Two affiliates of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity are helping conservative media promote the cause of a Nevada rancher who has made violent threats against the federal government.
Back during the not-so-distant glory days of New Jersey's Star-Ledger reign as a regional newspaper powerhouse, the Newark, New Jersey newsroom in the 2000's was bursting with 350 journalists who covered the entire state and pocketed Pulitzers for their coverage of local politicians. Back when Tony Soprano made Jersey mob cool, each week during the show's opening the fictional wise guy paid homage to the daily by sauntering down his driveway to retrieve the Star-Ledger.
That's now all a memory. Last week, the Star-Ledger's owner announced massive layoffs at the newspaper as part of a larger effort at consolidation. Today, entire sections of the Newark newsroom sit empty; a newsroom that has shed an astonishing 240 jobs since 2008, or two-thirds of its former staff.
All this, at a time when the Star-Ledger's detailed, hometown coverage of the unraveling scandals involving Gov. Chris Christie had become must-reads for journalists and news junkies alike.
Philadelphia columnist Will Bunch called last week's Star-Ledger pink slips for reporters the "best news" of Christie's career. Why? "With fewer of them on the beat, Christie -- and all the other corrupt politicians of the Garden State -- will be able to keep more of their secrets from the public than ever before."
Even before the scandalous lane-closings at the George Washington Bridge, the Star-Ledger, as Bunch highlighted, had ferreted out all sorts of unseemly transactions embedded in the boss-style politics that still dominates the Garden State.
But the sad news regarding the Star-Ledger isn't just about the challenges New Jersey's largest newspaper faces trying to cover the eleventh most populous state with a newsroom one-third its previous size. After all, the slow-motion decline of American newspapers has been on morbid display for years now.
The larger, disturbing question is what happens to newsgathering, and what happen to a democracy, when the cutbacks show no signs of abating while at the same time new, super-donor forces in American politics, led by people like the Koch brothers, exert unprecedented influence via staggering sums of money, misinformation, and faux news on the state level. And what happens when those players remain committed to operating behind a cloak of secrecy?
"We are going to consolidate ourselves right out of a democracy," quipped one New Jersey journalist last week.
It's true that there's currently a mini-boom in digitally-based data journalism, with several promising sites launching or planning to so so soon. But that brand of explanatory, often wonkish storytelling is separate from the traditional, day-to-day digging that dailies have done; the kind of reporting that sheds light on public officials and the intersection of money and politics.
Note that the Star-Ledger "purge" unfolded the same week the United States Supreme Court, in a party-line 5-4 decision, eliminated further restrictions on campaign donations made by America's super-rich. The Court also signaled it might be ready to do away with campaign finance regulations all together, a radical position now endorsed by the Republican Party. ("The Court's decisions have empowered a new class of American political oligarchs," warned campaign reformer Fred Wertheimer.)
Also note the Star-Ledger wipe-out arrived the same week that secretive super-donor and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to pen a self-pitying essay about the nasty attacks he allegedly suffers as he and his brother pump massive amounts of cash into conservative coffers and wage a relentless war against President Obama. It's the same Koch brothers who shroud their political activities in secrecy and who often attack journalists who try to uncover the truth about them.
Fox News allowed the president of Koch brothers-funded Generation Opportunity, which has created a series of anti-Obamacare ads, to characterize the organization as "independent" and funded by "a variety of donors."
On the December 9 edition of Fox News' On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren played a new attack ad from Generation Opportunity, which encouraged young Americans to "opt out" of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After providing Generation Opportunity President Evan Feinberg a platform to promote his organization and attack the ACA, Van Susteren asked, "Where do you get the money," specifically inquiring whether Generation Opportunity is funded by any "influential group." Feinberg maintained that Generation Opportunity is "an independent organization":
VAN SUSTEREN: Where do you get the money, because that looked like a pretty expensive ad. Where do you get the money?
FEINBERG: Oh, we've got a variety of donors, and we're just focused on working with people across the country who care deeply about helping our generation to fight for our own freedom.
