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Democrats Angle To Compete With Koch Money

With the Republican candidate and down-ticket contenders likely to benefit from the Koch treasure trove, Democrats have a huge, difficult void to fill.
American teens got mediocre scores on an international test of financial literacy.
American teens got mediocre scores on an international test of financial literacy.JO YONG-HAK / Reuters

Democrats face stiff competition in political fundraising in 2016 after wealthy entrepreneurs Charles and David Koch pledged to spend nearly $1 billion in the next campaign cycle. Right now, they're playing the underdog and say that they have a huge void to fill.

“We’re never going to match that dollar for dollar,” said Ben Ray, spokesperson for American Bridge, a Democratic opposition research group, referring to the Democratic fundraising apparatus.

The Koch pledge - to raise and spend $889 million through its more than one dozen organizations - is more money than the Republican and Democratic Parties each spent in 2012 and more than President Obama spent in his record-breaking campaign in 2008, NBC News has noted. Charles and David Koch's network is likely to nearly match what each candidate is likely to spend in 2016.

Republican presidential candidate and down-ticket contenders are the ones to likely to benefit from the Koch treasure trove.

Democrats admitted nothing exists on the Democratic side that compares to the Koch's deep pockets and network.

While Democrats are competitive on a host of political fundraising, when it comes to political nonprofits that don't have to disclose their donors, Republican-oriented groups far outpace the Democrats.

In the 2014 election cycle, conservative 501c4 groups spent $128 million, according to the Center For Responsive Politics, while liberal 501c4 groups spent $35 million.

Democratic aides say the effort is going to have to be "all hands on deck." They will follow how the money is being spent and strategically place every Democratic dollar to counter. In addition, grassroots support - a large number of small dollar donors - will continue to play heavily into the Democrats' strategy, and that includes capitalizing on the Koch news. The DNC released an email to their supporters Wednesday evening, urging their supporters to mobilize and engage in response to the Koch news.

"Let them know they can't buy your commitment, they can't buy your energy, they can't buy your vote," says a graphic from the DNC to its supporters. Supports can click on a button that says, "I"m in to elect a Democratic president in 2016."

A second version invites supporters upset by the Koch's "buckets of money" to "volunteer to help elect a Democratic president in 2016."

Ray said it's "always helpful" in politics to organize around the opposition.

“Anytime the Kochs want to say they want to raise a billion dollars, that’s the statement that launched a thousand Democratic fundraising emails,” Ray said.

Chris Lehane, who works closely with Tom Steyer, billionaire environmental activist who spent more than $70 million on the 2014 election in support of environmentally-friendly Democratic candidates, said the Kochs' attempt to create "a kakistocracy for the plutocrats" will continue to be an effective attack used by Democrats.

"A real lesson for us in 2014 that we must apply in 2016 is using the Kochs as a fully weighted oil drum that we tie to the Republican candidates and presidential candidate ... especially those swing voters who have yet to recover economically from 2008, believe the system is rigged against them and are struggling to choose between Republicans and Democrats," Lehane said.

Democrats also rely on outside groups to help promote their candidates and agendas. In addition to Steyer, environmental groups, unions and Emily’s List are some of the top political influences on the Democratic side. But the tens of millions of dollars these groups raise is a far cry from $889 million.

"Given all of this, it only reinforces that Tom -- along with other progressive groups -- are the David taking on the Koch Goliath," Lehane said.