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The Koch Brothers, Unions, and the Democratic Party's Campaign Finance Delusions

2:44 PM, Mar 25, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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At Slate, Dave Weigel recently reported that the Democrats have been so successful at demonizing the Koch brothers that party fundraising emails mentioning the Kochs can raise three times as much as the emails that don't. However, attacking the Kochs may not be all that motivating to anyone outside the circle of hardcore Democratic activists. A poll out this morning shows that 52 percent of the public doesn't even know who they are, while 25 percent have a strong or somewhat negative view of the brothers and 13 percent have a strong or somewhat favorable view.

Democratic Donkey

It's becoming clear that one way to make their Koch attacks more resonant is by lying about them and exaggerating their influence. Yes, it's true, the Kochs have spent a lot of money on political causes and candidates. But increasingly Democrats are pretending that they are helpless and overwhelmed in the face of a tsunami of Koch cash. The reality is that the money spent by Democratic special interests -- particularly unions -- dwarfs what the Kochs are spending.

But Democrats are trying to claim otherwise. Former labor secretary Robert Reich first posted this on his Facebook page, and now it's making the rounds among Democrats:

I debated a Koch-apologist yesterday who claimed America's unions funneled more into politics than the Koch brothers. Baloney. Union money at least comes from large numbers of workers seeking higher pay and better working conditions; Koch money comes from two brothers seeking to entrench their power and privilege. And it's clear the Koch brothers are spending way more. In 2012, union spending (PAC, individual, outside) totaled less than $153.5 million, while Koch spending totaled $412.6 million.

Now Reich's original source for this information appears to be an article from something called Republic Report, which was authored by Lee Fang, a former Think Progress employee who has been obsessed with "exposing" the Kochs for years, and, notably, his reporting on Kochs has been profoundly wrong in the past. Fang's report on how the Kochs were allegedly manipulating energy markets using contango for energy futures was so thoroughly debunked it turned into a major embarrassment for Think Progress. So right off the bat, the credibility of this report is not promising.

In trying to understand where Fang is getting his numbers, we end up playing a game of telephone. Reich says, "Koch spending totaled $412.6 million," which he gets from Fang, who's ultimately citing the Washington Post. The problem is that the Post report cited by Fang says the Koch total is actually “a network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors.” So not all that money is coming directly from the Kochs. It gets more complicated from there, and Mickey Kaus unravels it at the Daily Caller:

The $412 million may  overstate the Koch-group backing of these “Koch-backed” groups. The WaPo story (like most Koch stories) ultimately relies on work from the Center for Responsive Politics, which has tried to unravel the Koch network’s complicated, octopus-like structure. Let’s take one of the “politically active non-profit groups,” Americans for Prosperity. It’s clearly affiliated with the Koch network. The Koch’s main non-profit groups gave AFP “more than $44 million” according to Gold.  But, as I understand the Center for Responsive Politics’ methodology, the $412 million figure  includes, not just that $44 million, but all the $140 million raised by AFP, excluding amounts that identifiably came from non-Koch sources — which yields a number higher than $100 million .  How do we know that the all this $100+ million or so — i.e., not just the $44 million — comes from the Koch network? We don’t. Center for Responsive Politics could only easily trace contributions from non-profits, not from individuals or corporations. The CRP researchers just seem to have adopted a rule of thumb that the residual, untraced money is Koch money.

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