Who Are the Demons Here?

It is tempting to wonder whether at some point in the last few months, the Left held a meeting and decided to try to demonize Charles and David Koch, their company, Koch Enterprises, and the non-profit organizations that they support. Almost overnight, Koch Enterprises went from being one of the most successful and respected companies in America to the focus of a concentrated campaign of hate, the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite a while. Maybe someday history will record where the meeting was held, what rationale was advanced for trying to demonize the Koch brothers, and what the vote was on the motion. Maybe someday we will find out who sent the memo to left-wing news outlets like the New York Times, giving them their new assignment. For now, we can only observe that the Left’s campaign against the Kochs is suddenly a top priority.
Yesterday, the Times ran an article by Eric Lipton titled, Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute. Lipton’s theme was that events in Wisconsin are, somehow, all about Charles and David Koch, who live in Wichita, not Madison or Milwaukee, and have never until now been viewed as significant players in Wisconsin politics. Lipton writes:

Among the thousands of demonstrators who jammed the Wisconsin State Capitol grounds this weekend was a well-financed advocate from Washington who was there to voice praise for cutting state spending by slashing union benefits and bargaining rights.
The visitor, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told a large group of counterprotesters who had gathered Saturday at one edge of what otherwise was a mostly union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits. …
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group … was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.
State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts.

Lipton leaves that claim hanging, and never tells his readers how much the Koch PAC contributed to Walker’s campaign. In fact, the total was $43,000. That was out of more than $11 million that Walker raised, and $37.4 million that was spent, altogether, on the 2010 race for Governor of Wisconsin. Which means that people associated with Koch Industries contributed a whopping one-tenth of one percent of what was spent on last year’s election. So why is the Times running scare headlines about the “Billionaire Brothers’ Money?”
Next we have this curious statement:

Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday.

This is by far the most inflammatory claim in Lipton’s article, but it is interesting that he does not pretend to be quoting Tim Phillips. One wonders what Phillips actually said. Whatever it was, it wasn’t that AFP had “worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown,” or Lipton would have quoted him.
The Times is well known for its selective concern about money in politics. In the Times’s view, billionaires are more than welcome, as long as they contribute–as most of them do–to Democrats. Lipton tries to suggest that the Koch brothers are uniquely influential contributors:

Campaign finance records in Washington show that donations by Koch Industries and its employees climbed to a total of $2 million in the last election cycle, twice as much as a decade ago, with 92 percent of that money going to Republicans.

So, is Koch Industries one of the largest sources of political cash, in Wisconsin or elsewhere? Not even close. In fact, nearly all of the top moneybags in politics are on the Democratic side of the aisle. Click to enlarge this screen shot from Open Secrets, which adds up contributions for the election cycles from 1989 to the present:
You have to get down to number 19 before you find a big-time donor that gives significantly more to Republicans than Democrats. And at $2 million an election cycle, the Kochs have a long way to go before they can be considered big-time contributors.
What’s more, of the top 20 donors, 12–more than half–are unions. Isn’t there an untold story here? Aren’t the Koch brothers lonely rebels who are trying to offset the monolithic power and unparalleled financial muscle of the unions, especially the public employee unions? Isn’t that what the Wisconsin story is really about?
Lipton goes on to quote a representative of Common Cause, as though that organization had some kind of moral authority:

To Bob Edgar, a former House Democrat who is now president of Common Cause, a liberal group that has been critical of what it sees as the rising influence of corporate interests in American politics, the Koch brothers are using their money to create a façade of grass-roots support for their favorite causes.
“This is a dangerous moment in American history,” Mr. Edgar said. “It is not that these folks don’t have a right to participate in politics. But they are moving democracy into the control of more wealthy corporate hands.”

At this point, we turn the floor over to Ira Stoll at the Future of Capitalism:

This is really something. Who does the New York Times think funds Common Cause? Non-wealthy, non-corporate interests? Talk about a facade of grass-roots support. Common Cause’s 2008 annual report — the most recent one posted on the Common Cause Web site, which is pretty pathetic for a group supposedly in favor of transparency — lists the Ford Foundation, the GE Foundation,and the Carnegie Corporation of New York as among its backers.
The 2008 Common Cause annual report lists five donors in the top giving bracket of between $100,000 and $999,000. They include:

Donna A. Curling, whose husband’s company, ChoicePoint, was acquired in 2008 for $4.1 billion.
Mr. and Mrs. John C. Haas, whose family controls charitable and income-producing trusts (the Philadelphia chemical company Rohm & Haas was acquired by Dow Chemical) reportedly worth worth a total of more than $4 billion.
Markos Kounalakis, whose wife, a real estate developer, has enough money to endow a professorship at Stanford.
Chang K. Park, whose company supplies 80% of the remote controls for Time Warner Cable.

What Common Cause is is a bunch of millionaires and billionaires trying to prevent other millionaires and billionaires from participating in the political process the same way they do. In other words, they are hypocrites. The Times could write a story headlined Billionaires’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute and have the article be about not the Koch brothers but about the funders of Common Cause. But the left-wing interest groups rarely get that kind of treatment in the Times, where these left-wing interest groups are more commonly quoted approvingly as expert sources rather than scrutinized skeptically or suspiciously as targets.

Well, the New York Times is an arm of the Democratic Party, so that isn’t surprising. Nevertheless, the kind of rampant dishonesty we see from Eric Lipton still has the power to shock.

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