Now Playing: Citizen Koch

A statue at the Wisconsin State Capitol during a protest, from the film Citizen Koch (2013), photo courtesy of Matt Wisniewski
A statue at the Wisconsin State Capitol during a protest, from the film Citizen Koch (2013), photo courtesy of Matt Wisniewski

Filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin have done an excellent job letting the narrative of Citizen Koch unfold and speak for itself: how, at the direct and indirect influence (read: money) of the Koch brothers, Wisconsin’s gubernatorial election was effectively sold to the highest bidder, who then promptly dismantled federal unions in a historically working-class, small-r Republican state. They draw attention to the personal, state-wide and national effects of this unethical election, and remind us of the financial and ethical cost of allowing untrammeled spending on elections. They take a strong position on the bewildering impacts of super PACs on our electoral process, and ultimately, our form of government.

That people and corporations have been buying American politics for years is not exactly a state secret; the film reminds us, for instance, that the Koch brothers financially supported Clarence Thomas decades ago. The Citizens Koch, while roundly vilified by many people on all positions within the political spectrum, happen to be yet another financial and political force to be reckoned with; the film suggests that we the electorate (and incidentally, journalists and documentarians) need to hold  accountable our supreme court, our elected officials, and, most importantly, each other. We deserve the government we elect.

The flmmakers, despite using the title Citizen Koch, have taken the bigger and longer view: our electoral process (and with it, our democratic institutions) currently favors the rich over the poor.  The exposé is partly about the Koch Brothers but mostly it is an assessment of the current political climate. In some ways, I see this film as a companion piece to their 2008 Sundance-winning documentary about Hurricane Katrina, Trouble the Water; taken together, the films illustrate that financial and political inequality across the United States is directly linked to our governance. The filmmakers are exemplary citizens, in the very civic sense of the term, in their moving and straightforward portraits. The media should be doing this job; leave it to the filmmakers to get it right.

Citizen Koch, dir. Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, 90 min. Elsewhere Films, 2013. In limited release in the United States; visit for screening times and locations.