"Citizen Koch" started out as an exposé of the power of the ultraconservative Charles and David Koch, two brothers who inherited a $100 billion company and the John Birch Society politics of their father. This film, about how the Koches have become the poster boys (for the Left) of the rich subverting American politics with secret donations to push their not-so-secret agenda, was to have aired on PBS. Rumor has it the Kochs are big PBS donors; PBS bailed.

The film also is undercut by "mission creep." It starts out about the Koches, then settles on the battleground of Wisconsin, where Koch-backed tea party conservatives used the legislature to start a crusade to break the backs of unions -- the one liberal money bloc with the cash to at least compete with the huge conservative ATMs that the "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision unleashed.

Filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal try to pack the myriad arguments against that ruling, and people from both sides of America's political aisle who saw it as a disenfranchising disaster, into 90 minutes. But they get lost in Wisconsin.

Deal and Lessin contrast the small-money, door-to-door efforts of the underfunded backers of the recall of Gov. Scott Walker with the gargantuan checks written by the Koches and others that flooded the TV airwaves and brought in busloads of drawling out-of-state phone bank activists to keep Walker office.

The film is relentlessly downbeat about this threat to democracy, letting failed GOP presidential candidate and former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer sound the soberest alarm: "Listen to me, America. You're unimportant. Because you don't bring a check. . . . They've stolen your government."

Deal and Lessin might have been better served finding a couple of Koch expert witnesses to anchor the film and tie all these issues together. Instead, "Citizen" is a sermon that may have the choir shaking its heads, not singing along.

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PLOT A documentary look at the money behind the rise of the tea party. Not rated.

CAST David Koch, Charles Koch, Buddy Roemer


BOTTOM LINE Too preachy for its own good.