Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
CNN's profile of progressive philanthropist Tom Steyer falsely equated Steyer's political donations with those of the Koch brothers without noting the Kochs will spend far more, and it failed to disclose that the group it quoted criticizing Steyer's environmental activism is funded by the Kochs.
During the June 19 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, a profile of environmental activist and philanthropist Tom Steyer attempted to equate Steyer's planned contributions on behalf of candidates who support legislative action on climate change to planned 2014 spending by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. During the profile, Tapper portrayed Steyer as a hypocrite, noting that "another point of dispute involves Steyer's assets. ... Steyer made his money as the manger of a $20 billion hedge fund, amassing a fortune through a variety of investments, including many in the very fossil fuels he now decries." Tapper went on to criticize Steyer for having "continued to make money off these unclean energies while simultaneously decrying them," though he also noted that Steyer is divesting his fossil-fuel investments.
The segment also included a clip of Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), accusing Steyer of "hypocrisy" in his previous investments:
Tapper did not note that AFP is what Politico called the "main political arm" of the Koch brothers, or that the group reportedly plans to spend $125 million in this year's elections for the purpose of "benefiting conservatives."
Further, the premise that Steyer's political contributions are equivalent to those of the Koch brothers is flawed. Contrary to Tapper's contention that Steyer is a direct ideological counterpart to the Kochs, the political spending from Steyer is not equal to that of the Koch brothers. According to the Daily Beast, the Kochs have "set an initial 2014 fundraising target of $290 million" to fund a "new energy initiative" intended in part as a response to "the commitment by liberal billionaire Tom Steyer to steer $100 million into ads in several states to make climate change a priority issue in the elections."
Tapper did not mention that Steyer's planned political contributions are one-third of those planned by the Koch brothers' interests.
Fox News minimized the influence of political spending by the Koch brothers in order to paint Democrats as hypocrites on the issue of campaign finance.
After championing the impact Koch ad money has had on shaping public opinion on Obamacare during the April 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Doug McKelway hid the influence Koch Industries' funding actually has on elections. McKelway cited an OpenSecrets.org list of the "top all-time donors," emphasizing that despite the $30 million spent on advertisements, the list ranks Koch Industries as only 59th out of 156 donors. In an attempt to attack Democrats as hypocrites for their criticisms of the Koch brothers' political spending, McKelway highlighted the fact that the top donor on Open Secret's list was ActBlue, a Democratic PAC:
The Wall Street Journal editorial board was quick to support a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance, in which the conservative justices once again ignored legal precedent and usurped the role of Congress to legislate complicated policy.
On April 2, the Supreme Court decided McCutcheon v. FEC (also known as "the next Citizens United"), and held that overall campaign contribution limits -- previously set at $123,200 -- were unconstitutional. Although the Court did not rule on the individual campaign limits of $5,200 per candidate in the two-year election cycle, the conservative justices struck down the aggregate limits, allowing future contributions to be spread among an unlimited amount of candidates, political parties, and PACs. Although Congress had set those overall campaign limits in the wake of the Watergate scandals to guard against institutional corruption or the appearance of corruption -- a goal repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court -- the Court in McCutcheon ignored this precedent, judicially narrowing future regulation so that "Congress may target only a specific type of corruption -- 'quid pro quo' corruption."
The WSJ, which has been misinforming about this case from the beginning, was predictably pleased with the outcome in McCutcheon. Although the WSJ editorial board lectures about fidelity to the law when it comes to legal decisions that might affect corporate wealth, it was not so bothered at the Court's rejection of precedent in McCutcheon. In an April 2 editorial, it celebrated the decision as a win for "the core promise of American liberty" and applauded the Court for "walking back" a "historic blunder." In fact, the WSJ really only had one complaint about the McCutcheon decision: why didn't conservative Chief Justice John Roberts go even further?
In its original First Amendment sin, Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, the Court said government can regulate political contributions to limit the risk of "quid pro quo" corruption. That is, money in return for a political favor. But Congress has gone well beyond that narrow definition of corruption to include trying to limit some donors but not others or simply the amount of money in politics.
We wish the Court had gone further and overturned all of Buckley, as Justice Clarence Thomas urged in his concurring opinion. As he put it, Buckley is now "a rule without a rationale" given how much the Court has eroded its original logic. But the Justices didn't need to go that far to overturn overall donor limits, and Chief Justice Roberts prefers incremental legal progress. Justice Thomas is nonetheless a John the Baptist on political speech, and the current majority may vindicate his logic in a future case.
We hope it's soon given the pernicious doctrine laid out in the dissent joined by all four liberals. "The First Amendment advances not only the individual's right to engage in political speech, but also the public's interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer (his italics).
