New Conservative Meme That Unions Outspend Koch Brothers On Elections Is Patently False

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Recently, a new meme has been making its way around the conservative blogosphere and has been picked up by those in the mainstream media. Basically, conservatives are trying to push the story that the Koch brothers are not overly influential on the political process and that labor unions spend far more in campaign contribuions and donations to political organizations than the reclusive billionaires. They’ve used data from the Center for Responsive Politics to make their case for them.

Last week, Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal picked up on the meme and decided to push it out there for public consumption. She chastised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for attacking the Koch brothers for their spending and stated that he should go after the real enemy of democracy–the labor unions. She then pointed out, utilizing data from the CRP, that unions have spent greater than $600 million more than Koch Industries over the past 25 years on political campaigns.

Strassel was being obtuse for the purpose of pushing the narrative that union thugs are the real problem in politics and that it is unfair to pick on a couple of rich guys that don’t even spend all that much anyway. The fact is, that all political contributions from labor unions have to be disclosed, even if it goes towards indirect campaigning, like with political action committees (PACs.) Meanwhile, the Kochs have been able to secretly contribute hundreds of millions of dollars by setting up their own SuperPACs, creating shell companies or providing money to other people to then give to a candidate or a PAC supporting that candidate.

The fact is, that the CRP only shows disclosed and direct campaign contributions made by organizations, companies and individuals. On that level, the Kochs only show up as #59 overall for the past 25 years and contributed a total of $4.9 million in the previous election cycle. However, when you take into account all of the ‘dark’ money that the Kochs spent during the 2012 election, that figure balloons to a whopping $412 million. In comparison, the top ten labor unions combined spent a total of $153 million when counting all political contributions.



Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic wrote a piece on Tuesday dedicated to the notion that unions are outspending the Kochs. While he also pointed out that Strassel and other conservatives were obviously discounting the indirect contributions made by the Kochs, and pretending that SuperPACs like Americans for Prosperity were not directly affiliated with the Koch brothers, he made an excellent comparison between unions and the Kochs. Below is the relevant excerpt from his piece:

It’s true that labor unions and their members made far more political contributions than the Koch Brothers and their affiliates did. It’s also a misleading comparison. There are 14.5 million people in the labor movement, according to the latest government statistics. There are exactly two people in the Koch brotherhood—Charles and David Koch—plus another 350 or so self-identified Koch employees who, over that same time period, made direct campaign contributions. Extrapolate from that math, and you’ll see that the donation per Koch Industries affiliate positively dwarfs the donation per union member—by a factor of around 1,000, give or take.

The comparison is not precise, but it’s good enough to get a sense of scale. Using the same basic math—the Koch-affiliated organizations have about 200 supporters, including the Koch brothers, according to Maguire—that works out to about $850,000 of influence per Koch brother and $1.65 per union member. At that level of donation, it would take about 515,000 union members to have the same influence as just one Koch brother or affiliate.


Basically, labor unions represent millions of workers. Per person, their overall influence is far less than that of the Koch brothers and their affiliates. Making the comparison between unions and the Koch brothers is missing the point of the massive amount of influence that just two men are having on the political process of this country. Do unions donate a lot of money to political campaigns? Yes. But, they are doing so on behalf of millions of American workers. Broken down, the money spent per union member is not all that significant.

However, the Kochs have billions of disposable dollars to do with however they wish. Their preference is to pervert the political landscape in order to benefit them and the ultra-rich. Thankfully, despite Citizen United making it extremely easy for them to flood the airwaves and cyberspace with endless political ads, the electorate rejected the conservative message and Barack Obama was reelected President and Democratic gains were seen in the House and Senate. Nonetheless, they are at it again as Americans for Prosperity has already spent $30 million so far and who knows where the ceiling is. Will the American public fall for the constant barrage of dishonest political ads this time around?

22 Replies to “New Conservative Meme That Unions Outspend Koch Brothers On Elections Is Patently False”

  1. The unions represent millions of people. Each member donates to the political cause. What this means is that the Koch brothers donate more than the millions of people that belong and support their union. Imagine how much influence just one person or even two would have against the power of the Koch brothers. Wow! United, we can and must make a difference.

  2. Regardless of which side spends more the fact remains that the unions represent the interests of millions of people. The Koch brothers represent the interests of two.