VAN SUSTEREN: I guess I ask why, you know, I'm wondering if there is some very influential group that funds you and sort of, that, as a consequence you've got to take some marching orders from some other group, or how independent are you?
FEINBERG: Oh no, we're an independent organization that's able to fight for our peers and you see these ads are really creative opportunities to very inexpensively reach millions of young people.
Fears that David and Charles Koch will buy Tribune Company's major regional newspapers sparked a lively discussion at the National Press Club today among those who worry the conservative billionaires would misuse the influential properties.
The event, titled, "Should the Koch Brothers Own the Tribune Newspapers?" was sponsored by the Newspaper Guild and drew an audience of about 60 reporters, union leaders and concerned media observers.
"In just 2011 and 2012, more than 6,000 U.S. newspaper workers were laid off or accepted buyouts," Guild President Bernie Lunzer said in a statement at the event. "This not only affects workers; it dramatically affects communities and their access to information via qualified, experienced journalists. With the appearance on the scene of the Koch brothers, many people and organizations are raising new concerns."
As Tribune Company emerges from bankruptcy, it has indicated plans to sell its eight regional daily newspapers. Charles Koch has indicated an interest in the brothers' company, Koch Industries, acquiring media outlets, and the company reportedly may bid on the Tribune papers, which include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Charles Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government.
As The New York Times detailed earlier this year, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the strategy called for investing in the media.
Charles Koch recently told the Wall Street Journal that their company would seek to purchase newspapers to provide a "focus on real news, not news with an agenda or news that is really editorializing." But current and former staffers at the Tribune papers told Media Matters in April that a purchase by the Kochs "scares people" and puts the credibility of those outlets at risk.
Those concerns were on display at the National Press Club event.
Christopher Assaf, a multimedia editor at The Baltimore Sun who is also the paper's guild leader, said the Kochs' past history of political influence through PACs and other outlets is a concern as it could affect the newspapers' standing in the community.
"We have goodwill and we have credibility and if people start leaving in droves and they see changes...they will know and the goodwill will help to kill it," said Assaf. "The Sun will become something else, it may become a mouthpiece, a national mouthpiece, but it will lose that credibility. Credibility plays a large part in what a newspaper does and we have to protect that credibility."
"The Kochs very explicitly have a mission to influence public policy, that's what they do," offered Tia Lessen, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and producer of Citizen Koch, a documentary that had been slated for PBS broadcast but was dropped. "If the question is will David and Charles Koch influence how news is covered? I think the answer is yes."
U-T San Diego, a California daily newspaper which has been criticized for promoting the pro-business and hard-right political activities of new owner Douglas Manchester, is under review by state election regulators for allegedly giving discounted political ad rates to conservative campaigns and Republican candidates it favored.
Manchester, a local developer with a history of conservative political activism, purchased the paper, then named the San Diego Union-Tribune, in late 2011. Since then, he has come under fire from local media observers and U-T employees for using the paper to benefit his corporate and ideological interests.
The state inquiry comes amid reports that another pair of corporate titans who are major funders of the conservative movement, Charles and David Koch, are among those interested in buying Tribune Company, owner of the nearby Los Angeles Times and other daily newspapers.
The U-T San Diego's alleged practice has sparked a review by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, an independent body which oversees campaign violations and can issue fines.
The outlets explain:
inewsource and KPBS audited ads in the U-T every day between Labor Day and Election Day 2012 and compared the list with campaign finance records. The results show varied payments for ads, indicating the U-T may have offered bargains to [a group opposing the campaign of Democratic Mayor Bob Filner] and to other candidates and issues the newspaper endorsed.
According to their report, U-T San Diego may have offered discounted ad rates to local, state, and federal Republican and conservative campaigns that the paper endorsed. Unless such discounts were reported as in-kind contributions to the recipients, they could violate election laws, experts told inewsource and KPBS.
New reports that the politically conservative Koch brothers are interested in buying the Tribune Company's eight regional newspapers -- which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune -- are sparking concerns from newspaper staff members that attempts to influence the editorial process in favor of their far-right political views may follow.
