“Our Donations Are Different”

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Tim Carney points out the absurdity of protesters funded by billionaire George Soros picketing the Koch family this weekend for corrupting the political system with its billionaire money. The moral rectitude on display is either hilarious are nauseating. Not sure which.

Carney also makes an interesting point about the lefty organization the Center for American Progress. The organization decries the “hidden influence” of corporations on the political process, and lashes out at the way the Kochs “covertly” influence politics by donating to nonprofits (scare quotes because there’s never been anything all that covert about it), but the Center for American Progress itself doesn’t release the names of its donors.

Now most of us at Koch-funded Reason don’t believe that think tanks, non-profits and advocacy groups should be compelled to release the names of their donors. (I don’t say “all” because I haven’t talked to everyone about this issue, and believe it or not, we are allowed form our own opinions!)  Yet in the interest of transparency, we ourselves publish in our magazine the name of anyone who have given us at least $1,000. (It was in the April issue last year.) So in sum: The lefty group that decries the covert nature of free market donors keeps its own donor list secret, while the free market group that defends the right to make political donations anonymously not only allows access to its donor list, it actually publishes the list for anyone to see.

One other thing. While clicking around on coverage of this weekend’s anti-Koch protests, I stumbled onto this article about the Kochs by Yasha Levine (of the “the TSA backlash is a libertarian conspiracy!” fame). Though it engages in much of the usual anti-Koch conspiracy mongering, the article also actually includes some sound criticism of Koch Industries, including the fact that the company engages in a lot of rent-seeking, dictator coddling, and other practices that aren’t remotely free market. (I won’t vouch for the validity of all the allegations. Just saying that if they are true, they’re legitimate criticisms.)

What’s hilarious, though, is that Levine points out in several places that the Koch-funded Cato Institute publishes papers and op-eds decrying some of the very anti-market policies the Koch company takes advantage of. Levine thinks this makes Cato a bunch of hypocrites. I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. Of course, you could also say that it’s a pretty good indication that Cato is guided by a core set of principles, and isn’t afraid to advocate those principles even when doing so butts up against the interests of one of its more influential donors.

Note the lose-lose scenario. You’re either in the service of your corporate paymasters, or you’re hypocrites for taking positions that your donors don’t abide in the real world. (But don’t mind me, I’m just the useful idiot in all of this!) I suppose the honorable thing would be for those of us in the free market movement to refuse to take any donations from anyone who has ever worked for a business or corporation, or inherited any money from someone who did (wonder if the Center for American Progress will offer to give back that sweet Walmart money in kind?). Of course, that would basically put anyone who has any money to donate off-limits. Which would mean no more free market advocacy. Hey, maybe that’s the point!

(Obligatory disclosure: I work for Reason magazine, which is published by the Reason Foundation, which gets money from the Koch family. Before that I worked for the Cato Institute, which also receives funding from Koch (and also Soros!). I am grateful to the Kochs for partially funding my six years of work on police and prosecutorial misconduct, police militarization, wrongful convictions, and criminal justice reform.)

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57 Responses to ““Our Donations Are Different””

  1. #1 |  MattJ | 

    mange: “as Koch industries is one of the biggest energy companies in the world”

    citation needed

  2. #2 |  demize! | 

    “Go put on Guy Fawkes” Guy Fawkes is a band?

  3. #3 |  random guy | 

    demize! a Guy Fawkes (mask) is the mask worn by the character V from the movie and graphic comic V for Vendetta. The symbol has been adopted by the internet group Anonymous, whose participants tend to hang out on image boards such as 4chan.

    Mange was insulting damaged justice by implying that he is some disaffected immature teenager caught up in internet crusades. Mange is making an accusation of immaturity through a series of stereotypical pop culture references, which should really speak for itself.

  4. #4 |  albatross | 

    Mostly, this issue is all about what can be used to smear the other team (where “the other team” includes libertarians). But there is a real issue down at the bottom: How do the funding sources affect the way think tanks, ideological publications, news sources, etc., work? For example, I’ve seen discussions about people on the right being fired from think-tanks for straying too far off the think-tank’s core ideology.

    I’m deeply uninterested in whether Koch industries has a libertarian track record, or whether Soros has always behaved in ways that would make a progressive proud. Their moral purity is irrelevant to the value of the ideas they fund.

    But I’m quite interested in what kind of incentives exist at think tanks and publications, for writers and thinkers to limit what they discuss or what arguments they make or what positions they take. Does arguing against the economic interests of Koch industries risk losing your job? What arguments could you make that would lose you your job or funding?

    As we’ve moved to having more and more serious policy thinkers working for think-tanks, I worry that we’ve also moved toward having more and more of the people seriously thinking about important policy questions living within ideological prisons, which they dare not exit for fear of losing their jobs. You can see something parallel happening at the top level of journalism. This seems like an area that would be worth more discussion.

  5. #5 |  demize! | 

    Thank you @randomguy for clarifying that. I wasn’t sure what he was saying, but was sort of annoyed at his facile stereotype of anarchism. As a card holding member of The National Anarchist Alliance I felt I had to do something.

  6. #6 |  zoltan | 

    As long as the government is handing out pie, there will be people fighting over who gets how much pie

    And on a related note, George Bernard Shaw said:

    “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

  7. #7 |  On Disclosure | The Agitator | 

    […] So like quite a few other progressive organizations, Mother Jones doesn’t release the names of its donors, even as they criticize free market groups (often falsely) for the same thing. Put another way, the magazine reserves the right to protect the anonymity of the people who fund the magazine’s investigative journalism, which this week included exposing the identity of donors to political causes—who wished to remain anonymous. […]