An op-ed in Michigan's Midland Daily News praising the billionaire Koch brothers and defending their relentless spending intended to influence elections failed to disclose the author's significant connections to the Koch brothers.
In his October 26 op-ed in the Midland Daily News, Timothy Nash, identified as "vice president and economics professor at Northwood University," praised the economic success of Koch Industries and of the philanthropy of the company's leaders, Charles and David Koch. Nash rejected those who criticize the Kochs for their political action, attributing their political spending, which reached over $400 million in 2012 and is setting records in 2014, to "a belief in, passion for, and support of the traditional values that have made America great."
However, the Midland Daily News failed to reveal Nash's own significant and beneficial relationship to the Koch brothers. In February 2011, Nash was announced as the director of the Koch Scholars program at Northwood University, which is funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. In addition, Nash is listed as an adjunct professor with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Koch-funded think tank. According to the Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch database:
The Mackinac Center has received significant funding from the Koch family foundations as well as other funding organizations with ties to the Koch brothers. The Charles G. Koch Foundation donated $79,151 between 2005 and 2009, and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation gave Mackinac a donation of $5,000 in 2001. Between 2010 and 2012, the Mackinac Center received $1,494,000 from the Koch conduits DonorTrust and Donors Capital Fund.
As "the largest conservative state-level policy think tank in the nation," the Mackinac Center is part of the State Policy Network (SPN). SPN members work to produce research to lend legitimacy for the right-wing agenda "that aims to privatize education, block healthcare reform, restrict workers' rights, roll back environmental protections." An evaluation of the Mackinac Center's publications by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice found:
Mackinac Center research is often of low quality and because of this it should be treated with considerable skepticism by the public, policy makers and political leaders. Indeed, much of the work of the Mackinac Center may have caused more confusion than clarity in the public discussion of the issues that it has addressed by systematically ignoring evidence that does not agree with its proposed solutions.
The Mackinac Center is also affiliated with the Franklin Center, which attempts to infiltrate state news coverage and seeks to fill a void in statehouse news reporting while promoting conservative misinformation. The Koch brothers fund the Franklin Center indirectly through Donors Trust, a foundation that has been dubbed "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement" due to the lack of transparency of its donors and the numerous conservative organizations the foundation funds.
Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
Extensive reporting from the Associated Press on the Koch brothers' financial background and political influence glossed over the duo's ties to the fossil fuel industry and ignored their efforts to dismantle action on climate change.
On August 25, the Associated Press published a "primer on the Koch brothers and their role in politics," headlined "Koch 101," along with a lengthy overview of the history of the Koch family. A primer on the influence of Charles and David Koch is sorely needed: Their political organizations are reportedly expected to spend nearly $300 million during this year's election cycle, yet most Americans still haven't heard of the highly influential brothers.
The AP reported in its backgrounder that the Koch brothers are "reshaping politics with an uncompromising agenda." But when describing the their financial background in "Koch 101," the AP merely hinted at the Kochs' ties to the fossil fuel industry, stating that their company, Koch Industries, "makes a wide range of products including Dixie cups, chemicals, jet fuel, fertilizer, electronics, toilet paper and much more."
The longer article that accompanied it similarly downplays the Kochs' oil industry ties. The AP reported that Koch Industries "got its start building oil refineries" and now owns a range of businesses including "refining, consumer products, chemicals and electric components." The article also mentioned -- and promptly dismissed -- Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) criticism of the Koch brothers as "oil baron bullies," but it didn't expand on their connections to oil industry.
Neither report mentioned that the Koch brothers themselves receive a great portion of their vast wealth (together, they have more money than Bill Gates) from fossil fuel-related industries. The Koch brothers own 84 percent of the sales from Koch Industries, which operates 10 large firms, five of which have a stated purpose involving the manufacture, transport, refining, or trading of crude oil, petroleum, or natural gas. From a 2010 Greenpeace report on Koch Industries:
Koch operates crude oil gathering systems and pipelines across North America. Its Flint Hills Resources subsidiary owns refineries in Alaska, Minnesota, and Texas that process more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The company owns a 3% stake in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, 4,000 miles of oil and products pipelines in the US, and an 80,000 barrels-per day refinery in Rotterdam. In addition, Koch Industries has held multiple leases on the polluting tar sands of Alberta, Canada since the 1990s and the Koch Pipeline Company operates the pipelines that carry tar sands crude from Canada into Minnesota and Wisconsin where Koch's Flint Hill Resources owns oil refineries.
In addition, neither AP report mentioned that the Kochs are using their wealth to advocate for energy policies that would support the fossil fuel industry's bottom line, including that of Koch Industries.
The Koch brothers have been using their wealth to shape energy policy for years in the name of the free market and recently announced a new initiative focused on energy with "what looks like a deregulatory, pro-consumer spin," according to the Daily Beast. If their new energy initiative is anything like previous actions from their network, it will focus on defending tax breaks for fossil fuel industries while attacking renewable energy policies through bunk studies and media misinformation.
Also missing from both articles: The fact that the Koch brothers play a huge role in impeding action on climate change as major funders of anti-scientific global warming denial. The Kochs and their foundations have donated over $67 million to groups denying climate change, like the Heartland Institute, which recently held a climate denial conference featuring several speakers with financial ties to the Kochs.
