WASHINGTON — In 1980, David Koch ran in and funded a presidential campaign that called Social Security "The Ultimate Pyramid Scheme" and promised to abolish and replace it.
In 2014, Democrats are hoping to use that fact to tar the Republicans he and his brother Charles are bankrolling in 2014. Welcome to the next phase of the Democrats' anti-Koch strategy this year: Treat the Kochs like a candidate for office and try to make Republicans answer for the Kochs' libertarian ideology.
Democrats have already painted the Kochs as a shadowy pair pouring millions into the political process for their own ends. In recent months Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made almost a daily point of invoking their names, calling them "moles" Tuesday, for instance. In North Carolina, supporters of Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan — a top target for Koch largesse — say Republicans benefitting from Koch spending need to say whether or not they agree with statements like the one about Social Security in 1980.
David Koch didn't actually write the book that called for the abolition of Social Security, but he was the main driver of the presidential campaign that pushed for it in 1980. Koch ran as vice president on the Libertarian ticket helmed by Ed Clark, but according to a 1980 New York magazine report on the race was selected by Libertarian party leaders as VP candidate before Clark was selected to run for president, mostly because of his ability to give their campaign effort more money than it had ever seen before.
"They liked me, I guess," Koch told New York. "But obviously, my ability to give unrestricted funds was a major consideration."
In the end, Koch spent more than $2 million on campaign. Enough, Hagan supporters say, to make him responsible for the campaign's message.
And so, using a copy of Clark's 1980 campaign book A New Beginning as a jump-off point, Hagan's supporters are beginning to vet Koch as a candidate for office, shopping around the kind of opposition research campaigns usually send out on their opponents, not the people running ad campaigns.
The book explicitly calls for the abolition of Social Security as well as calling it a pyramid scheme.
"The injustice of Social Security cries out for reform. Neither the individual worker nor the economy as a whole can it much longer," reads the text. "The system is collapsing under its own weight and it is bringing us all down with it. We must start removing it from our backs."
The book calls for replacing Social Security with "a new system based on voluntary, cooperative, decentralized market institutions instead of the current centralized and bureaucratic system." Younger workers would see the government stop collecting Social Security taxes "and allowing them to invest that amount in private plans."
Democrats hope voters will be skittish over Koch's 1980 support for the abolition of Social Security when considering the candidates he's supporting in North Carolina. For team Hagan, that means Thom Tillis, Republican speaker of the state House. Tillis will face several other Republicans in the Senate primary in May.
"David Koch put $2 million of his own money into running for vice president on a platform that explicitly advocated dismantling Social Security and has a long record of threatening to break the promise we've made our seniors," said Ben Ray, communications director for the coordinated Democratic campaign in North Carolina. "Now the Kochs are spending many times that on Thom Tillis. It's up to Tillis to answer for their dangerous views."