Movie review: Campaign finance doc “Koch” can't find focus among issues

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From the June 19, 2014 edition

As the Beatles sang, money can’t buy you love. But it can buy you seemingly limitless political influence, and political influence may last longer anyhow.

The increasingly hazy line between money and U.S. politics is the subject of the new political documentary “Citizen Koch.” And, as is the rub with political documentaries in these polarized times, where you fit on the spectrum will largely determine your reaction to the movie.

The “Koch” in the title refers to the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. The “Citizen” could be a reference to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Citizens United, which essentially ruled that in terms of campaign donations, corporations are people, too! Which raises the question, why can’t I marry a corporation? It’s a slippery slope, people!

Anyhoo, the Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for spending, as evidenced by record contributions in the 2010 midterm elections that brought the rise of the Tea Party. Oh, and also, you don’t get to know exactly who is paying for those ads you get to see as a benefit of life in a swing state.

“The point of it is to find a way to spend money in elections without telling anyone who you are,” says former Federal Election Commission chairman Trevor Potter in the film. Doesn’t that sound fun?

“Citizen Koch” addresses some big, important issues, but at times it flails at trying to bring them into focus. If it aims to be a Koch family expose, it doesn’t dig too deep. If it aims to look at the corrupting effect of money in national politics, it spends too much time focused in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker made headlines by eliminating collective bargaining rights for state employees. Why does that ring a bell? Oh, nevermind!

Ultimately, “Citizen Koch” has about four good ideas for a feature documentary, though none of them quite lands. Still, it’s an important topic and a good point for discussion, assuming you can get anyone who doesn’t already agree with the point to watch it.