Former Obama campaign manager and senior adviser David Axelrod hosted Mark Holden, the general counsel and senior vice president at Koch Industries, about campaign finance on his podcast The Axe Files with David Axelrod.
Axelrod said the Koch brothers are "extraordinarily powerful" in today’s politics because they spend "an awful lot of money" on campaigns.
Axelrod asked whether the founding fathers anticipated massive spending by interests on issues that affect their own bottom line. Rather than debate Axelrod’s hypothetical question, Holden framed the discussion as a First Amendment issue. He said that money has always had a prominent role in politics and that Charles Koch’s money is primarily spent on educational projects and charities.
"Money is speech and there is also anonymous speech protected by the First Amendment," Holden said.
Axelrod said the Republican party will not meet at the house of the average Joe to hear his ideas; rather, it will be meet at the homes of billionaire investors who have a vested interest in the policies candidates promote. Holden said that was the case before the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision and occurred on both sides of the aisle.
Citing the Koch brothers’ support for criminal justice reform, Axelrod asked whether the influx of money in politics would crowd out the voices of the poor and disadvantaged.
"Again, both sides do it and we have a right to free speech," Holden said.
Holden downplayed the company’s influence over politicians citing a number of losses they suffered on legislative votes in the past year.
"We don’t have that kind of power," Holden said. "I’m not saying we don’t have any. I think that most politicians are going to do their own thing. At the end of the day, we try to be engaged in the political process so we can get the ideas that we think are important passed through and implemented to the extent there is will for it, the political will that the elected officials have to have."
Holden said there is a "common thread" of government intrusion on the people’s lives that the Koch brothers aim to fight against, not only for corporations but for citizens’ liberties.
"Throughout our history, there are a lot of different people with different views—and the thing I love about our country is you get to say it; you don’t have to like it," Holden said. "But the cure for speech you don’t like or don’t agree with is more speech, not less speech."
"It’s positive to have as many viewpoints and voices out there," Holden said, adding it was a healthy thing for the country.
Under Axelrod’s direction, despite earlier commitments in 2008, Obama became the very first major candidate to decline public financing for his campaign because the system placed spending limits on his operation. The move was viewed as a "backwards step" for campaign finance reform.