Among those concerned is Clarence Page, a top Chicago Tribune columnist, who said he would oppose a takeover of the paper by David and Charles Koch because of "the fact that they seem to be coming in upfront with the idea of using a major news media as a vehicle for their political voice."
In addition to the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, the Kochs are reportedly seeking to buy The Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), The Morning Call (Allentown, PA), and the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA).
The Kochs are major funders of the American conservative movement, funneling tens of millions of dollars every year to build a right-wing infrastructure geared toward reducing the size and impact of government. As the Times detailed, at a 2010 convention of like-minded political donors, the Kochs "laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes." Part of the stratgy called for investing in the media.
And that has staffers at Tribune Company newspapers -- several of whom requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs -- nervous about the possibility that a Koch takeover could bring with it an ideological focus on the news that risks turning the papers into what one reporter calls a "conservative mouthpiece."
According to those staffers, such concerns are rampant at the papers. "Nobody I know in the newsroom would find it a happy event to have the Koch brothers owning the paper," said one longtime Chicago Tribune staffer, who suggested that the purpose of the takeover is so that the brothers can use the publications to "promulgate their political views."
"I haven't heard anyone here who has welcomed the idea of the Koch brothers... the Koch brothers, that scares people," added an LA Times scribe.
"I think we all have concerns when you think an owner might try to influence editorial content," explained Angela Kuhl, Newspaper Guild unit chair at The Baltimore Sun. "That is sort of contrary to what the newspapering business should be about, free press. You don't necessarily want owners and publishers dictating content."
It's the Kochs' explicit call for investing in the media to achieve their political end that has Kuhl worried. "I read the story that said they have a three-pronged approach to how to move the country in the way they think it should head, and one is to influence the media."
The Kansas City Star failed to note the significant influence of Koch-funded conservative groups in its coverage of two bills seeking to roll back Kansas' green energy standards.
A recent report by Greenpeace's Connor Gibson outlined several organizations that are influencing the debate surrounding an effort to repeal Kansas' green energy standards. As Gibson notes in his report, groups with significant ties to the fossil fuel industry and funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, including the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Policy Network, and the Beacon Hill Institute, are trying to influence legislators to roll back green energy standards in Kansas. From Greenpeace:
ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas' future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.
Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance. All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated "Dark Money ATM," Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.
Despite the pressure these groups have placed on the repeal legislation -- including the author of a Beacon Hill Institute report attacking green energy testifying before the Kansas legislature -- The Kansas City Star failed to note these groups' influence on either of the two pieces of legislation making their way through the state legislature.
The paper also failed to put Kansas' green energy initiatives in context. Wind energy in Kansas is a booming industry. A fact sheet from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that renewable energy in Kansas has created more than 12,000 jobs and provided $13.7 million in annual lease payments and royalties to Kansas landowners. According to the American Wind Energy Association, after the adoption of the green energy standard, wind turbine manufacturer Siemens announced a $50 million investment in its first American wind energy manufacturing facility in Kansas. Even Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was a supporter of green energy standards. In 2010, while a U.S. senator, he co-sponsored a national version of Kansas' successful renewable portfolio standard with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), which, if enacted, would have required 15 percent of utilities to be derived from alternative energy by 2021.
Nearly all of the 2011 funding for the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which oversees state news sites nationwide, came from a single foundation that has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to right-wing causes, according to a recent report of the Center for Public Integrity.
CPI detailed that the foundation, Donors Trust, provided 95 percent of the Franklin Center funding in 2011, citing Internal Revenue Service documents. The Center uses that funding to support websites and affiliates providing free statehouse reporting from a "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" to local newspapers and other media across the country.
The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide 10 percent of all state government news in the United States.
Since it was created in 1999, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, have raised more than $500 million from various individuals and organizations, among them billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, and doled out $400 million to a constellation of right-wing causes. That includes $86 million distributed in 2011 alone.
