers’ Agenda,” Mrs. Hagan says, “We know now that Thom Tillis and the oil billionaire Koch brothers are rigging the system against the middle class.”
Mr. Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker, is seeking the Republican nomination for Senate in the May 6 primary, along with physician Greg Bannon and Baptist minister Mark Harris.
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said no big-spending Democratic donor, and there are many, has received nearly the media focus as have the Kochs.
“The Steyers get virtually no critical coverage, they answer no tough questions, they certainly aren’t being attacked on the floor of the Senate,” said Mr. Mackowiak, who heads the Potomac Strategy Group. “And that may be because they’re fairly new to this, but it’s quite striking how personal the attacks have become against the Koch brothers.”
One reason is that Americans for Prosperity for months has been running ads attacking vulnerable Democratic incumbents on their support for unpopular policies, starting with Obamacare.
Another reason is that Republicans seem to have a winning hand this year and may not feel the need for personal attacks against private citizens.
“I think what’s different is the Democrats have decided to demonize the Koch brothers as a political strategy, and you haven’t seen that on the other side,” Mr. Mackowiak said. “You haven’t seen Republicans — the only time Steyer gets mentioned by Republicans is usually in relation to attacks on the Koch brothers.”
Indeed, the online ad buy by American Commitment is relatively small — about $50,000 — but the strategy could expand if it proves effective. For now, however, conservatives may be content to play the Steyer card only as a defense.
“From my standpoint, I don’t think the attacks on the Koch brothers are going to be effective,” Mr. Mackowiak said. “I don’t think most people care about campaign finance. They care about how public policy affects their lives, and when you look at things like Obamacare and the weak economy, those things are so much more important than the Koch brothers.”