"Collective speech" sounds Orwellian as a legal doctrine that invites government as a leveller of free speech and is alien to the U.S. constitutional tradition. The scary thought is that the Court is only one heart attack away from gutting the core promise of American liberty.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson has a history of illegal behavior and controversial comments -- facts that were left out of mainstream print reporting on GOP candidates trying to win his favor last week.
The Republican Jewish Coalition met March 27-29 in Las Vegas, and the event was dubbed the "Adelson Primary" as GOP presidential hopefuls used the meeting to fawn over magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., a casino and resort operating firm, who reportedly spent nearly $150 million attempting to buy the 2012 election with donations to a super PAC aligned with Mitt Romney and other outside groups (including Karl Rove's American Crossroads). Before switching allegiance to Romney, Adelson had donated millions to Newt Gingrich. He has also given generously in the past to super PACs associated with a variety of Republican politicians, including Scott Walker, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, and Eric Cantor.
Hoping to benefit from Adelson's largesse, potential 2016 Republican candidates including Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gathered at Adelson's casino to "kiss the ring."
While Republicans' efforts to court Adelson made big news in print media over the past week, none of the articles mentioning Adelson in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, or The Wall Street Journal mentioned that he has come under investigation for illegal business practices, including bribery, or his history of extreme remarks.
The New York Times just destroyed Fox News' consistent efforts to downplay the impact that the Koch brothers are having on elections.
In recent weeks, Fox News has repeatedly used a Center for Responsive Politics study examining total political donations between 1989 and 2014 to downplay conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch's campaign spending.
Though the study noted that it was unable to count the amount of funding given to "politically active dark money groups, like Americans for Prosperity" -- which is known to be Koch funded -- because such groups have been able to hide details about their donors in the wake of the Citizens United decision and available information is incomplete, Fox eagerly highlighted the finding that political donations from the Koch brothers came in at 59th in overall political donations, according to available data.
Honest coverage of the campaign funding landscape would have noted the dramatic shift that has taken place since Citizens United was decided in 2010 and that long-term data does a poor job of capturing that change. As the New York Times reported today, the Kochs have already emerged as the "dominant force" in the 2014 races. The article highlighted not only AFP's political spending, but the group's extensive involvement in advertising, advocacy, and field organizing:
As the group emerges as a dominant force in the 2014 midterm elections, spending up to 10 times as much as any major outside Democratic group so far, officials of the organization say their effort is not confined to hammering away at President Obama's Affordable Care Act. They are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.
The group, for instance, analyzed the available data, determining which of their ads performed best, and held focus group sessions. Among the most recognizable changes from 2012 is that Americans for Prosperity is now producing testimonial-style ads and carrying out an elaborate field effort, spending more than $30 million already in at least eight states with crucial Senate races and in some House districts as well.
Many of Americans for Prosperity's current ads feature women talking directly to the camera, explaining how Mr. Obama's health care law has hurt them and their families. The group just repurposed one of its original ads for Colorado, where Republicans see a new opportunity, with a woman saying: "Obamacare doesn't work. It just doesn't work." The tag line now urges voters to call Senator Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat facing re-election, about the law.
Americans for Prosperity is also stepping up its ground game. The organization now has more than 200 full-time paid staff members in field offices in at least 32 states. The idea is to embed staff members in a community, giving conservative advocacy a permanent local voice through field workers who live in the neighborhood year-round and appreciate the nuances of the local issues. They can also serve as a ready-to-go field organization in future election years and on future issues -- not dissimilar from the grass-roots, community-based approach Mr. Obama used successfully in 2008 and 2012.
From the January 24 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News continued its scandal-mongering campaign with an attempt to connect a Department of the Interior (DOI) investigation of the Gibson Guitar Corporation to recent reports that the IRS paid undue scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, misrepresenting Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz's political donations to Republicans and Democrats to claim that the Gibson Guitar investigation was politically motivated.
In 2009 and 2011, agents from the DOI's Fish and Wildlife Bureau investigated Gibson Guitar premises on suspicion that the company had violated environmental protections by illegally importing certain types of wood. Gibson Guitar admitted that it "may have violated" Madagascan laws and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine. The 2011 investigation was widely reported on by the media, but at the time, only Fox baselessly speculated that the political leanings of Juszkiewicz were to blame for the investigation into Gibson Guitar.
On May 28, Fox & Friends co-hosts again focused on the Gibson Guitar DOI investigation, reaching to connect it to reports that the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups, reports which Fox have relentlessly pushed to frame as part of a larger government scandal. Co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested that the existence of the IRS investigation report raised the possibility that Gibson Guitar may have been mistaken in thinking that its alleged improper use of "this eccentric, very rare wood was the reason why they were being investigated" by the DOI, and co-host Gretchen Carlson noted:
CARLSON: At the time there were whispers: oh, you know, the guy who runs the company is a conservative, he's given to Republicans in the past. Maybe that could have had something to do with it, because it turns out that they had done absolutely nothing wrong at the company. Well now some people are trying to put together the dots and draw the lines based on this IRS investigation. Could it be that some of these other things that were going on were also concerted targeted things?
