Politifact "False" in Minimizing Koch Support for Walker

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:

Dear Editor:

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."


Your claim "All told, the Koch brothers directed $12 million to Wisconsin to support Walker," assumes that Charles and David have 100% influence over every dollar AFP spends (that's not how Boards at nonprofits work, even if you're the chairman), AND, that every single dollar of the $2.025 million you say went to the Republican Governors Association was spent entirely on Walker's recall election. You realize that's an absurd position, right?

True, money is fungible so it's not clear whether Koch's exact $$ went to supporting Walker, however, the fact that their organization spent so much ads, and they gave so much $ to the RGA who spent so much on ads at least warrants a "half-true" rating from politifact. P.S. chairperson*

The sad truth is that MANY Wisconsinites use the media as their primary way to gather information about the candidates. If you hear 10 ads every day telling you to vote for Walker, and only 2 or 3 ads telling you to vote for Barret, it is going to have an impact. Money is power. Scott Walker thinks he is the most powerful man in the state of Wisconsin. However, he is merely a puppet for the out of state corporations who are now making decisions for Wisconsin. I know alot of people voted for Walker because they think he will provide them with a new job. Do these people realize that Walker is luring businesses into the state by telling them they do not need to treat their employees well, or pay them well? So yes, there may be more jobs listed in the classifieds, but who wants to work for minimum wage, or less? Who wants to be paid less than the person next to them based solely on their sex, religion, or the color of their skin? Scott Walker is giving away the rights of the working people to make life better for the OWNERS of the companies...NOT the WORKERS. How much damage will be done before the rest of the state realizes this is not right.

Dear Sir or Madam: AFP was co-founded by David Koch; he chairs its board and works closely with his right-hand man there, Tim Phillips. The idea that Koch is a distant board member at AFP completely misunderstands his role there. It's his organization, his money that has laid the foundation for its work, and his vision that animates its agenda, even if he has obtained financial commitments from his friends to help bring his dream of AFP's role to fruition. And, AFP boasted that it was going to spend at least $10 million in the state, in addition to what it had previously spent buttressing Walker in 2009. As for the RGA, statements that accompanied his million dollar check this spring indicated that it was to help Walker, the only governor in the country running for election this spring. Regarding the million to RGA in 2010, it helped subsidize RGA's ads in Wisconsin and probably other states. All told, $12 million is a fair estimate based on the publicly available information. And that does not even count all the groups Charles and David fund that helped provide support to Walker in various ways. What's absurd is trying to split hairs to claim that AFP's $10 million in Wisconsin is not attributable to Koch and the operation he has nurtured and built.

My question is why there even is a comparison there. The Unions outspent what Governor Walker raised. If you really wanted a true comparison look at AFP vs Labor Unions and Barret vs Walker.

Walker raised $30 million. Outside groups supporting Walker (like Americans for Prosperity) spent at least $18 million. Barrett raised $3.9 million. Outside groups supporting Barrett (including labor unions) spent $15.5 million. So no, the unions did not out-spend what Walker raised. Walker and his supporters spent $48 million, Barrett and his supporters spent $19.4 million. This is the estimate from June 5, so the final tally for all numbers is likely much higher. Additionally, the $18 million reported for pro-Walker groups appears to only account for the $3 million AFP spent on its TV ads -- and as noted above, AFP admitted to spending $10 million supporting Walker through a variety of avenues, not just ads. So the amount spent by outside groups supporting Walker could be much, much higher than $18 million. http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/06/wisconsin-walker-recall-money-stats

What is absurd, is the legalized corruption that we now have in political campaign finance and in the Citizens United ruling. What is absurd is the undue influence that our of state billionaires have on Wisconsin government. You realize how absurd it is, right?

I wouldn't be surprised if Koch Bros didn't hedge their bets with election fraud as well -- why not? No audits performed. Exit polls vs election results -- not equal. So no amount of feet on the ground can defeat election fraud. We are operating under a fascist government today.