"Citizen Koch" follows the money
January 18, 2013
With President Barack Obama due to take the oath of office for his second term on Monday, Democrats and others who supported him might think the battle against the Republican Party’s conservative wing is over. But documentary filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin warn against complacency.
Their film "Citizen Koch," which is screening in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition, details the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision to roll back the ban on corporate election spending.
"We’d been interested in how money impacted and changed public opinion, not just elections but how legislation is passed or gutted by PACs," said Deal. As they were mulling that project, they learned that David and Charles Koch, the wealthy industrialists who helped fund the effort to overturn the corporate spending ban, were holding a conference in Palm Springs, California.
They decided to drop in. But the presence of two journalists at the private retreat was far from welcome.
"I was a registered guest in the hotel where the convention was gathering and I was actually kicked out. I was seven months pregnant and I was unceremoniously removed from the premises even though I was entitled to be there. I was removed by the Kochs’ security guards," said Lessin.
"It is clear these events can’t survive public scrutiny because, once they are taped or on camera, the world knows what’s happening. That was the downfall of Mitt Romney with his 47 percent comment," said Lessin.
Recommended Stories For You
That didn’t quash the project, though. In February, they heard that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was entrenched in a battle with the public-employee unions, so they packed up their gear and drove into the heart of the battlefield.
Wisconsin, Deal explains, was Ground Zero for the Koch brothers’ effort to "marginalize people of average means and to make it easier for wealthy people to wield more power at the ballot box."
To Deal and Lessin, the conflict between Walker, a staunch conservative, and his state’s public employees, many of whom were also Republicans, didn’t seem to add up. "We were trying to make sense of all this and thought the best way to do that was to look for working class Republicans in Wisconsin, home to the birthplace of both the Republican Party and America’s unions.
According to Deal, once they started filming, they couldn’t stop. we couldn’t stop. "You have to remember, in the aftermath of Obama’s election, all of a sudden there was this Tea Party movement, just overnight. You had working-class white folks all over the country rallying against their best interests. How that happened was fascinating."
The issue had a particularly personal dimension for Deal and Lessin who brought the award-winning "Trouble the Water" documentary, about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to Sundance in 2008. Their parents, Lessin says, "were career public servants."
"They were committed to the social good. And we were raised with those values — that it wasn’t something to be ashamed of that federal, state and local governments actually were helpful. So, when we see public employees and the work that they do attacked, and the people who amass great wealth because they are foreclosing on our communities are exalted, the whole world seems upside down."
The film draws to a close as its subjects head to the polls on Nov. 6. Obama wins the election, but Walker is also successful. He defeats the recall effort supported by the unions and a lot of disenchanted Republicans.
And Lessin believes the fight isn’t over. "This wasn’t only about 2012. This is about a long-term strategy, not just to win elections but to super-enfranchise the wealthiest in our society and to disenfranchise working people, organized labor and poor people. This is not over. These guys are just winding up."
"Citizen Koch" screens: