CNN Lets Koch Brothers' Political Arm Attack Progressive Donor Tom Steyer

CNN's profile of progressive philanthropist Tom Steyer falsely equated Steyer's political donations with those of the Koch brothers without noting the Kochs will spend far more, and it failed to disclose that the group it quoted criticizing Steyer's environmental activism is funded by the Kochs.

During the June 19 edition of CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, a profile of environmental activist and philanthropist Tom Steyer attempted to equate Steyer's planned contributions on behalf of candidates who support legislative action on climate change to planned 2014 spending by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. During the profile, Tapper portrayed Steyer as a hypocrite, noting that “another point of dispute involves Steyer's assets. ... Steyer made his money as the manger of a $20 billion hedge fund, amassing a fortune through a variety of investments, including many in the very fossil fuels he now decries.” Tapper went on to criticize Steyer for having “continued to make money off these unclean energies while simultaneously decrying them,” though he also noted that Steyer is divesting his fossil-fuel investments.

The segment also included a clip of Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), accusing Steyer of “hypocrisy” in his previous investments:

Tapper did not note that AFP is what Politico called the “main political arm” of the Koch brothers, or that the group reportedly plans to spend $125 million in this year's elections for the purpose of “benefiting conservatives.”

Further, the premise that Steyer's political contributions are equivalent to those of the Koch brothers is flawed. Contrary to Tapper's contention that Steyer is a direct ideological counterpart to the Kochs, the political spending from Steyer is not equal to that of the Koch brothers. According to the Daily Beast, the Kochs have “set an initial 2014 fundraising target of $290 million” to fund a “new energy initiative” intended in part as a response to “the commitment by liberal billionaire Tom Steyer to steer $100 million into ads in several states to make climate change a priority issue in the elections.” 

Tapper did not mention that Steyer's planned political contributions are one-third of those planned by the Koch brothers' interests.