But in 2011, Juszkiewicz himself directly pushed back against speculation that Gibson Guitar was targeted for political reasons. As The Wall Street Journal reported (emphasis added):
The fact that Gibson was singled out when other guitar makers use the same woods has fed speculation that the company was targeted--because it is not unionized, perhaps, or didn't donate enough to the Democratic Party.
"I don't think it's a political issue," Mr. Juszkiewicz says, shaking his head. "But I will say this: I wrote a letter to President Obama. I spelled out what happened. I said: You know, we got raided and here are the facts, I think it's unfair. What do you think we should do? No response."
Furthermore, in attempting to frame Juszkiewicz as a victim of political targeting, Carlson highlighted the fact that he had "given to Republicans in the past." However, Juszkiewicz's own campaign donations reveal that he donated to both Republican and Democratic campaigns in the 2012 cycle. An OpenSecrets.org search of political donation listed under the name Henry Juszkiewicz from "Gibson Guitar" from the 2008, 2010, and 2012 cycles yielded this list:
The vast majority Juszkiewicz's contributions went to the Consumer Electronics Association, which donated $163,300 to Republicans and $69,900 to Democrats in the 2012 cycle.
As Media Matters previously reported, there were legal reasons why Gibson Guitar was singled out for investigation. Quinnipiac University School of Law professor John Thomas noted that while other companies also import unfinished wood from India, irregularities on Gibson Guitar's paperwork raised red flags, and court documents have suggested that Gibson Guitar "knew that it was buying illegal woods" from Madagascar:
My take is that the 2009 and 2011 seizures are related in that Gibson's conduct has given USFW [US Fish and Wildlife Service] officials probable cause to be suspicious of Gibson's wood-buying activities. In 2008, Gibson, Martin, and Taylor officials [Guitar companies] toured Madagascar and observed the illegal logging operations. Martin and Taylor promptly stopped using Madagascar woods; Gibson did not. Internal Gibson emails, as quoted by the US Attorney's office appear to indicate that Gibson knew that it was buying illegal woods. Federal officials seized that wood and as per the 2008 Lacey Act amendments, need not charge Gibson with a crime. Gibson must prove the legality of the wood to secure its return. Gibson has been unable to do that. [After the November 2009 raid, Gibson stopped buying wood from Madagascar.]
The 2011 seizure concerned Indian woods that would be legal but for the thickness. I believe that USFW is investigating because of suspicions due to 1) Gibson using the same wood supplier as it did for the Madagascar woods, 2) irregularities in the wood designations on the paperwork that could be due to innocent error or intentional attempt to deceive officials as to the thickness of the wood and 3) though Gibson is the ultimate purchaser, the paperwork lists an intermediary, LMI, which delivers the wood to a warehouse near the Nashville airport. Gibson retrieves a bit of the wood at a time when it needs it.
Fox News contributor and Republican pollster Frank Luntz praised the ability of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to communicate without disclosing that both men were past clients of his.
During a Fox & Friends appearance on Wednesday, communications strategist Luntz claimed that "almost no politician is connecting right now" with voters because "the American people are so angry and frustrated with Washington." He then highlighted the supposed ability of Rubio and Ryan to connect with voters, highlighting real-time responses given by his focus group as Rubio talked about immigration and Ryan talked about federal debt.
Luntz claimed that the tone Rubio used in the remarks Luntz selected for the focus group is "why he is becoming one of the most popular politicians in America today." Luntz added that the Ryan remarks he selected for the focus group proved that Ryan "has this ability to transcend traditional partisan politics":
Luntz did not disclose that both lawmakers were formerly his clients. According to a January 2012 Wall Street Journal article, Rubio hired Luntz to help him craft his "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future" when he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives:
Mr. Rubio, a budding GOP activist in Miami when Mr. Gingrich unveiled the Contract With America in 1994, modeled his speakership on Mr. Gingrich's. He recruited Frank Luntz, who did polling work for the Contract With America, to help him craft his "100 Innovative Ideas." In a 2006 speech before the Florida House, Mr. Gingrich singled out Mr. Rubio, who was about to become the state's first Cuban-American speaker, as a potential national figure.
"Rubio's approach...came straight from the concept of the Contract," Mr. Luntz said, adding that Messrs. Rubio and Gingrich "shared a similar approach to governing."
And according to Federal Election Commission filings from the 2012 election cycle, Luntz received $45,000 from Ryan's congressional campaign for polling and consulting services.
