The Journal-Koch Brothers Relationship: How tight is it?

April 29th, 2015 · 4 Comments · campaign finance reform, journalism, Koch brothers, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

I have become Pavlov’s dog and I don’t like it.

You may remember how Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) conditioned a dog to salivate at the ring of a bell. Well, editors at the Albuquerque Journal (Pavlov) have trained me (pooch) to rush from the breakfast table to the iMac. There’s no bell; what makes me move is the sight of a Journal Op Ed from an outfit called “freedom” something.

Though I haven’t finished that second mug of coffee, I gotta get to Google!

Last time it happened was Wednesday, April 15. The article was by one Andy Koenig, identified as Senior Policy adviser, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. My conditioning kicked in and seconds later, I was exploring the Web.

My reward was learning that, yes, Freedom Partners is a Koch brothers’ organization, specifically a nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization in Arlington, Va., whose purpose is to promote “the benefits of free markets and a free society.”

Since the Journal failed to so identify Freedom Partners, allow me to sketch its role in the Koch political network. This has the virtue of exploring a category of news the Journal ignores.

Freedom Partners’ legal description, particularly that (6), makes it not the usual front but a cash conduit.

About 200 members pay a minimum of $100,000 each annually, though some may ante up millions.

This is largely dark money; we don’t know who has invested. With a board that includes several Koch brothers’ employees, Freedom Partners has been hyperactive the last few years, disbursing so many dollars that Politico called it the Kochs’ “secret bank.”

IRS filings reveal some of the groups to whom it funnels the cash.

Starting in 2011, the beneficiaries included various Tea Party groups as well as organizations opposed to the Affordable Care Act. In the 2012 elections, an array of groups shared more than $250 million. Overall, the entire Koch network spent $400 million that year, according an investigation by the Washington Post and Center for Responsive Politics.

In 2013, Freedom Partners shifted most money to Koch network organs like Americans for Prosperity (chief political and lobbying arm), American Energy Alliance, Center for Shared Services Trust, Concerned Vets for America, Evangchr4 Trust, Generation Opportunity, Libré Initiative, Public Notice and Themis Trust.

In August 2013, Themis officially announced it would share its data file with the company holding the exclusive data contract with the Republican National Committee.

Which is not to say the Koch frères kept all their money close. Other beneficiaries included Heritage Action for America, Concerned Women for American Action, West Michigan Policy Coalition, Susan B. Anthony List, American Commitment, National Taxpayers Union, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Let Freedom Ring and US Health Freedom Coalition.

Moving beyond grant-giving last year, Freedom Partners stepped directly into electoral politics. It ran more than $7 million in issue-based attack ads targeting Democratic candidates and launched its own super PAC — Freedom Partners Action Fund.

And what of this year’s elections and the big one in 2016?

Well, Freedom Partners sponsored the Koch network’s winter donor meeting the weekend of January 23, 2015 at a hotel in Palm Springs, California. Sources told Politico that Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and Gov. Scott Walker received coveted invitations to speak to the network assembled by Charles and David Koch.

From that confab there emerged a big story – the Koch political network planned to spend $889 million on the 2016 election campaign, a goal the New York Times called “unprecedented” and which “would put it on track to spend nearly as much as the campaigns of each party’s presidential nominee.”

The Times wasn’t alone in raising its eyebrows. So did the Washington Post and newspapers across the nation. It roiled the digital media.

Not a word in the Albuquerque Journal.

Nor did the Journal report on David Koch’s seeming endorsement of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (“David Koch Signals a Favorite”, Nicholas Confessore, NY Times, April 20) at a Manhattan fund-raiser.

Or Mr. Koch’s subsequent statement that Walker is fine but he isn’t ready to endorse.

Almost simultaneously, Gov. Walker stubbed his toe on immigration, telling radio host Glenn Beck (Glenn Beck!) he opposed even the legal kind, though the industrialist Kochs prefer a big pool of unorganized workers. (See Washington Post, April 21, “Scott-walker-goes-nativist-on-immigration”.)

Not a word in the Journal.

Oh, and just the other day, the Kochs lost a fight to keep Montana from expanding Medicaid. Did you know that? Yep, American for Prosperity spent a bundle to kill health care for the poor but many conservative Republicans defied them. (Eric Stern, salon.com, April 21)

Not a word in the Journal.

Which is not say the Journal never reports on Koch network activities. Earlier this month, Monday, April 6, the editors ran a Washington Post story under the rubric, “Conservative group is tired of being accused of climate denial”. The sub-head was “ALEC threatens action against activists who say it denies climate change”.

ALEC is, of course, financed largely, if indirectly, by the Koch siblings.

Clearly, the editors wanted to portray ALEC as taking the offensive against its tormenters. No matter that, as the very first words of the WaPo story revealed, this was a defensive tactic:

“Facing a loss of high-profile corporate sponsors, a conservative state-level policy group…etc., etc.”

