It may not be uncommon to find fault with Politifact and its "Truth-O-Meter," (see update at bottom), but a recent rating by Politifact-Wisconsin was so far off we had to comment. The following letter was published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on June 23:
PolitiFact recently rated "false" a claim that the Koch brothers gave twice as much to Gov. Scott Walker as Tom Barrett raised. It is PolitiFact that deserves the "false" rating. In rating the claim "false," PolitiFact wrote, "There is no proof of how much Americans for Prosperity, which gets money from the Kochs but also other sources, spent on Walker's behalf."
In fact, there is "proof." Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips told CNN in early June that AFP spent $10 million in Wisconsin [a fact confirmed to the Center for Media and Democracy by the reporter]. $10 million is actually 2.5 times as much as Barrett's $4 million.
Although Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimated that AFP had spent $3 million on TV ads since November 2011, this estimate does not account for the ads AFP ran between January and November of that year, nor does it account for the rallies, bus tours, phone banks, canvassers and 70 paid staff that AFP imported into Wisconsin.
Another important fact ignored by PolitiFact is that David Koch is chairman of the AFP Board. In this role, Koch helps direct the organization's spending, an inference strengthened by Koch's statement in January that "We've spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We're going to spend more."
AFP does receive some funding from sources other than the Koch brothers, but because Koch heads AFP, it is fair and accurate to describe spending by AFP as attributable to the Kochs.
PolitiFact also failed to account for the $2.025 million the Kochs gave to the Republican Governors Association in the 2012 cycle ($2 million from David Koch and $25,000 from Koch Industries), which in turn spent $10 million supporting Walker.
Brendan M. Fischer
Center for Media and Democracy
All told, the Koch brothers directed $12 million to Wisconsin to support Walker -- which is actually three times as much as Tom Barrett raised throughout the course of his campaign.
Update June 25: Politifact posted the following at the bottom of their original article:
Update: After this item was published, Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy pointed out that a June 2012 CNN article said Americans for Prosperity had spent $10 million. We contacted AFP president Tim Phillips, who told us AFP had spent $10 million in 2011 and 2012 on TV ads, direct mail, staff and other expenses to support reforms made by Walker and the Legislature. We also contacted the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which reiterated that it saw evidence of only about $3 million in AFP spending, but that it could not be sure because AFP is not required to report its spending. The original claim cited money directly from the Koch Brothers, not AFP which has numerous other donors. As such, we don't feel a change in rating is warranted.
Politifact's reasoning here is not clear.
In the article, Politifact said they hinged their "false" rating on the answers to two questions: (1) "Are the $3 million and $7 million figures Wasserman Schultz cites in the CBS article accurate?" and (2) "Is it fair to say those amounts were spent by the brothers when the money, as Wasserman Schultz now admits, came from Americans for Prosperity?"
As for question (1), Politifact initially said they could not verify how much AFP spent supporting Walker. But as noted in our letter -- and as Politifact has now verified in a conversation with AFP President Tim Phillips -- the group really did spend $10 million to support Walker and his policies. This included at least 70 paid staffers flown into Wisconsin, plus bus tours, rallies, townhall meetings, phone banks, and canvassers, not to mention the months of TV ads. Given Politifact's purported reasoning, these facts alone should bump the claim up to at least a "half-true."
Apparently Politifact now finds more dispositive question (2), about whether AFP spending can be attributable to the Kochs. In their initial analysis, Politifact disposed of this question by focusing on the fact that AFP gets money from sources other than the Kochs. However, as we pointed out in our letter, this fails to acknowledge that David Koch retains a leadership role in the organization as the Chair of AFP's Board. Consider the following quote from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, speaking from the stage at AFP's 2010 Convention:
"It's great to see friends like David Koch, the visionary leader of this organization," said McDonnell. "What a terrific job he has done over the last six years. From a vision in your mind in a New York apartment to 32 state chapters, over 1.2 million people! David, that is great work. Thanks so much for your leadership."
The question posed by Politifact is whether it is "fair" to say that money spent by AFP came from the Koch brothers. David Koch founded the organization, provided the startup money and continues to provide funding, AND remains the Chairman of the AFP Board. Given the fact that David Koch is considered AFP's "leader," we think the evidence demonstrates it is "fair" to say AFP is synonymous with David Koch, and that spending by AFP can be called spending by the Kochs. And so does David Koch -- he speaks about AFP spending in terms of "we." Even if Politifact disagrees with this assessment, it does not explain why they are ignoring the new information provided in the letter about David Koch being AFP's Chair and leader.
Given all of these facts, it seems clear that Wasserman Schultz' claim should be called "true."