Conflict Of Interest: George Will Again Uses His Column To Prop Up A Koch-Backed Candidate

Weeks after appearing at a VIP dinner for the Koch brothers-backed political group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), George Will devoted his Washington Post column to promoting one of the Kochs' favored political candidates without disclosing the conflict of interest.

Last month, Politico reported on Will's attendance at a private dinner featuring an “exclusive group of major donors and VIPs” as part of AFP's Defending the American Dream summit. Despite repeated attempts by Media Matters, neither Will nor AFP would answer whether he had been paid for the appearance or compensated for his travel expenses. Will has repeatedly devoted column space in the past to promoting Koch-backed candidates and policy issues.

When the journalism group Society of Professional Journalists released its new Code of Ethics in September, the group's ethics chair cited Will's relationship with AFP -- and his refusal to disclose whether he had been paid by the group -- as the type of conflict journalists should try to avoid.  

Apparently undeterred, in his September 26 column, Will sang the praises of Republican Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst -- a candidate who has received massive financial support from the Kochs and their political groups -- without disclosing his conflict of interest.

In his column, Will lamented that the contest between Ernst and Democratic challenger Bruce Braley “should not be this close.” He dismissed Democrats' “War on Women” narrative and asserted that Braley “is as awkward as Ernst is ebullient when campaigning.”

Pointing to spending by outside groups on Braley's behalf, Will classified the Iowa Democrat's “fretting about money in politics” as being “notably selective,” and wrote that although “politics is an inherently transactional business,” Braley is “operatically indignant about the Koch brothers.”

Though Will runs cover for the Koch brothers' Iowa spending, their influence in the race is not so easily shrugged off.

This year, Americans for Prosperity has launched severaad campaigns targeting Braley in Iowa. The Des Moines Register reported earlier this month that another Koch-supported political group, Freedom Partners Action Fund, had also launched a “million-dollar TV ad campaign” targeting Braley.

According to Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein, in June, Ernst appeared at a “secretive conference” held by the Koch brothers, where she heaped praise on the assembled deep-pocketed attendees and credited “the exposure to this group and to this network” for having “really started my trajectory.” Citing “figures provided by a Democratic tracker,” Stein wrote that four different Koch-funded political groups had “blanketed the airwaves” in Iowa, to the tune of “roughly $3.4 million.”

Stein added, “A few days after Ernst's appearance, Charles Koch, his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law each gave the Iowa candidate the legal maximum contribution of $2,600.” 

Will has repeatedly crossed ethical lines when it comes to disclosing his conflicts of interest in his Post column.