Donors Trust gives many of its funding sources a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning organizations and media outlets, many of whom promote free-market ideas. The size and character of these donations has earned the group the moniker "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."
The $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center in 2011 was the second-largest gift made that year by Donors Trust. Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund had previously given a combined contribution of $25,000 to the Franklin Center in 2010.
Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.
Marcus Owens, the former director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, told CPI, "Koch is among an exclusive pool of donors who have used Donors Trust as a 'pass-through.' It obscures the source of the money. It becomes a grant from Donors Trust, not a grant from the Koch brothers."
CPI produced this graphic detailing the flow of money in recent years from Koch-backed and other right-wing foundations through Donors Trust to a variety of conservative groups.
The Franklin Center is also staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with Charles Koch and his brother, David.
Steven Greenhut, Franklin Center's vice president of journalism, was listed as a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has received significant funding from foundations headed by the Koch Brothers.
Other top Franklin Center staffers with current or past Koch ties include Erik Telford, the Franklin Center's vice president of strategic initiatives & outreach; Mary Ellen Beatty, Franklin Center director of citizen outreach; Alicia Barnaby, Coalitions Coordinator; and the Franklin Center's director of development, Matt Hauck.
Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, 66 percent of Americans incorrectly believe there is "a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening." The conservative media has fueled this confusion by distorting scientific research, hyping faux-scandals, and giving voice to groups funded by industries that have a financial interest in blocking action on climate change. Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have shied away from the "controversy" over climate change and have failed to press U.S. policymakers on how they will address this global threat. When climate change is discussed, mainstream outlets sometimes strive for a false balance that elevates marginal voices and enables them to sow doubt about the science even in the face of mounting evidence.
Here, Media Matters looks at how conservative media outlets give industry-funded "experts" a platform, creating a polarized misunderstanding of climate science.
The Economist has called the libertarian Heartland Institute "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change." Every year, Heartland hosts an "International Conference on Climate Change," bringing together a small group of contrarians (mostly non-scientists) who deny that manmade climate change is a serious problem. To promote its most recent conference, Heartland launched a short-lived billboard campaign associating acceptance of climate science with "murderers, tyrants, and madmen" including Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. Facing backlash from corporate donors and even some of its own staff, Heartland removed the billboard, but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Heartland does not disclose its donors, but internal documents obtained in February reveal that Heartland received $25,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2011 and anticipated $200,000 in additional funding in 2012. Charles Koch is CEO and co-owner of Koch Industries, a corporation with major oil interests. Along with his brother David Koch, he has donated millions to groups that spread climate misinformation. Heartland also receives funding from some corporations with a financial interest in confusing the public on climate science. ExxonMobil contributed over $600,000 to Heartland between 1998 and 2006, but has since pledged to stop funding groups that cast doubt on climate change.
Despite their industry ties and lack of scientific expertise, Heartland Institute fellows are often given a media platform to promote their marginal views on climate change. Most visible is James Taylor, a lawyer with no climate science background who heads Heartland's environmental initiative. Taylor dismisses "alarmist propaganda that global warming is a human-caused problem that needs to be addressed," and suggests that taking action to reduce emissions could cause a return to the "the Little Ice Age and the Black Death." But that hasn't stopped Forbes from publishing his weekly column, which he uses to spout climate misinformation and accuse scientists of "doctoring" temperature data to fabricate a warming trend. It also hasn't stopped Fox News from promoting his misinformation.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed covered up the fact that the Koch brothers and other business owners have warned their employees that there would be consequences to their economic well-being if Mitt Romney and other pro-corporate candidates are not elected.
Progressives have highlighted a mailing the Koch brothers' company sent to 45,000 of their employees stating that they had endorsed Mitt Romney for president in addition to other political candidates. The mailing's cover letter warned that if the nation elected the wrong candidates, "many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills."
Other business executives have sent emails endorsing Romney, making statements such as "[i]f any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company" and "I am asking you to give us one more chance to stay independent by voting in a new President and administration on November 6th. Even then, we still might not be able to remain independent, but it will at least give us a chance. If we don't, that chance goes away."
