Let the Koch Brothers Spend $900 Million. This is How We Can Still Win — For Less.

Charles and David Koch announced Monday their conservative political network aims to spend $889 million on federal elections in 2016. That’s more than the Republican and Democratic National Committees spent in 2012 combined.

You probably already saw this story in many major national newspapers. But did you stop to think: What can you actually get in politics with $900 million? The answer: an undemocratic system.

When a handful of people flood federal elections with $900 million, they can buy weak candidates who will bend to billionaires’ interests instead of serving We the People.

Our best shot is focusing on state and local races.

We don’t need millions to support these candidates. State representative or state senate candidates typically spend less than $250,000, with many campaigns run effectively with $20,000-$30,000. And by developing these candidates for higher office elections in the future, our investment in them can yield long-term returns. That’s the vision of LaunchProgress PAC, the state-based political action committee I co-direct.

At LaunchProgress, we invest in young, progressive candidates running for state and local positions now in order to grow the bench for progressives in statewide and federal offices in the future. In 2014 — our first election cycle — we endorsed first-time candidates in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina running for state representative or state senate, focusing on candidates from underrepresented backgrounds in politics. For an average of $1,000 per candidate, our strategy of focusing on campaign mentoring paid off. We leveraged a pool of talented individuals who volunteered strategic advice, campaign best practices, policy work, and field help. We helped our candidates with name recognition through robust regional and national communications outreach. We organized volunteer phonebanks and made thousands of calls.

On Election Day, we won 56 percent of our races — a success rate that places us among top campaign organizations.

It doesn’t take $900 million to win elections. And when you find a way to win without big money, you can expand democracy along the way.

It is true, they do not always win. But victory or not, $900 million already goes far in influencing legislators. According to a Princeton study,

economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy…while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.

These economic elites exert this level of influence because they have the funds to corrupt the democratic process and because they are playing the long-game and working within our institutions to invest in their own interests.

It’s time we invest in our interests — as a country. It begins with supporting young candidates that look like America and will fight for America now and in the future. We must make all of our voices heard, and we must especially uplift those from underrepresented backgrounds into leadership positions. Only by expanding democracy can we protect our democracy.

Pichaya Poy Winichakul is a Co-Founder and Co-Director of LaunchProgress Political Action Committee.