Naturally, neither headline picked up on the loss of sponsors. No surprise there; ALEC has been hemorrhaging big-name corporations for a couple of years now and the Journal has never paid attention.

Speaking of not paying attention, neither rubric picked up on what the WaPo story reported in the third graph, specifically that the folks threatened by ALEC were unfazed:

“The activist groups refused the request [ALEC’s demand that they quit making false statements], saying ALEC’s advocacy of legislation on climate issues and its public discussion of the topic support their claims.”

Also, the original Post account ran a lot longer, a dozen paragraphs longer. It is possible Journal editors cut it to fit the available space, but what didn’t run included a reminder that ALEC’s stand-your-ground legislation played a role in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. Just sayin’.

Having sampled some Koch news the Journal finds unfit to print, let’s return now to the Koch essay the Journal did publish on Tax Day without proper ID. Headlined “Spending, taxes rising inexorably”, it advocated the kind of economics the Journal promotes in its editorials, the preponderance of its opinion columns and its choice of “news” articles.

Oh, and it was tailored to New Mexicans.

Interesting choice, that essay, when the editors might have run instead (or alongside) Paul Waldman’s April 14 Washington Post piece headlined, “Why you should be thankful on Tax Day”.

After establishing that Americans enjoy some of “the lowest tax rates in the developed world,” Waldman concludes, “whether you’re a committed socialist or an ardent libertarian, you’re benefiting from government each and every day.”

Benefit from government? The Journal’s political commissars couldn’t let that pass.

Or the editors might have gone back and picked up E.J. Dionne’s “How Government helps the 1 percent” essay of Jan. 17, 2015, in which…but, hold a sec…I’ve strayed.

This post is only incidentally about the Journal’s dedication to the health and welfare of the One Percent.

It is about the Journal’s relationship with the Kochs and with its readers.

That Journal management and the Kochs are in cahoots is fact, but just how tight are they? Think back to the Freedom Partners’ piece tailored to New Mexico. Do the Kochs adjust their essays to fit each of the 50 states or did they insert the New Mexico references as a favor to a friend?

Let’s broaden our inquiry. The Journal-Koch relationship may be nothing more than a working arrangement of like-minded partners, but I wonder, does money exchange hands? The Journal, after all, delivers value to the Kochs; in the news, it offers benign neglect of the brothers’ purchases of political power even as in the opinion area, it makes generous donations of space, while hiding from the audience who is behind the curtain.

That duplicity is not limited to Freedom Partners. The editors regularly publish material from other Koch fronts and members of the Koch political network (including the Rio Grande Foundation) as well as front organizations for the oil and gas industry without warning readers.

(The latest example is the Libré Initiative, whose Op Ed on immigration appeared Sunday, April 26. It’a another Koch front the editors failed to label as such. Interestingly, this time I didn’t rush from breakfast to the computer. Because. I guess, “libré means free, not freedom, and the Journal trained me well.)

Given the protection of the First Amendment, the Journal is not required to spell out its relationships with its partners-in-politics. What’s commonly called Freedom of the Press also protects the right of newspapers to mislead readers. And I would not change that.

But no law constrains the Journal from leveling with us, voluntarily.

That would add up to transparency, a good thing. Or so the daily frequently tells us.

PS I didn’t want to clutter this post with sources, but they include ThinkProgess.org, the Center for Responsive Politics, Washington Post, Wikipedia, NY Times, Politico, Freedom Partners, Open Secrets.org, Huffington Post and the Center for Media & Democracy’s Source Watch.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Emanuele Corso

    Great reporting and commenting, Arthur.

  • Peter Katel

    Minor spelling point: ‘libre’ doesn’t take an accent, and the Libre Foundation doesn’t stick one there.

    regards.

  • Arthur Alpert

    Thank you, gentlemen, for your comments and my apologies, Mr. Katel, for the spelling error.
    Re the Libre or LIBRE Foundation or LIBRE Initiative, may I direct readers’ attention to the story in the May 1 Washington Post headlined “Koch brothers make push to court Latinos, alarming many Democrats”?
    It refers to “The LIBRE Initiative, an expanding grass-roots organization now operating in nine states…”
    Please add it to the list of stories on the Koch brothers political activities that editors at the Albuquerque Journal find unworthy of reprinting.
    Arthur Alpert

  • Diane Gonzales

    Wonderful article, Mr. Alpert. You have confirmed what many of us have speculated for a long time. The Albuquerque Journal was once a respected newspaper but as time has gone by their right-leaning style of reporting which favors the GOP is startling obvious.
    The Libre Foundation is another one of the tricks the Koch Bros. are pulling out of their hats to garner the Latino vote. My only hope is that it will come to light how they are using the Latinos to move their agenda forward. I have faith that the Latinos will see them for what they are and refuse their disjointed and self-serving initiatives.

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