In response to resulting criticism from progressives, the Journal published an op-ed by Republican activist Bradley A. Smith, a frequent contributor to the Journal and other papers. Smith claimed that most Americans wouldn't find the mailing from the Kochs or other messages from business owners to their workers about whom to vote for threatening.
One day you return home from work, go to your mailbox, and find a packet from your employer concerning the coming Nov. 6 election. It includes information about the candidates and a letter from the company president that reads:
"To help you engage in the political process, we have enclosed several items in this packet. For most of you, this includes information about voter registration deadlines and early voting options in your state. At the request of many employees, we have also provided a list of candidates in your state that have been supported by . . . our employee political action committee.
"I want to emphasize two things about these lists. First, and most important, we believe any decision about which candidates to support is--as always--yours and yours alone, based on the factors that are most important to you. Second, we do not support candidates based on their political affiliation."
If you're like most Americans, you probably wouldn't find these words threatening. But they have many denizens of the anticorporate American left apoplectic. "
Smith later claimed that "those who think corporations are inherently bad want to prevent business owners and managers from providing this valuable information to their employees. It is disturbing, on many levels, that these so-called activists would rather keep employees in the dark than have them get information from the 'wrong' sources."
In order to make the claim that employees will feel informed rather than threatened by messages from their bosses, the op-ed ignored the warnings employers are giving their workers. While Smith quoted two paragraphs from the Koch mailing, he left out its warning of the consequences if Romney and other Koch-approved candidates don't win.
Sunshine State News, Florida's self-proclaimed "only center-right news source," has dedicated extensive coverage to the conservative charge of "judicial activism" against three state Supreme Court justices facing a retention election in November. The author of a Federalist Society report on the justices' records debunked the charge on Wednesday, telling The Miami Herald that opponents of the justices will "have a hard time" making the "activism" label "stick."
On Election Day, voters in Florida will vote on the merit retention of three justices on their state Supreme Court. The three justices, Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince, have drawn the ire of the Florida Republican Party and conservative activists for a series of decisions on state ballot initiatives, criminal procedure, and property taxes.
The Sunshine State News has extensively covered the issue in a way that promotes the right-wing case against the three, which centers on the accusation of "judicial activism." Over the past month, the Sunshine State News has published multiple articles in a series titled, "How Activist Are Florida Supreme Court Justices Pariente, Lewis, and Quince?"
The "judicial activism" framing of the issue mirrors the charges leveled by right-wing political opponents of the justices. Conservative super PAC Americans for Prosperity is leading an ad campaign accusing the justices of acting in an "activist manner." The state Republican party took the unprecedented step of formally opposing the justices' retention because the "collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive." Although the Sunshine State News articles in the series purport to allow readers to review court documents and "decide for themselves" on the accuracy of the "activism" charge, its promotion of the issue has contributed to the cause of the justices' opponents.
But a new report commissioned by the Federalist Society, an organization previously hailed by the Sunshine State News as the "nation's premier fellowship for conservative and libertarian lawyers and law students," undercuts these right-wing accusations. After analyzing the three justices' "nine most controversial cases," the report concluded the justices were not engaged in "unprincipled" behavior. This Federalist Society report now adds to the extensive bipartisan opposition to removing the three Florida justices from office.
From The Miami Herald's reporting on a conference call with the report's author, Florida International University Professor of Law Elizabeth Price Foley:
A Florida professor commissioned by the conservative Federalist Society to review controversial cases of the three Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit retention concluded Wednesday that some of the most loaded charges used by opponents against the justices are unfounded.
Although the Federalist Society does not take a position in the merit retention races, Foley said in a conference call with reporters that her review found that the controversial rulings "are in fact supported by some prior precedent and they do involve acceptable methods of legal reasoning."
Opponents who want to accuse them of judicial activism, she said, are "going to have a hard time making that label stick.''
