Those who think union spending on elections offsets corporate spending aren’t adding up the numbers

A common mantra of the right-wing when the subject comes to spending by large organizations to influence elections is that unions do it more than business does. Recently the right has encapsulated this argument into a comparison between one family—the Kochs—contributes and what unions contribute to elect their preferred candidates.

But a chart by investigative journalist Lee Fang and website Republic Report republished in Nation shows that any comparison between election spending by the Kochs and unions is as much of a conflation as the 2004 comparison between the military records of George Bush and John Kerry.

The differences in numbers between right-wing and left-wing political spending are so large that the mere act of placing them in the same sentence without including amounts qualifies as a lie. The chart, titled “Koch Bust” is a bar graph showing the total political spending in the 2012 election by Koch Brothers-backed groups and by unions. The Kochs contributed more than $412 million, while the combined contributions of the 10 biggest unions equaled a mere 153.5 million. That’s 2.7 times as much money spent by the Kochs to elect candidates than spent by the major unions.

The total includes money contributed directly to campaigns or to support issues of importance to campaigns by individuals, political action committees and indirectly. The Republic Report refutes the facts and figures supplied by The Wall Street Journal and others, which claim that unions far outspend the Koch Brothers. The numbers from the right-wing neglect to include “dark money,” which are contributions that aren’t reported until after the election. Some $408 million in Koch election contributions came as dark money, so leaving that source of campaign financing is duplicitous to say the least.

There are three levels of deception in saying that unions spend more than the Kochs to influence elections:

  1. The lie itself, which implies that left-supported candidates enjoy a major advantage over poor little conservatives. This lie plays into the “sinking ship” mentality that conservatives like to employ to describe the current supposedly embattled status of the right. Of course nothing could be further from the truth in a country where a qualified candidate for a judgeship gets voted down because he did his job as a defense attorney or a law permitting discrimination could pass a state legislature.
  2. The idea of limiting the terms of comparison to Koch versus unions, which leaves out the outsized contributions by Sheldon Adelson, Phillip Anschutz, groups controlled by Karl Rove, the Wal-Mart family and other wealthy individuals and families.  Let’s also not forget about the National Rifle Association.
  3. The implication that the fact unions are also taking advantage of the shambles that the Supreme Court created in the Citizens United decision makes the decision okay and proves that it doesn’t give a special advantage to corporations. Of course there are left-leaning campaign contributors, too, such as George Soros and Tom Steyer, but they are severely outnumbered and don’t give as much money.

On the surface, the real trump card for the right in the campaign spending argument could be the fact that Barack Obama outspent the Republican opponent in both his presidential victories. In fact, the winning candidate in presidential campaigns virtually always outspends the opponent, for the simple reason that the winner has managed to raise more money. The candidate with more money also usually wins statewide and local elections. It’s as if money votes first and then the voters go to the polls to confirm the decision that money has made.

But the fact that Koch and Adelson couldn’t impose their will on the presidential election does not disprove that these American oligarchs have too much influence on the outcome of elections. Besides having the ability to give more to each election, they can also give to more elections. Someone with a few hundred bucks to contribute may just give it to his or her preferred choice for president or senator. The rich folk are spreading it around. Thus we end up with a Congress full of right-wingers who propose legislation that surveys show the majority of Americans are against.

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