"Citizen Koch," a highly regarded documentary about the billionaire Koch brothers and the growing influence of money in politics after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, suffered a major setback earlier this year when PBS pulled the film and the $150,000 in funding that had been promised. Scrambling to find a way to distribute their film, Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin turned to Kickstarter in a highly successful move that recently surpassed the funds they had previously expected to receive from public television.
As of Thursday, the "Citizen Koch" crowdfunding effort had attracted around $170,000 from nearly 3,400 donors. The average donation was just over $50, with contributions ranging from $1 to $5,000. The campaign -- which catapulted past its initial $75,000 goal after just three days last month -- has quickly become one of Kickstarter's most successful.
Producers say the funds raised on Kickstarter will be used to pay for the final sound mix, the film’s score and graphics, color correction, creating mastered elements for distribution, licensing archival footage and music rights and other post-production and distribution costs.
“Thanks to thousands of small donors, the public will be able to see this film," Deal said in a release. “We hope public television executives get the message that when they allow private interests to dictate their programming and funding decisions, the public will take notice and take action.”
Reports at the time of PBS' decision to pull the film from its stations suggested that executives had bowed to pressure from David Koch, a major donor to powerful PBS affiliates. Deal and Lessin's work focuses heavily on the election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his subsequent push to curtail union rights in the state, a push that led to massive backlash in Madison in 2011. Some reviews have suggested that much of the material is partisan and unkind to the Kochs, who are at one point described on screen as "TWO BILLIONAIRE EXTREMISTS."
There has been disagreement about how, exactly, PBS reached its decision to pull the documentary. Officials with both PBS and the Independent Television Service (ITVS) -- which provides programming to PBS -- have denied facing direct pressure from Koch, but both Deal and Lessin have maintained that PBS and ITVS feared "the reaction our film would provoke."
“We are humbled by this tremendous support and the thousands of voices speaking out against censorship and in support of democracy,” Lessin said in a release. “We can’t wait to get our film -- and the stories in it -- out far and wide.”
Donors that have stepped in to replace PBS' funds have meanwhile expressed concern with the organization's move. Some have said it led them to withhold donations to PBS.
“I had to discontinue my monthly PBS contribution when I learned about PBS pulling their support of the Citizen Koch project so I was glad to find this way to continue my support,” wrote one donor.
PBS is heavily reliant on personal donations from the public. Only 12 percent of its funding comes from the federal government.