  3. I first saw this talking point yesterday along with another talking point that isn’t true: both parties (Demo & GOP) receive the same amount of financial help from the big corporations via campaign contributions. Both talking points are pure b*llsh!t.
    These are easy to debunk. Unions don’t have as much money as the Koch brothers to spend on political campaigns, even if you add all of the unions together. Studies done on campaign contributions clearly show a disparity: while the GOP get most (actually, nearly all) of their campaign contributions from the wealthy and big corporations, two of the three groups of “people” they truly represent (the other are fetuses), more than 2/3rds of money donated to Democratic candidates are small single donations from poor & middle class people. That’s just the DIRECT campaign donations. When you throw in “Super-Pac” money, the disparity is really wide, with GOP candidates and Conservative issues getting a 20-1 ratio advantage in donations.

  4. “There are more Unions making campaign contributions than there are Koch Bros. making campaign contributions.”

    See how easy that was to make into a truth? If only we could wipe out the disparity in the difference between the number of $$$ per person’s interest being spent by each contributor, it would be a fair playing field.

  5. Conservatives have been very successful(unfortunately)in killing off the union influence in America. They will not be happy until the last union folds up tent in this nation. In the south unions are basically nonexistent as it is. How can unions possibly spend more cash on politics when their percentages have dwindled down to the low teens?

  6. Ronnie rankin

    Removing money from politics is like removing sex from porn—
    I think the money should at least be traceable directly back to the donor.
    I think you should have to be a resident of the state to donate in state elections.

    One thing about union contributors — please remember — most unions are broke.
    Reagan did a good job. The Koch brothers are not broke.

  7. We, as a society, need legislators who will stand up for complete transparency in campaign finances. All contributions, no matter how large or small, to any and all political candidates, no matter the office sought, need to be shown with contributor’s name and state. All this needs to be shown on a candidates website, ballot statement, and any other information dissemination. No out of state campaign funding, not even from national political parties. No dark money. Citizen United needs to be overturned. The IRS needs to hold 501 (C) groups accountable in accordance to the strictest guidelines of the law. Lobbyist ought to be outlawed as a career profession.

    And yes I applaud the continued effort to expose the Koch brothers for what and who they are.

  8. LMAO typical republican logic! equating unions (WHICH REPRESENTS A GROUP) to the interests of two people (KOCH) republicans are the biggest cry babies on EARTH!!!! they rig the game and when even the slightest push back comes their direction they start playing this WOE IS ME $HIT!! republicans are sick twisted people! their the big bully on the block but as soon as some brave soul takes a swipe and connects, their turn into whing little cowards!!

  9. There is only one given truth today, everyone and everything republican is a lie. Lying republican liars always lie republican lies, its what they do. The GOP LIE.

  10. Political conservative in the Republican Party and on media tend to be dishonest. That’s why they’re called *cons*.

    It is the duty of every citizen to honestly go in and investigate the facts on every claim with an open mind, and let the evidence bring them to a natural conclusion. Right wingers bank on people not doing that, so they constantly use disinformation, myths, and propaganda (then call fact checkers “biased” when they call them out on their bullshit).

  11. wasn’t aware the union members could pick and choose how their contributions wore distributed, only a few choose. So yea, a handful vs a handful but only your handful matter right?

  12. No…no it’s not.
    Sex is the basis and point of porn.
    Money is not the basis and point of politics and has shown to do much better without the influence of money then with it.

    You would need some kind of funds to run elections etc. but it would be much better served to be funded equally by taxes then by those with the want and the money to have their choice disproportionately represented.

  13. That’s why you attend you local union meetings.
    The problem of union leaders spending money wrongly disappears when the members attend AGMs, meetings and such.
    Its all very well paying into a union, but without engaging with it you’re not getting the full value back out.

  14. The tired meme that the union leadership is spending the membership money against the interests of the rank and file is silly and you shouldn’t embarass yourself by repeating it. Of course, some union members may not agree with the politics the leadership endorses, but they are the minority – a very, very small minority.

    The Kochs, Art Pope, and a dozen or so hedgefund managers use the racism and xenophobia of a low information working class to further their economic self-interests. The union leadership is democratically elected, based on their positions on the issues of fairness to labor in a capitalist system. The unions support politicians that support a strong labor movement. In the past, that was the Republicans sometimes. Sometimes it was Democrats. Now, Republicans have vowed to destroy unions, Yet they complain that unions work to defeat them. Imagine that.

  15. “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
    ― Adolf Hitler

  16. Wrong Crude Dude. The process is currently in its nascent stages. Go to Get educated then motivated. Saying that it can’t be done adds nothting to the effort. Getting involved to make it happen is the essence of democracy.

  17. You do refer of course to the spending of the names you mentioned about compared to the koch? You lose. Koch outspend unions by a vast amount. The koch also outspent Soros by a wide margin. Since 1999 Gates has donated 54% to Dems and 46% to republicans. Buffet doesnt come close to the rest of them.

    Nice try but its already been tried.

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