Easy Math: 1 Koch Brother Equals 515,000 Union Workers

The right's response to ongoing criticism about the Koch brothers' unparalleled political spending is to complain about union spending. There's no comparison.
Easy Math: 1 Koch Brother Equals 515,000 Union Workers

After Harry Reid's "Addicted to Koch" speech, right-wingers went out and whined about how unions spend more on politics than the Kochs do. Except they don't. And to prove that, New Republic did some simple math.

But is it really so extraordinary? 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.

But that wasn't Strassel's most egregious argument. By focusing on direct contributions to the parties and the candidates, she did what conservatives defending the Koch brothers almost always do. She severely downplayed the primary way the Kochs influence politics—through unregulated, indirect financing of conservative political organizations. According to research by Robert Maguire, a researcher who pieced together the Koch money trail from disparate Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission reports, conservative nonprofit organizations that received large grants from Koch-backed intermediaries spent $170 million during the 2012 election cycle. Unions spent just $24 million.

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.

The policy spending numbers by the Kochs are severely understated, in my opinion, because they limited that to known spending by the brothers. What cannot be directly attributed to them is at least twice that. Between their sphere of influence, and the laundering of donations through several different donor-advised funds, it's easy to see where it has exploded over the past several years. What they admit to and what they spend are two different numbers.


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But even with the knowns, the comparison between unions and the Kochs is false. As the article notes, one small cadre of billionaires is not equal to a large group of working people, no matter how you look at it.

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