Luntz previously praised Ryan in his capacity as CBS analyst while failing to disclose his financial ties to the Ryan campaign. Luntz also praised an American Crossroads anti-Obama ad during the 2012 presidential election without disclosing that Crossroads paid him for surveying and polling services.
A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.
Fox turned to undisclosed Mitt Romney supporter Ken Blackwell to attack President Obama's efforts to gain the support of women voters in Ohio.
In the latest example, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson interviewed Blackwell, a former Republican Ohio Secretary of State. Blackwell claimed that the presidential race in Ohio had narrowed because Romney had closed "a tremendous gap that existed with women."
But Fox did not disclose that Blackwell is the chair of the Tea Party Victory Fund, an organization that has spent more than $144,000 to help Romney win the presidential election - even though Fox previously identified Blackwell as affiliated with another pro-Republican super PAC.
In August, Neil Cavuto hosted Blackwell on his Fox show Your World to promote an offshoot of the Tea Party Victory Fund, Defend Paul Ryan PAC. Blackwell described the organization's purpose as "making sure that the opposition and Obama forces don`t define, distort, and destroy Paul Ryan`s record and his chances of becoming, you know, Romney`s vice president."
During his Fox & Friends appearance, Blackwell dismissed the Republican Party's efforts at the state and federal level to restrict women's reproductive health choices. He claimed that the Obama campaign "overplayed their hand in thinking that women were only concerned about abortion rights and contraception when many women in Ohio are worried about jobs and the education of their children."
Usually Erick Erickson does you the courtesy of getting past the headline before lying, but now that we're less than a month from Election Day he's apparently decided to dispense with pleasantries.
"I Donated to Barack Obama," declares the headline to Erickson's latest blog post, wherein the CNN contributor documents his attempt to demonstrate that President Obama's campaign is committing some sort of fraud through an "illegal donor loophole" that allows them to accept contributions from overseas (a right-wing meme that's actually a bit of warmed-over nonsense from 2008). Not until the 13th paragraph do we learn that Erickson, after attempting to donate to Obama as a Russian with a made-up passport number, actually had his contribution rejected by the campaign.
So he didn't donate to Barack Obama. Nor did he document any evidence of fraud (in fact he demonstrated that the campaign's anti-fraud measures are working, as he would have known had he read the Obama campaign's statement after John Hinderaker tried this same exact stunt in April). But he had to write something, right? He went to all that effort. Just for us.
Outlining the growing controversy about the timeline of Mitt Romney's Bain Capital career, CNN's Jim Acosta recently asked the candidate if he believed he was "being swift-boated in this campaign." Later that same evening, reporting on Anderson Cooper 360, CNN's Tom Forman forged a tighter connection, suggesting "Republican analysts fear Mitt Romney could become the second politician from Massachusetts swift boated out of the presidency."
Here's how Forman describe the Swift Boat affair [emphasis added]:
FORMAN: He's talking about the Swift Boat campaign, in which President Bush's challenger John Kerry was demonized over what his campaign considered an attribute. His decorated service as a soldier in Vietnam. The Swift Boat ads, backed by a group of pro-Bush veterans, questioned the Democratic challenger's conduct in the war, his anti-war activities later and his patriotism.
Kerry was slow to respond and never very effective in refuting their claims even though his critics offered little in the way of proof. He lost the election of course. And for many Democrats, swift-boating became a catch-all term for any unfair, untrue, personal assault on a candidate.
Trying to tie contemporary questions about Romney's Bain past with an infamous GOP smear campaign is an exercise in false equivalency. "The Swift Boat campaign was completely a lie," Esquires' Charles Pierce recently reminded readers. "Nothing the Swifties said about John Kerry was true." And yet, despite the cavernous gap between the Swift Boat affair and the ongoing Bain story, the comparison continues to gain currency.
The conservative Washington Examiner editorial page on Monday lamented the "Swift-Baining of Mitt Romney." What had the Obama campaign done that was so unfair to the Republican candidate? It had "seized on reports by liberal websites Mother Jones and Talking Points Memo -- and later by the Boston Globe -- citing Securities and Exchange Commission filings that listed Romney as the CEO of Bain after he was said to have left for the Olympics."
Quoting news outlets that cite government documents regarding Romney's employment record now constitutes a smear campaign?
Let's stipulate this fact going forward: A candidate having his résumé or biography examined during the course of a presidential campaign does not constitute being "swift boated." Enthusiastic "vetting" of candidates' backgrounds is a routine aspect of general elections.
The distinguishing feature of a Swift Boat smear campaign, of course, was that virtually every single war-era allegation made against Kerry's military service proved to be false, leaving the assumption that the entire point of the coordinated, deep-pocketed attack was to purposefully spread as manly lies as possible. And not just small fibs, but truly unconscionable lies about a serviceman's record during the unpopular Vietnam War.
From the June 25 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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