TIME 2014 Election

Secret Koch Event Audio Could Be Gift for Senate Democrats

Koch Brothers Protest
Members of the "Save Our News'' coalition rally before delivering a 500,000-signature petition urging the Tribune Co. management to reject any offers by the Koch Brothers to buy The Los Angeles Times newspaper outside the newspaper headquarters in Los Angeles on May 29, 2013. Damian Dovarganes—AP

It's not what Republican candidates said that has Democrats salivating, but who they said it to

There was little revealed in the new, illicitly recorded audio tapes of top Senate Republican candidates addressing a group of high-dollar Republican donors, but their very existence may give Democrats a needed boost going into the fall’s midterm elections.

On Tuesday, The Nation released audio of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell addressing a June meeting in Dana Point, Calif. convened by the Koch Brothers, the billionaire energy magnates who have become Democratic bogeymen this fall. Early Wednesday, the Huffington Post followed with audio from a trio of Senate hopefuls: Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, and Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner.

The muffled surreptitiously-recorded audio from the closed-door summit is hard to make out, not that it matters. McConnell repeated his longstanding opposition to campaign finance restrictions. Ernst and Cotton thanked the donors at the confab for their support. Gardner not-so-subtly suggested that their outside money efforts would decide his fate. None of this is news to anyone, but the optics of the candidates appearing to kowtow to the Kochs is enough to send Democrats into overdrive.

For months Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and an array of outside groups have tried to turn the Koch brothers into household names. “Republicans are addicted to Koch,” Reid declared in March on the Senate floor. The DSCC, which owns kochaddiction.com has placed the the billionaires at the center of their midterm messaging, arguing GOP candidates are beholden to the donors at the expense of their states. Meanwhile, Senate Majority PAC, funded by the Democrats’ own high-dollar donors, is blasting GOP candidates on the air for their ties to the Kochs.

The Democratic message has long had two aims: drive up Democratic fundraising, while turning swing voters away from Republican candidates. On the first front, the effort has clearly been successful. Senate Democrats maintain a strong fundraising advantage over Republicans, while their outside efforts have progressed mightily since 2010. Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidates have managed to maintain polling advantages as the fall campaign heats up.

“It makes it much harder for them to try to hide their agenda,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky. “Stuff like this audio recording helps tie them to their records.”

Barasky wouldn’t preview the virtually guaranteed onslaught of ads to incorporate the latest audio. “I would say that Democrats will continue to tie GOP senate candidates to the highly damaging Koch brothers agenda that they’re all pushing,” he said.

McConnell’s team tried to turn lemons into lemonade, touting the fact that he said the same thing behind closed doors as he does in public. “In contrast to Alison Lundergan Grimes’ failure to defend Kentucky coal from the EPA behind closed doors with Obama donors, Senator McConnell fights for Kentucky wherever he goes. Earlier this summer Grimes failed to utter a word of support after promising Kentuckians she would defend Kentucky coal at a Harry Reid fundraiser and lord knows what she said to Tom Steyer and anti-coal billionaires when she attended their conference in Chicago,” said McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore.

Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the Democratic attacks are “blatantly hypocritical.” “Harry Reid’s Majority PAC and other Democratic outside groups are outspending Republicans by millions including Put Alaska First – a front group for Reid’s PAC in Alaska where Democrats have poured in more than $5 million in a desperate attempt to save Mark Begich,” she said. “The reality is while Democrats are distracting themselves with their contrived baseless attacks that don’t resonate with voters, Republicans are talking about their solutions and reminding folks that a vote for Democrats like Mark Begich, Mark Udall and Kay Hagan are votes are Harry Reid and Barack Obama’s failed agenda.”

Both audio records were posted by The Undercurrent, a self-described “grassroots political web-show” hosted by Lauren Windsor. The show is affiliated with the progressive Young Turks Internet network, and sponsored by the progressive nonprofit group, American Family Voices. The method of the recording has not been disclosed.

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