Chart of the Day: The Kochtopus

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 14 2014 2:04 PM

Chart of the Day: The Kochtopus

Kim Barker and Theodoric Meyer are out with a terrific, lengthy read* on the often (and purposely) opaque topic of Koch-world. The trouble any reporter faces when the subject is political money is that the donation chain can be a slog. Possible sources—donors, strategists—won't talk. Those who do talk? They have an angle and it might be orthoganal to the real story, or they might not know anything.

So Barker and Meyer focus on Sean Noble, a consultant based in Phoenix and Washington who rose from chief of staff to a well-liked but irrelevant Republican congressman to distributing "almost $137 million in 2012 alone" from "the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a group run out of an Arizona post office box." (Stories that reveal Centers or Institutes to be shell operations are always welcome.) Thanks to an investigation into some California campaign spending, a story that has offered reporters unprecedented access into Koch-world, Noble is fading into the background. The origins of that story, by the way, are strange and revealing enough to be worth just excerpting:

[Tony] Russo and Jeff Miller, another California consultant, raised $29 million from about 150 confidential donors to fight a proposition to raise taxes and to support another one limiting unions’ political power. They transferred the money to a Virginia-based trade association that had agreed to spend it on ads related to the initiatives. But as Election Day drew closer, the association, Americans for Job Security, balked at buying ads, worried that under California law, it would be required to disclose who had donated the funds for them.
Russo said he approached Noble and offered to transfer money from the Virginia group to the Center. In return, he asked Noble to tap separate resources to help in California. Noble thought he had groups that could help, Russo recalled.
“He said, you know, get me your money,” Russo said in his interview.
Americans for Job Security transferred about $4 million to the Center on Sept. 10. On Sept. 13, American Future Fund gave about $4 million to a California affiliate, the California Future Fund for Free Markets, which was spending money on the anti-union proposition.
Americans for Job Security sent another $14 million to the Center on Oct. 11.  The Center then gave most of that money to Americans for Responsible Leadership, run by Kirk Adams, a friend and former client of Noble’s. On Oct. 15, Americans for Responsible Leadership sent $11 million to the Small Business Action Committee, a PAC spending on the initiatives.
Within days, a good governance group demanded a state inquiry into the contribution.
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It's a great story, and its accompanying chart is just as useful—clickable, revealing, getting into an even more complicated story about the downside of spending this much money. Koch-world money goes into projects that are working directly against one another. Over there, Freedom Partners is giving $500,000 to Heritage Action for America, which supports the strategy leading to the 2013 shutdown. Over here, Freedom Parters is giving $32,300,000 to Americans for Prosperity, which doesn't support the shutdown strategy. Here's American Principles in Action, which gets $100,000 from Freedom Partners then runs ads attacking Liz Cheney's support of gay marriage. But David Koch is fine with gay marriage. Here's Sean Noble attacking a new anti-immigration bill in Arizona.

But if you look at the candidates in Arizona benefitting from the distributed donations, how many of them oppose the law?

*I hate the term "longread," but maybe that was worse.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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