If you spend any time on political sites on the Internet, you have no doubt run into Joe or Jane Conservative who believes that the Koch brothers are just good public citizens who get picked on because they contribute their money to conservative causes. If you have the patience or the inclination to try to educate them by presenting facts, there is also a low chance of acceptance of the truth. About a New Republic article written by John Judis, “The Shutdown is One of the Worst Crises in American History, a commenter wrote:
“The hysteria over the Koch bros always reminds me of Soros, who spends FAR more money and has his fingers in more pies than the Koch bros could ever dream of. The man gives millions of dollars to over 30 “news” outfits. If you pull the strings at nearly every left-wing outfit, you find they lead to him and his money. So I have to laugh whenever a liberal whines about the Koch bros and the improper influence of money since they seem to find Soros just a harmless old philanthropist.”
This is classic right wing misinformation. Together, the Kochs have approximately $68 billion dollars combined wealth whereas George Soros has $20 billion. Right away, common sense should prevail upon a conservative afraid of a Soros boogeyman that he doesn’t have the resources of the megalomaniacal brothers. Where does this misguided commenter get such nonsense? Where else but the conservative media-sphere, so well-known for its distortion, it’s become cliché. Visit Fox So-Called News or right wing blogs, and soon you hear that George Soros has spent “$550 million” since 1979 in the United States on liberal causes and fail to note that he has disclosed every dollar, because he believes in a transparent and open society. Conversely, just try and find a record of the Koch brothers’ donations to conservative causes since 1979 without a full-time investigator.
They cry, his media influence is so great he “reaches 300 million people every month” (essentially the entire U.S.). Note: Most claims are made without references or citations. Even if it were true, all of Mr. Soros’s directly-owned media outlets are in Eastern Europe where he has advocated democracy, rather than communism, and an open society for decades. The money he donates to open journalism in the United States is all to organizations that promote news outside the mainstream, such as Think Progress, ProPublica.org or Democracy Now. The only media outlet he has given money to that has any far-reaching audience whatsoever is NPR, and I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hear that they were reaching several hundred million people. So what are the Soros alarmists referring to when they say he has a media empire? Well, apparently, having journalists from mainstream news outlets sit on the board of some of his think tanks is proof that he is influencing mainstream news. Of course, any ordinary person would note that the mainstream media is owned almost exclusively by right wing individuals and corporations, not the least of which is the infamous Rupert Murdoch. But these are the same people who believe there’s such a thing as the “liberal media.” According to Geoffrey Nunberg,
“In newspaper articles published since 1992, the word ‘media’ appears within seven words of ‘liberal bias’ 469 times and within seven words of ‘conservative bias’ just 17 times. If people are disposed to believe that the media have a liberal bias, it’s because the media have been telling them all along.”
It would be just like a conservative media to keep telling the American people that the media has a liberal bias, now wouldn’t it?
It hasn’t been updated since the 2010 election, but OpenSecrets.org did do a comparison of the relative influence of the Kochs and Mr. Soros. Bottom line, they are spending approximately:
Political Action Committee Spending (1989 to 2010)
Koch Industries: $12.1 million
Soros Fund Management: $0
SuperPAC Spending (2011-2012)
Koch Brothers: unknown, but they even created their own SuperPAC
Soros: $2.6 million*
*Alternative source from OpenSecrets.org
Individual donations to federal candidates, parties and political action committees (1989 to 2010)
Koch Brothers: $2.58 million
George Soros: $1.74 million ($3.9 million)*
*Alternative source for 2011-2012, similar numbers for the Kochs through 2012 are not possible to calculate, because post-Citizen’s United, they give their money to their pet groups like Americans for Prosperity who would then donate millions for them. Laundered donations, if you will.
Individual donations to 527 organizations (2001 to 2010)
George Soros: $34.2 million
Koch Brothers: $4.06 million
Lobbying Expenditures (1998 to 2012)
Koch Industries: $79.9 million
Soros Fund Management/Open Society Policy Center (Soros-Funded): $12.8 million
Think Tanks (1979-2013)
Koch Brothers: Multi-untold millions
(funds Freedom Partners, Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Bill of Rights Institute, Institute for Humane Studies, Heartland Institute, Reason Foundation, FreedomWorks, Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University Foundation, Mercatus Center, Institute for Justice, Institute for Energy Research, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Center to Protect Patient Rights, Generation Opportunity, American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute, Ayn Rand Institute, The Federalist Society, Competitive Enterprise Institute, etc.)**
**Many of these are dark money groups that also fund elections without disclosing donors
George Soros: $550 million in the U.S., 8 billion worldwide in 70 countries
(Funds Open Society Institute, Center for American Progress, Institute for New Economic Thinking, Center for Public Integrity, Brookings Institute, the Democracy Alliance, Tides Foundation, etc.. These in turn fund numerous liberal causes like National Organization for Women, the Free Press, or ProPublica.org)
Koch Brothers: No one knows, but they pledged to spend $60 million on the 2012 election
Soros: $1 million, given his openness about how he spends his money, likely not more
George Soros has tried to influence American politics by making a great deal of individual donations to 527 groups. These are groups that advocate for candidates like MoveOn.org and those that get out the vote like America Votes. His actual direct donations to candidates and lobbying of Congress members are far overshadowed by the Koch brothers. In other words, he doesn’t try to buy the U.S. government. The place where George Soros primarily puts his money is into liberal non-profits that advocate for liberal positions. For example, he gives the bulk of his money to the Open Society Institute, which then gives grants to liberal causes ranging from marijuana legalization and reproductive rights to environmental protection and criminal justice reform. For example, he gave $100 million to Human Rights Watch. This is the mission statement for Human Rights Watch from their website:
Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice. We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable. We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law. We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.
He is particularly focused on using his wealth to uphold principles of democracy and an “open society.” An open society includes principles such as “regular, free, and fair elections”; “a free and pluralistic media”; “the rule of law upheld by an independent judiciary”; and “a market economy.” In addition, he is very open about how he donates his money, and discloses his contributions on the website of the Center for Public Integrity. It’s easy to see why he is the boogeyman of the right. How scary.
In contrast, the Koch brothers put a huge portion of their cash directly into buying Congress members through lobbying, direct donations to candidates, SuperPACS, dark money groups, and astro-turfing (creating false grassroots movements). They want to play puppeteer to our legislature, and our governors, manipulating their votes on laws, and writing the bills they bring to the floor or those they squash. When they invest their money in non-profits advocating their positions, it’s organizations like Generation Opportunity. They don’t provide a mission statement on their website, but it goes something like this:
Prevent as many young people as possible from signing up for low-cost health insurance that would cover them in the event of a tragic accident or unforeseen illness that would devastate them or their families financially, possibly causing bankruptcy or taxpayer dollars. If necessary, we will ply impressionable college students with free beer to do it.
The Kochs are particularly focused on taking government assistance away from people living in poverty, denying access to health insurance, spreading polluting energy practices like fracking, not only advocating/promoting the continuing dependence on dirty fossil fuels, but demanding corporate welfare to do it, voter suppression, and union-busting to name a few.
Whether it is how they spend their money, aiming it all at pulling the strings of Congress or sending out armies of pundits to drone on and on with conservative talking points to the corporate media, how they hide where they spend their money, or the inhumane causes they support, the Koch brothers are menacing. On the other hand, George Soros is a man of personal failings, but when he gives back to society, he spreads democracy, a free press, human rights, a clean & sustainable environment, and he does it all with full disclosure of every dime he donates. All in all, it’s easy to see which are the real boogeymen.