Washington Post columnist George Will deepened his ethically challenged connections to big-money conservative groups by participating in an Americans for Prosperity summit where prominent Republican presidential hopefuls made their pitch to major donors.
Will's attendance at the Koch-backed group's annual convention comes after he spent months promoting Koch-backed candidates for public offices and advancing Koch-backed policy issues in his syndicated column.
On August 31, Politico reported that Will was part of an "exclusive group of major donors and VIPs" who "dined privately" at AFP's eighth annual Defending the American Dream summit. According to Politico, the summit "has become an increasingly important stop for aspiring GOP presidential candidates." In previous years, Will has also spoken at the summit and been given AFP's highest honor, the George Washington Award.
Will's cozy relationship with AFP has not been disclosed in any of his recent columns promoting key Republican candidates for Congress or governorships, who have benefited from AFP's ad spending. Using his platform at The Washington Post, Will has promoted Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land, suggesting that she is "the GOP's best answer to the so-called war on women" and contrasting her with Sandra Fluke, whom he smeared as "a professional victim and virtuoso whiner." Will argued that by electing Land, Michigan voters would be able "to show what they think of 'war on women' hysterics as a substitute for thought." Like Will, AFP supports Land and, as Will noted, has already spent $5 million on her behalf. Will did not note his connections to the group.
Will has similarly promoted North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis' candidacy for the Senate, parroting his anti-Obamacare campaign advertisements in a May 30 column. Will defended Tillis against charges that he is an "establishment" moderate by praising his conservative credentials: "Tillis has been an enthusiastic enactor and implementer of the conservatism that North Carolinians voted for." Will noted that AFP has spent $8 million on advertising attacking Tillis' opponent, Democrat Kay Hagan. Charles Koch and his family have also maxed out their contributions to Tillis, and he received a $5,000 donation from the Koch Industries PAC.
Will has profiled Republican Bruce Rauner, who is running to be governor of Illinois, framing the election as a choice between Rauner's push for term limits and his "vows to change the state's fundamental affliction --its political culture" and "the acceleration of stagnation" under the Democratic incumbent, Pat Quinn. AFP has spent at least $120,000 attacking Quinn.
Will also supported the candidacy of Monica Wehby in Oregon. In a July 25 column, he argued that since she has spent 17 years as a pediatric neurosurgeon, "She probably can cope with the strains of legislative life." He cited her "two X chromosomes," opposition to abortion rights, and support of marriage equality to claim she "complicates the Democratic Party's continuing accusation that Republicans wage 'war on women.' " Will also suggested that Wehby isn't too extreme for Oregon because she "won 50 percent of the vote in a five-candidate primary in which her rivals accused her of moderation." The Koch-affiliated group Freedom Partners, which Politico called the "Koch brothers' secret bank," plans to spend $3.6 million on Wehby's race.
Organizations that receive large amounts of Koch funding have also been prominently mentioned in Will's recent columns. Will twice hyped the work of the Institute for Justice, which relied on Charles Koch for seed money, and has since received more than $1 million in money from Koch-backed groups. Will dedicated another column to pushing the Goldwater Institute's effort to create a balanced budget amendment. The group has received more than $1.6 million in donations from Koch-affiliated groups.
Will also offered praise for U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa, who halted a criminal investigation into possible illegal coordination between the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and outside groups during a recall election. Walker has benefited from more than $10 million in spending by AFP.
Will has previously had problems with nondisclosure. Will has been criticized by media ethicists and veteran journalists for citing groups that are funded by the Bradley Foundation without disclosing that he is a paid board member of that organization. Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University's College of Communications and former Miami Herald editor, stated that Will's acceptance of an award from the Bradley Foundation "signaled his alignment with its philosophy." Washington and Lee University journalism professor Ed Wasserman said that Will's failure to disclose the relationship was "[o]f course" a problem, explaining that even though Will is known to be a conservative, readers should know if Will's commentary is "independently arrived at rather than a reflection of a nexus of relationships and entanglements that he is embedded in."