The International Forum on Globalization (IFG), an alliance of scholars and activists, blamed the Koch brothers for creating "climate deadlock" in international negotiations on climate action, asserting "clear links between the Kochs' cash and today's US policy paralysis holding hostage any global deal" on climate change. The IFG detailed that the Kochs work to "kill US climate legislation" by funding climate denial and influencing elections and that they "polarize the climate policy debate in the US, making impossible any meaningful movement towards science-based emissions targets to enable an equitable global agreement."
For a potential "Koch 102," the AP should take note of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity's description of Koch Industries and its political agenda:
Oil is the core of the Koch business empire, and the company's lobbyists and officials have successfully fought to preserve the industry's tax breaks and credits, and to defeat attempts by Congress to regulate greenhouse gases.
The author of Sons of Wichita, the new biography of the Koch brothers, never got the interviews he wanted with the archconservative billionaires. But he says the family nonetheless kept a close eye on his research, deploying the "very aggressive P.R. operation" they have used for years to silence media criticism.
"I had a senior person at [Koch Industries] basically tell me, 'Yeah, that is our strategy, we hit back and over time because of doing this the mainstream press has sort of learned a lesson to be careful about what they say about us,'" said Daniel Schulman, the book's author and a senior editor at the progressive Mother Jones magazine. "I would describe it as pugilistic, [which] is often their style in general."
Despite the lack of support from its subjects, Schulman's book is a fascinating portrait of the often bitter relationships between the four brothers -- Charles, David, Bill, and Frederick -- whose sprawling political empire has become a dominant force in the right-wing movement.
Schulman said the company's efforts to find out about his research and stop some from cooperating is not unusual, noting the Koch brothers and Koch Industries, the company at the root of their vast wealth, have a history of both intimidating reporters and seeking to counter negative coverage.
"People in the media certainly have what they would call their war stories dealing with Koch Industries," Schulman said in a lengthy interview with Media Matters. "There is a range of experiences. They have a very aggressive P.R. operation." He added, "I should also say that I like a lot of people I was in communication over there, they were nice people. But they were aggressive."
Schulman, whose book was published last week, said he began his research by writing a formal inquiry letter to each of the four brothers. He said only Frederick, the least involved in the company, would meet with him -- and then said he would only discuss his family if he received veto power over any third-party source material. Schulman declined.
At Koch Industries, which is headed by David and Charles, initial reaction was curious and somewhat cooperative, Schulman said. But it never amounted to any access to the two top executives.
"At one point they flew out to even talk to the publisher," Schulman recalled about a Koch executive. "They wanted to make sure this was going to be a fair book, they saw Mother Jones and immediately thought the worst. I was speaking to people there throughout the process, but they would never give me access to David or Charles, which I think was unfortunate because I do think that they had not much to lose and a lot to gain. I think these guy are all very interesting and should have their stories told."
But Koch Industries' interest did not end there, Schulman said
"I certainly got the sense that there were ... certain people [to whom] they were probably saying, 'don't talk to him.' I definitely got that impression," Schulman said. "I definitely talked to people who said, 'yeah, I spoke to Charles and he said he would prefer that I don't speak to you.'"
The Koch concerns about the book went even further, Schulman said.
Right-wing media have been rushing to distance themselves from the Nevada rancher they've spent weeks championing after Cliven Bundy revealed his racist worldview, but two of Bundy's biggest cheerleaders -- Sean Hannity and Fox News -- have vested corporate, financial, and political interests in the promotion of Cliven Bundy's anti-government land ownership agenda.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy became Fox News' favorite folk hero after he refused to comply with court orders directing him to remove his trespassing cattle from public land. Hannity and many other right-wing media rallied around Bundy and his armed supporters as they threatened violence against federal law enforcement officials attempting to impound Bundy's cattle and collect the $1 million he owes in fines and fees after decades of noncompliance with the law.
Hannity has promoted Bundy's anti-government rhetoric, arguing that the federal government owns far too much land and pushing Bundy's claim that not only does the federal government not have land-ownership authority but that they don't need or use the land they claim to own. On the April 23 edition of his show, Hannity attacked the government for owning too much land, agreeing with Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano that they do not have the constitutional authority to own any of the land. Throughout the land battle, Hannity continuously argued that the government is irresponsibly fighting for land they have no intended use for -- such as building hospitals, schools, or roads -- and should focus their efforts elsewhere to rapists, murderers, criminals, and pedophiles.
Bundy and Hannity's promotion of state ownership of federal lands gives airtime to an issue that conservatives have long been campaigning for but have had difficulty getting voters excited about -- an issue in line with the land interests of the Koch brothers. Slate reported on April 23 that the Fox News corporate, financial, and political interests being served by Hannity's promotion of Bundy lie in the network's connection to the Koch brothers:
Bundy's anti-federal agenda is closely aligned with that of Charles and David Koch, major Republican donors who have been pushing for states to gain control over federal lands - so they can be sold or leased to people like the Koch brothers in deals.
UPDATE: On April 25 the Huffington Post reported that after Cliven Bundy's racist tirade became public,Americans for Prosperity scrubbed several of their social media posts supporting Bundy. A Media Matters check of the links below from AFP Nevada and AFP Colorado showed that incendiary posts supporting Bundy had been removed from the Internet.
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.