At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 27, 2012, when most civic-minded Americans were focused on the historic Supreme Court oral arguments about Obamacare, Lee Fang, a left-wing blogger for the liberal Republic Report blog, was posting yet another diatribe attacking Charles and David Koch. As usual, Fang’s piece stretches, distorts, ignores and misstates the facts.
The headline on Fang’s post: “Exclusive: How the Koch Brothers Spent At Least $3.9 Million in Unreported Partisan Attack Efforts During the 2010 Election.” Fang writes that Republic Report “has obtained financial audits” that are “reported here for the first time.” Where did he “obtain” them? The financial audits of Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (neither reference Charles or David Koch even once) were filed publicly with the State of New York, along with other publicly available documents such as the organizations’ IRS Form 990 tax returns, bylaws and articles of incorporation. All of which anyone, including Fang, is entitled by law to review, inspect and copy any time they want.
So what was the subject of Fang’s agitation? Americans for Prosperity is a social welfare non-profit organization that, consistent with its mission, sponsored citizen bus tours and public rallies around the country in 2010. At those public rallies, AFP urged Americans to get off their couches and become engaged in the national grassroots effort to reclaim our nation from Obamacare, a crushing debt and an overreaching government.
Did Fang read the documents he “obtained”? Apparently not. Where did he come up with his theory in the headline? There is nothing in the documents that suggests the Kochs, together or separately, funded the AFP bus tours. The Kochs are supposedly donors to AFP. I don’t know for sure, nor is it any of my business. But AFP (according to its IRS Form 990) clearly raised and spent much more than $3.9 million in 2010 — most of it to support state chapters and networks of grassroots activists who have the temerity to believe that Obamacare is unconstitutional, America’s debt is crushing our future and government overreach needs to stop. That is, in fact, the stated mission of AFP. Note to Fang: Read the AFP’s mission statement in the Articles of Incorporation in the documents you “obtained.”
The Fang piece is riddled with errors, misstatements and untruths.
Fang Falsehood #1: “Republic Report has obtained financial audits showing that the billionaire Koch brothers supported at least $3.9 million in unreported election-related activity in 2010. … [Charles and David Koch] dumped millions into negative advertisements against Democrats in the last election.”
The authority for Fang’s incorrect statements is an August 16, 2010 Los Angeles Times article that states just the opposite: “The $4.1 million ad buy from the Americans for Prosperity Foundation does not mention individual candidates in the November election. The script attacks Washington policies … declaring that ‘wasteful spending must stop.’” That is Fang’s source. Most importantly, on April 5, 2011, the Federal Election Commission — composed of three Democratic and three Republican commissioners — unanimously dismissed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s complaint against Americans for Prosperity that alleged the “November is Coming” effort advocated for the defeat of specific Democratic House candidates and constituted illegal in-kind corporate political contributions. Fang omits the fact that his allegations have already been adjudicated and found to be without legal merit.
Fang Falsehood #2: “The elaborate operation — which hit dozens of congressional races with over a hundred political rallies — was never disclosed as political electioneering.”
Rallies and bus tours do not qualify as “electioneering” under federal law, which defines “electioneering” as radio and TV ads that reference or depict a clearly identified federal candidate in the months preceding an election. Rallies and bus tours are not TV or radio ads — and trigger no reporting or disclosure to the FEC.
Fang Falsehood #3: “The Koch political network set up multiple bus tours … across the country promoting candidates supported by big business.”
There is no authority for this statement. Fang’s post sends readers to the websites of what he calls “roving Koch groups”: NovemberIsComing.com and SpendingRevolt.com. There is not a single mention of a candidate anywhere on the websites. The “November is Coming” website explicitly states that it is a project of Americans for Prosperity, which “does not support or oppose candidates for public office.” Furthermore, Americans for Prosperity is simply one of several conservative issue organizations cosponsoring the “Spending Revolt” project. And here is the most important point: There is nothing in the law that requires citizen groups to disclose expenditures for rallies and bus tours centered on issues, except on their IRS Form 990 tax returns. AFP reported these expenses on that IRS Form 990, which is how Fang “uncovered” the amounts AFP spent for the rallies and bus tours to highlight issues that AFP — and millions of Americans —- care about!
Fang Falsehood #4: “Call centers were set up to divert volunteers into Republican campaigns.”
I signed up to be a call center volunteer to see if I would be “diverted” into any Republican campaigns. Interestingly, the very first screen on the AFP “Volunteer Connect” website says: “Welcome to AFP’s Freedom Phone System … we are a non-partisan organization. We do not support or oppose candidates. We do not coordinate with candidates or political parties. We support limited government and free market principles. Follow the script as closely as possible.”
Fang, of course, gets away with making completely false statements because he sprinkles the Koch name as a negative modifier for every other noun in his blog, and the apparent rule is that there is no concern for facts or truth when a liberal attacks the Kochs.
After reading Fang’s drivel, glancing at the Republic Report and United Republic websites and reading about their mission of getting money out of politics and exposing truth and corruption and all of that, here’s my question: Where do these sites get their money? And why don’t they publicly disclose their donors?
Fang’s post and these projects are simply part of the massively well-funded liberal attack machine that is designed to vilify the Kochs and intimidate prospective conservative donors into staying on the sidelines. Indeed, Fang is hoping to intimidate all donors to conservative causes and organizations. On the same day that Fang posted his article about the Kochs, he posted another article restating Paul Krugman’s calls for corporate sponsors to stop giving money to the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Whenever conservatives demonstrate the will and the resources to fight liberal orthodoxy, liberals become hysterical. The left tolerates diversity except when it comes to diversity of opinion. These ongoing attacks on the Kochs are outrageous and won’t stop until liberals have cut off conservative groups’ funding and silenced conservative voices. That isn’t likely to happen.
Cleta Mitchell is a Washington, D.C. campaign finance attorney who represents conservative organizations. She is the chairman of the American Conservative Union Foundation and the president of the Republican National Lawyers Association.