Politico Smears, Can’t Back It Up

When Politico was founded in 2007, it purported to be a high-quality, non-partisan source of news about politics. But, while it does have a limited degree of diversity among its reporters, Politico has proved to be, for the most part, just another Democratic Party cheerleader, no better than the New York Times or the Washington Post.

A case in point is the “reporting”–rumor-mongering, really–that Politico’s Ken Vogel has done on Koch Industries and its owners, Charles and David Koch. Vogel is a lefty who worked for George Soros’s Center for Public Integrity before he joined Politico. He has used his Politico perch to smear conservative talk radio, Clarence Thomas, and other conservative figures, but his bete noire is the Koch brothers, about whom he has written one unflattering piece after another. Worse, his articles are largely based on anonymous sources that purport to have insight into the brothers’ strategies and motivations. See, for example, here:

“The Koch groups are very complex in the way they do things. They’re difficult to penetrate from the outside, which is smart,” said one GOP operative who has worked with Koch-backed groups.

And here:

“What they did in 2010 was unique, but they started reverting to their old behavior in 2011,” the operative said….

And here:

Personally, the brothers and their executives were rattled by the scrutiny, according to a conservative source who has closely tracked the Kochs’ philanthropy and their meetings, but who contends the Kochs largely brought the heightened scrutiny on themselves.

Now Vogel is at it again, with Koch World Reboots, published on Wednesday. Once again, Vogel’s anonymous “operative” rears his head:

“They’re trying to figure out a way to benefit their causes” without becoming straw men at the same time, said a source familiar with their thinking.

Does Vogel’s operative/source exist, or does Vogel just make this stuff up? That is the problem with anonymous sourcing; there is really no way to know. Moreover, this isn’t just any anonymous source, this is someone who, according to Vogel, is privy to the Koch brothers’ thoughts and motivations. The likelihood that anyone who is in a position to talk knowledgeably about such matters is leaking to Ken Vogel is slim. Thus, keeping the source anonymous (assuming he exists) is likely a dodge to avoid revealing the fact that he has no idea what he is talking about.

Vogel’s latest salvo brought a protest from Koch Industries, which is reproduced on KochFacts. It had to do with Vogel’s description of the Koch brothers’ alleged involvement in California’s Proposition 32, which would have prohibited both unions and corporations from using payroll deductions for political purposes. This is some of what Vogel wrote about Koch’s involvement in Prop 32; I apologize for the length of the excerpt, but the length is, in part, the point:

The technique has helped the Koch network win the loyalty of donors, because it shields them from exposure, but it is now increasingly at risk thanks to an investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

The California investigation is trying to unmask the original source of a mysterious $11 million donation that was funneled through a key Koch conduit in the weeks before Election Day to a California political committee boosting a 2012 ballot measure to restrict union political activity and opposing a separate ballot proposition to raise taxes.

“What they already admitted was definitely money laundering,” commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel told POLITICO.

Ravel said the groups under investigation are “raising issues and not providing everything requested” and that the agency may file a civil complaint.

But she predicted the investigation could reveal the donors by the middle of the year and potentially go after them if “the evidence shows that the donors knew or should have known that they were contributing to campaigns in California.”

Ravel’s commission has already forced the disclosure that, before the $11 million made its way from an Arizona nonprofit called Americans for Responsible Leadership (the originally disclosed donor) to the California committee, it passed from a Virginia-based nonprofit called Americans for Job Security to an Arizona 501(c)4 called the Center to Protect Patients Rights.

The latter group, run by the Kochs’ top ad man, Sean Noble, has played a key role in steering money to other Koch-backed groups, along with another mysterious 501(c)4 group called TC4 Trust. …

Americans for Responsible Leadership — which is represented by the lawyer for Americans for Prosperity, American Commitment, the Center to Protect Patients Rights and other Koch-backed groups — contends that Ravel’s commission is “bowing to political pressure,” ignoring the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate political expenditures and trying to scare the group and its donors.

So Koch was a major player with respect to Prop 32, in all likelihood responsible for the mysterious $11 million contribution, right? Wrong. Neither Koch Industries nor the brothers individually took a position on Prop 32 or contributed to either side of the initiative. Rob Tappan wrote to Politico on behalf of Koch:

As I mentioned to you, one inaccuracy in particular compels us to write you and request that you run a correction to the story.

As we discussed, this has to do with the false implication that Koch was involved in some way with the California Proposition 32 initiative that was up for consideration in this past November’s election. That is clearly not the case, as we have been on-the-record– since November 5th, 2012, as definitively NOT involved in the Prop 32 issue. We did not support, either directly or indirectly, the recent Proposition 32 ballot initiative that would have restricted public- and private-sector employees’ right to contribute to candidates. Proposition 32 would have prohibited both unions and corporations from using any payroll deductions from employees’ paychecks for political purposes.

Here is the link to our Nov. 5th statement: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2012/11/koch-brothers-california.html

We have consistently fought for the protection of Americans’ First Amendment right to free speech and to participate in the electoral process. We believe that government-imposed restrictions on free speech and political activity will destroy a free society.

To reiterate, we did not contribute to any group with the intent of passing or defeating Proposition 32 in California.

So, did Politico run a correction? No. Incredibly, Vogel insisted that he had neither stated nor implied that Koch contributed to Prop 32. He wrote, in a February 20 email to Tappan:

As for the concerns you expressed in your email to me, below, we did not make an “incorrect assertion” – or any kind of assertion – that the Kochs or Koch Industries took a stance on Proposition 32, nor did we make any assertion that the Kochs or Koch Industries “contribute[d] to any group with the intent of passing or defeating Proposition 32 in California.”

So we don’t believe a correction is appropriate.

Huh? If Vogel admits that Koch had nothing to do with Prop 32, then why is there a 10-paragraph disquisition on “money laundering” in connection with Prop 32, including references to “a key Koch conduit,” a “group run by the Kochs’ top ad man” that “steer[s] money to other Koch-backed groups,” “Koch-linked groups,” and “the lawyer for Americans for Prosperity, American Commitment, the Center to Protect Patients Rights and other Koch-backed groups,” in the middle of an article that is devoted exclusively to Koch? Any reader of Vogel’s smear would have understood that Koch was alleged to be involved in the “money laundering” in California. Now Vogel admits that the claim (or, at a minimum, the implication) was false.

This isn’t reporting, this is left-wing political activism. Sadly, a good bit of what Politico publishes falls into that category.