The Continuing Agonies of the Super-Rich

As we well know by now, being rich in America is tough. Imagine driving your Porsche out the Goldman Sachs garage, intent on a relaxing weekend at your Hamptons retreat, only to find some wretched Occupy sympathizer giving you a dirty look through the haze of patchouli and resentment that surrounds him. Who could endure it? No wonder they keep comparing their fearful existence to that of the Jews of late-1930s Germany.

But now, according to the Washington Examiner, America's plutocrats have a new worry:

Democratic super PACs have outraised their Republican counterparts by millions, a factor attributed in part to GOP donors' fear of being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service—or "getting Koch'ed."

Republican political operatives concede that there are multiple reasons for the Democrats' advantage in super PAC money raised.

Among them: Labor unions have become among their largest and most consistent donors. But this election cycle, two new challenges have chilled GOP super PACs' effort to raise cash from wealthy individuals and corporate donors: anxiety that they could get slapped with an IRS audit and unease that donating could lead to public demonization.

Not to let facts intrude on their paranoid fantasies, but let's not forget what the IRS scandalette actually involved. There's never been any credible allegation that anyone was audited because of their political beliefs. There's never been any allegation that the IRS "targeted" donors to Republican super PACs. The worst thing that happened was that some Tea Party groups that had applied for 501(c)(4) status—claiming, utterly falsely, that they were charitable, non-political organizations, I might add—had to wait longer than they should have to get approval on their applications. (And, I have to repeat, when you're waiting for your approval, you're permitted under the law to act as though you've gotten your approval. You can raise and spend money, which they did.)

On the second point, I suppose one might be concerned that Harry Reid would go to the Senate floor and denounce you for undermining our democracy with your donations, even if those donations are perfectly legal. But in order for that to happen, you're really going to have to get into the first rank of donors. A couple hundred thousand dollars isn't going to do it; in order to be "demonized," your contributions are going to have to reach at least eight figures.

Nevertheless, I'm sure it's unpleasant for the Kochs to get criticized by politicians. But being criticized—even vigorously, and even sometimes unfairly—is the price you pay for certain choices you make. If you decide to do anything that puts your efforts in front of the public—running for office, becoming an actor, or being a writer, among other things—people who don't like that work are going to tell you so. They may even say rude things, like "You're an idiot" or "You suck," or whatever other insults their limited creativity can produce. People track me down to tell me things like that all the time. It certainly isn't fun to hear, but since I've chosen a profession where my work is public, it's just part of the deal.

Spending large amounts of money on politics is both a right and a privilege. Some rights, like the right to practice your religion, are available to everyone. The right to spend significant political money is technically available to everyone, but in practice is only open to those who have large amounts of money to spend. In the same way, Lebron James and I are both free to dunk basketballs, but because the cruel genetic lottery left me a couple of ticks under six feet, I can't actually exercise that freedom.

Obviously, the IRS shouldn't audit anyone because of their political beliefs, and fortunately, we have no reason to think it does. Part of me suspects that a lot of conservative donors are using the fear of "demonization" and audits as an excuse to brush off requests for contributions, since once you become a big donor, you're going to get besieged by candidates and organizations asking you for money. But if super-rich conservatives are sincerely afraid of the fallout from giving, they have two choices: they can make contributions that don't put them quite on par with the Kochs, and thereby be ignored, or they can just decide to suffer the slings and arrows bravely in the cause of liberty. It's up to them.

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