Unsurprisingly, opponents of the justices were upset by the conclusions of the report, but Professor Foley has remained firm in her findings, according to the Herald:
Americans for Prosperity Florida, the conservative advocacy group affiliated with the Koch brothers, were not too happy with a Federalist Society report issued Wednesday that concluded some of the most loaded charges used against the justices up for merit retention were unfounded.
[Professor Foley still] disagrees with opponents to the justices who call them activists just because their decisions may be formed by a liberal ideology rather than a conservative one.
"That is ridiculous,'' she said, noting that under that logic justices whose decisions are formed by a conservative ideology could also be called "activist." She also assiduously avoids use of the term "activist" because, she said, it has been so overused everyone has a different definition of it.
She added that she may have been too subtle in her conclusions that the justices, like all humans, inform their decisions by their ideology "but they are not in fact acting in an unprincipled way,'' she said.
Nevada media outlets failed to disclose the Big Oil interests behind a group offering cheap gas in the state this week to mislead voters about Obama's energy policies, including the false claim that the administration's energy policies are responsible for high gas prices. The bizarre stunts -- involving a walking, talking, anthropomorphic gas can -- were funded by groups largely financed by the Koch brothers, major conservative political donors who have significant oil interests. These groups are pushing policies that will benefit the Koch empire, not American consumers.
From the Associated Press:
Dozens of people lined up at a Reno gas station Tuesday to buy gasoline for $1.84 a gallon as part of a political event.
The cheap gas was offered by the Gas Can Man, a group funded by a [PAC called] Morning in America, focusing on energy policy. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity also funded the event.
A spokesman for the Gas Can Man told KOLO-TV that the event was supposed to remind voters that gas prices are high.
Spokesman Michael Findlay says that gas was $1.84 a gallon in the month of President Barack Obama's inauguration.
The Las Vegas Sun noted that as "people filled up their tanks, they stood in the shadow of AFP's campaign bus emblazoned with the slogan: Obama's Failing Agenda. One man registered voters." The paper quoted an Americans for Prosperity representative claiming the stunt was an exercise in "citizen education":
For the organizers of the event, the cheap gas offering wasn't a handout for those in need.
"It's citizen education," said Nick Vander Poel, of Americans for Prosperity. "This is issue awareness. We're educating them on the issues."
But the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun, and local television stations failed to disclose in their reports that the Gas Can Man and the cheap gas-campaign dubbed the "Million Can March" is funded by oil industry barons pushing policies that, if enacted, would line their own pockets but do nothing to lower the price of gas (the Sun disclosed the Koch ties, but neglected to mention their role in the oil industry).
In a July 30 editorial opposing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Wall Street Journal opined that planning for the new health insurance marketplaces called Exchanges belongs on a "fiasco list." However, the editorial misrepresented the pace of exchange planning, downplayed the catalyst of Republican "civil disobedience" in implementation slow-downs, and obscured the role that right-wing media and advocates have in this intransigence.
States That Have Attempted Exchange Implementation Are Actually "Well Underway"
Many of the nation's leading health policy organizations are closely monitoring implementation of health care reform and exchange progress is one of their metrics. The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) is one such example, and the WSJ editorial cited them for the proposition that "by and large the states aren't" building exchanges. However, the editorial did not mention NASHP's most recent report on exchange implementation that instead notes in the opening paragraph that "many states are well underway in planning for and establishing their exchanges." Rather, without indicating the source, the WSJ used NASHP's "State Refor(u)m" project that is a user-generated "online network." That is, the metrics that the WSJ cited for the alleged "fiasco" of exchange implementation is a measurement of documents voluntarily uploaded to a wiki. State Refor(u)m does not claim to be a comprehensive progress measurement, but rather a clearinghouse reliant on user submissions.
Thus, the editorial's listing of "liberal leader" states who score low on this "milestone" measure of State Refor(u)m does not support its thesis. These "milestones" are not an accurate barometer of the difficulties in exchange planning - or even of completion of these actual metrics - but rather of the success of this network at attracting policy documents. Indeed, several of the states that the WSJ specifically lists as laggards - Massachusetts, California, Oregon, West Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Vermont, New York - actually have fully established exchanges, the first two of which were established by Governors Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, respectively.
