Media outlets have misleadingly claimed that President Obama is "the single largest recipient of BP's cash" to back up Sarah Palin's baseless suggestion that contributions from oil companies have affected Obama's response to the Gulf oil spill. In fact, the money comes almost entirely from individuals employed by BP, not the corporation itself, and represents a minuscule fraction of Obama's total campaign contributions.
Earlier, Eric Boehlert (and Time's Michael Scherer) noted Politico's efforts to hype campaign contributions Barack Obama's campaigns received from employees of BP. I'm going to spell out two pieces of context the Politico article was missing, because I think it's an excellent example of how not to report on campaign contributions:
Obama biggest recipient of BP cash
While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they've taken from the oil and gas giant over the years.
During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.
So, Politico puts Obama in the headline and the lede because he has received more money from people who work for BP than any other elected official. But if you're trying to assess how much influence a company may have over a politician, looking at raw contribution amounts can be badly misleading. You need to consider how much of the politician's war chest the company provided. And that's where it becomes clear that the focus on Obama is absurd.
See, Barack Obama has raised $799 million for his campaigns. The $77,051 he got from BP employees is a drop in the bucket -- just one one-hundredth of one percent of his total campaign cash.
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Young -- mentioned only in passing by Politico -- has taken $73,300 from BP during his time in Congress, out of a total of $14.9 million raised. So BP contributions account for about one half of one percent of Young's fundraising -- still not a staggering amount, but enough to make BP contributions to Young far, far more significant than BP contributions to Obama.
The way Politico reported the BP contributions -- focusing on raw numbers, without putting them in context of the recipients' total fundraising -- is typical of the media's approach to campaign finance stories, but it isn't particularly useful.
In a May 3 editorial, The Wall Street Journal falsely claimed that "unions get a pass from new campaign finance disclosure rules" and that "this legislation is not about muzzling spenders generally so much as specific spenders who don't always salute the Democratic agenda." In fact, as Republican Rep. Mike Castle has stated, "corporations, unions, and issue groups alike" are subject to new disclosure rules under the legislation.
On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said that President Obama "didn't know what he was talking about or he was just out-and-out lying" when he said during the State of the Union address that the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC would "open the floodgates" for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend in U.S. elections. In fact, four of the Supreme Court's justices agreed in their opinion that the decision "would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans" to make certain election-related expenditures.
From the January 28 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Two posts on National Review Online claimed that President Obama was untruthful when he said that the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC "open[ed] the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections." In fact, four justices of the Supreme Court agreed that the logic of the decision "would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans" to make certain election-related expenditures.
In a fundraising email "[p]aid for by The National Republican Trust PAC," Dick Morris claimed that "the Democrats want to give almost $5 billion to groups like ACORN" in the recovery bill. In fact, the bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding; ACORN itself has said that it is ineligible for the funds and has no plans to apply for them.
In an article about President-elect Barack Obama's emphasis on alternative energy production in his economic stimulus speech, Reuters quoted criticism of Obama's plan by Thomas Pyle of the Institute for Energy Research. However, the article did not mention the Institute for Energy Research's ties to the oil industry or that Exxon Mobil Corp. has funded the organization.
First it was the AP that dragged its feet over the Minneapolis story, which broke amidst the ongoing Coleman/Al Franken recount. And now we see the WaPo remains silent. To date, nothing in the newspaper of Beltway record about the FBI investigating a wealthy donor of a sitting U.S. senator for trying to improperly funnel money to the senator's family.
Last time we checked, that was news.
Here's a list of news orgs that have reported that one of Sen. Norm Coleman's big donors is under investigation for possibly try to funnel money his way:
New York Times, Houston Chronicle, Washington Times, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, UPI, Hotline, Salon, washingtonpost.com, usnews.com, CNN.
A news org that still hasn't yet touched the story? AP.
Joe Scarborough responded to Media Matters' highlighting of his assertions that Al Franken "only needs to steal" a small number of votes to win his Senate race, by saying: "Can I have my Media Matters moment here, because it drives them crazy when I say this. How many -- how many votes does Al Franken have to steal to get elected in Minnesota? OK, there, I've said it. Now you guys can write another article. That's my little present to you." He continued: "Now, for the record, Media Matters, I've never accused Al Franken of stealing votes. I just asked Pat Buchanan, 'Hey, how many -- he needs 250 votes. Would those votes be hard to steal?' And, of course, Pat said, 'No, I've got those in the back of my station wagon, Joe.' "
CNN anchor Kyra Phillips presented a report by correspondent Joe Johns on an ad in which Sen. Elizabeth Dole accused Democratic opponent Kay Hagan of taking money from "a leader of the Godless America PAC" at "a secret fundraiser" and that included a woman's voice saying, "There is no God," while a picture of Hagan appeared onscreen. But while Johns and Phillips noted that Hagan has indicated an intention to file a defamation lawsuit, they did not note that in accusing Dole of defamation, Hagan cites the ad's false suggestion that the voice is Hagan's.
Fox News repeatedly allowed Dick Morris to solicit donations for a conservative political action committee to fund an ad attacking Sen. Barack Obama.
Still no news posted on that story by the Strib yet, but the newspaper has quickly written up a story about how Coleman, just like in his previous campaigns, is suing his opponent.
But fear not curious Strib readers who want to learn more about the $75,000 Coleman lawsuit. You can uncover the facts in the comment section of the Strib article, where this reader update was posted:
Breaking News: Coleman pulls a Ted Stevens
Paul McKim, the founder and CEO of Deep Marine Technology, alleges in a civil suit that Nasser Kazeminy -- a longtime Republican donor, friend of Coleman, and DMT shareholder -- directed the company to send $75,000 to the Senator and his wife. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/30/court-docs-gop-donor-secr_n_139366.html
The Washington Post uncritically reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asserted: "As a result of being chosen by my colleagues to be the Republican leader, I've got people all over America who would love to see me lose, so there's money coming in from San Francisco and Chicago and New York trying to tear down your senator." The Post did not report that it is McConnell who is leading in out-of-state contributions, having received $5,721,759 from out-of-state individuals, 57 percent of his total from individual donors, while his opponent, Bruce Lunsford, has received $160,050 from out-of-state individuals, 31 percent of his total from individual donors.