This weekend, the Koch brothers hosted their twice-yearly gathering of their network of wealthy conservative donors in Palm Springs, California — and a panel featuring three likely GOP presidential candidates was quizzed about whether the super-wealthy had too much influence in politics.
Unsurprisingly, they answered: of course not. "I believe that spending money on campaigns is a form of political speech that is protected under the Constitution," said Sen. Marco Rubio. "And the ones who seem to have a problem with it are the ones that only want unions to be able to do it, their friends in Hollywood to be able to do it, and their friends in the press to be able to do it." Watch the video here, or read a transcript of Rubio's comments below:
JONATHAN KARL: Last question. You're here at a forum of course, the Koch brothers have sponsored, invited us all here. I've got a question for you about billionaires in politics. Do you think there is too much influence in our politics by super-wealthy political donors on both sides? [awkward pause, audience laughter] This is a jump ball, anyone can take this-
RUBIO: As opposed to Hollywood or the mainstream media you mean? Or other multibillion dollar entities that try to influence American politics every day? [cheers, applause]
KARL: I think you just got a round of applause for billionaires having influence in politics-
RUBIO: No, here's the point. I believe in freedom of speech. I think that political spending and political activism is a form of protected speech. There is a gentleman out there who has radical environmental ideas, who has spent tens of millions of dollars, lost most of his races but spent tens of millions of dollars attacking Republicans who didn't want to support his radical environmental agenda. He has a right to do that! I believe in freedom of speech and I believe that spending money on campaigns is a form of political speech that is protected under the Constitution. And the ones who seem to have a problem with it are the ones that only want unions to be able to do it, their friends in Hollywood to be able to do it, and their friends in the press to be able to do it.
Sen. Ted Cruz also defended political spending, and pointed out that the three senators sitting on the panel — himself, Rubio, and Rand Paul — were all opposed by the Republican moneyed establishment when they first ran for Senate. (Rubio had to challenge Florida governor Charlie Crist, Rand Paul challenged Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, and Cruz defeated Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.) Cruz argued that all three of them managed to win despite deep-pocketed opposition by taking their case to the people.
Cruz also effusively praised his hosts, who he said had been unfairly criticized by now-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. "Let me be very clear, I admire Charles and David Koch," Cruz said. "They are businessmen who created hundreds of thousands of jobs and they have stood up for free market principles and endured vilification with equanimity and grace."
For his part, Rubio referenced his hosts with a joke. "My kids had the best observation. Why are they so obsessed with the Koch brothers? Is no one asking what Dr. Pepper is up to?" After some laughter, Rubio said, "Get it? Coke?" The panel's moderator, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, answered with a smile: "I totally get it."