Opponents of health care reform have opened up a new front in their relentless campaign, receiving extensive media attention for their claim that only state-created exchanges can legally offer tax credits for health insurance. This contested reading of the health care reform law would leave consumers in states with federal exchanges -- the default marketplace for states that decline to set up their own exchanges -- without access to affordable health insurance.
Exchanges have become the latest bogeyman in the right-wing media, but a just-released report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why a legal challenge to them is unsupported by both the clear language of the Affordable Care Act and relevant case law.
As described in a June 25 USA Today op-ed, opponents of exchanges are claiming that their reading of the health care reform law reveals that "[c]redits are [legally] available only in states that create an exchange themselves. The federal government might create exchanges in states that decline, but it cannot offer credits through its own exchanges." Right-wing activist groups have jumped on this argument and are already clamoring for lawsuits to be filed over the administration's interpretation of the law to the contrary. A July 9 article in Congressional Quarterly Today (subscription required) reported the director of policy at the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity as adamant that litigation would "absolutely" ensue.
The idea of suing to block exchange implementation and hamstring affordability programs designed to help low- and moderate-income persons afford coverage in the private insurance market appears to have originated with two frequent National Review Online contributors, Jonathan Adler, Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University, and Michael Cannon, Director of Health Policy at the Cato Institute. Long-time opponents of the Affordable Care Act and authors of the USA Today op-ed, the two first presented this questionable theory to the mainstream press through a November 16, 2011, op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Cannon, in particular, seems to have made exchanges his personal target, barnstorming the country along with other Koch-backed organizations.
Experts on health care law and policy are highly critical of the proposed anti-exchange lawsuits. However, although the challenge might be a long shot due to its debatable reading of the statute and disregard of congressional intent, even far-fetched legal challenges have legs in today's increasingly conservative courts. Remember broccoli? Amplified by the increasing synergy between right-wing academics and media, the "broccoli" and "inactivity/activity" argument in the health care reform cases rocketed from the fringe to the mouths and pens of Supreme Court Justices.
Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote the report yesterday that rebuts Adler and Cannon's claims:
Opponents of health reform apparently intend to file a legal challenge to the law on behalf of one or more employers who are penalized for not providing coverage in a state with a federal exchange, based on the claim that the federal exchange was not authorized to provide the subsidies. A court considering such a claim would almost certainly defer to the Treasury Department interpretation that subsidies are fully available through federally operated exchanges.
In providing for a federal exchange, Congress clearly intended that it substitute for a state exchange. One of the primary functions of an exchange is to determine eligibility for, and the amount of, advance premium tax credits so that people can afford to buy coverage. The language of section 1321 of the ACA establishing the federal exchange is clear on that point, as is the reference in section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code to credits being provided through a federally operated exchange. But even if the statute were ambiguous, a court examining whether the Treasury regulations are valid would certainly defer to the agency's interpretation of the statute because it is both permissible and reasonable. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 7/16/12]
When Idaho state legislators proposed a seemingly uncontroversial bill to ban access to commercial tanning beds by minors earlier this year, IdahoReporter.com took up the issue with force.
The state news website, an affiliate of the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and overseen by the free market Idaho Freedom Foundation, posted six stories on the proposal between Feb. 16 and March 22, when the bill was voted down in a state Senate Committee.
The Franklin Center is a multimillion-dollar organization whose websites and affiliates provide free statehouse reporting to local newspapers and other media across the country. Funded by major conservative donors, staffed by veterans of groups affiliated with the Koch brothers, and maintaining a regular presence hosting right-wing events, the organization boasts of its ability to fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs.
The group's editors claim that their "professional journalism" work is walled off from the organization's more nakedly political operations and say that their "pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, free market perspective" doesn't compromise their accuracy or independence. But many journalism professionals - even newspaper editors who reprint the work of Franklin Center affiliates in their own pages - speak warily of the group's ideological bent.