Koch-Washing: The Hot New Campaign Finance Trend

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 13 2014 12:58 PM

Koch-Washing: The Hot New Campaign Finance Trend

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Mary Landrieu doesn't like the sound of this washing.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The banner story at the Washington Free Beacon is, as usual, cheeky as all hell: "Mary Landrieu's Koch Problem." The gist: A super PAC is aiding Landrieu with ads that say "out of state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect” her opponent, meaning the Kochs (they're pictured), but "Sen. Landrieu has received $27,000 in campaign contributions since 2000 from Koch Industries and its subsidiaries and employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics."

Wow! Twenty-seven thousand dollars! How much have they spent against Landrieu in 2014, though? Lachlan Markay doesn't say, only acknowledging that the "millions" figure from the ad is a reference to "Americans for Prosperity, to which the Koch brothers have donated."

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"Donated." Look, I'm as cynical about the bash-the-Kochs Democratic campaign tactic as anybody, but the word "donated" is asked to do quite a lot of work there. David Koch is the chairman of the board of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. He and his brother co-founded the group's predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, 30 years ago. AFP doesn't have to disclose its finances, often misdirecting questions by saying it has "2.1 million members," but it's no secret that Koch money fuels the tank and money from allies pays for the paint job.

Anyway. How much has Americans for Prosperity spent against Landrieu recently? According to Rebecca Shabad, its last ad buy against Landrieu was $750,000. A previous ad buy, a month earlier, cost $600,000.

That's $1.35 million from the main Koch political group in three months against Landrieu, compared with $27,000 for Landrieu in the last 14 years combined. It's almost like donors with billions of dollars to spend can afford to hedge their bets.

(DISCLOSURE: I worked for a few years at Reason magazine, part of a foundation that takes donations from David Koch. The Center for American Freedom, which publishes the Free Beacon, has not disclosed its donors, sadly even after the Center for American Progress did and I asked whether CAF would follow suit.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.