Swiftboat 2016: Why Buy The Ad When You Can Get The Press For Free? (UPDATED)
April 20, 2015

Today's news is full of speculation about what the Government Accountability Institute has dredged up on Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, and donors from foreign countries who gave to different initiatives promoted by the Clinton Foundation. You can read all about that here, here, or here.

Who funds the Government Accountability Institute?

Answers to those questions aren't all that difficult to find if one looks in the usual places. Since it is a 501(c)(3) public charity, donations are tax-deductible, and they're required to file the usual tax reports with the IRS. As it turns out, so are some of their funders, so the IRS reports give a pretty clear look at who's footing the bill for all of this "government accountability."

The three largest donors to the GAI are Donors' Trust, the Koch-founded and operated political slush fund through which donations are laundered and sent to various organizations connected with them, Franklin Center, and the Mercer Family Foundation in New York.

The Mercer Family Foundation is a private foundation established by right-wing hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer. The trustee of the foundation is Rebekah Mercer, who also happens to sit on on the GAI board, alongside Citizens United board member Ron Robinson, former Wall Streeter Hunter Lewis, and Heritage Foundation Fellow Owen T. Smith.

There have been many reports about the reclusive Robert Mercer, because he has been identified as one of the big Ted Cruz funders for the 2016 primaries. According to Mother Jones, "Mercer has a history of spending big to topple House members who support restrictions on the finance industry."

Mercer was also a large benefactor to Joni Ernst in 2014.

Of the total $2.2 million received in 2012, $2 million came from the Franklin Center, the Koch-funded "watchdog" organization. Perhaps coincidentally, the Franklin Center also received a $2 million contribution in 2012 from Donors' Capital, the sister organization to Donors' Trust.

From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, Donors' Trust passed through $1.5 million to the organization headed up by current Breitbart News managing editor Stephen Bannon and former Breitbart News editor-at-large Peter Schweizer. It would appear from the way the numbers fall that the majority of that $1.5 million landed in GAI's coffers in 2013.

In 2013, the Mercer Family Foundation kicked in $1 million to the effort.

To summarize, then, GAI's total revenues were $2.2 million in 2012. In 2013, $2,602,500. Of the $4.8 million received for those two years, $4.5 million came from three sources, all connected to far-right wing funders.

GAI's Chairman is Breitbart News' Managing Editor, Stephen Bannon. Nothing like a cozy relationship with one of the leaders in online smear pieces to cement your place in the political slime machine.

What purpose does GAI serve?

It's a reasonable question, given that they're being subsidized by our tax dollars. All that unaccountable tax-deductible money flowing in should serve some general public good, correct?

This is GAI's statement of purpose, as submitted on their tax filings for 2012 and 2013:

The Government Accountability Institute produces detailed investigations of cronyism and government corruption to educate citizens on the need to protect free markets. GAI produces reports and partners with national media to advance free market principles. GAI's work has been featured on CNN, NPR News, NY Times, National Review, 60 Minutes, ABC News, NY Post, Fox News, Politico, Washington Times, Forbes and numerous others.

Or, as Media Matters said, it's an opposition research shop. A cruise through their "news" section shows them feeding information to 60 Minutes, Newsmax, Forbes, and other publications mentioned in their statement.

It is all uniformly partisan. All of it. Oh, there are some pieces there about PACs and what a cash cow they are to all electeds, but the real meat of it is smear pieces directed at President Obama, Eric Holder, and of course, Hillary Clinton, who has not served in government for the entire time this organization has existed, but is nevertheless a favorite target of theirs.

Early articles have titles like these, crafted and written for the Business Insider, Politico, and Newsweek, along with Breitbart News.

  • The Chicago Way: Justice for Sale at Holder’s DOJ
  • AFL-CIO Bashes The Big Banks, Makes $28M A Year From Credit Cards
  • POLITICO: How Much Time Has President Obama Spent On The Economy?

These were crafted in 2012, during the Presidential campaign.

Today's headlines are substantially different.

  • New York Magazine: CLINTON CASH Will Ostensibly Make People Care About Shady Clinton Donations
  • Daily Mail: CLINTON CASH Could Derail Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign
  • The Atlantic: CLINTON CASH has Excited the Political World
  • Washington Post: Of Course the Media Should Report on ‘Clinton Cash’
  • Hillary Clinton Dodges Question About ‘Clinton Cash’ Book
  • Bloomberg: CLINTON CASH Said to Document Government Favors for Clinton Donors
  • Dick Morris: Obama Missing In-Person Intel Briefing Akin to ‘Not Doing the Job’

Blurring the lines

In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, one of the biggest debates has been the role of non-profit charities in political campaigns. We've come a long way from Swiftboat 2004, where a billionaire-driven PAC bought ads all over the country and broadcast smears against John Kerry.

Today, there's no need to buy the ad. The formula is much simpler than that. Create a 501(c)(3) organization that claims to be devoted to government transparency, fill it up with billionaire bucks, and find a writer who isn't shy about drawing conclusions or being completely partisan. Install the managing editor of one of the most twisted right-wing publications on the Internet as Chairman, and start feeding your "research" to mainstream publications, who can't seem to be bothered to do any real research.

Look at that list of headlines above and ask yourself whether those are news, or campaign press releases.

Instead of media being critical about what they're receiving, they're cutting "exclusive deals" for the research of an organization with a vested interest in destroying the Democratic candidate, who happens to be Hillary Clinton.

While all the hair-on-fire anti-Clintonistas gabble on about what the Clinton Global Initiative (note the word "global" in that name) did or didn't do, no one is asking why so-called major media outlets like CBS, ABC and the New York Times are making "exclusive" deals with a self-proclaimed "watchdog" with dicey credibility and clear-cut partisan preferences.

No one is asking what common good GAI serves to earn that tax-exempt status and big tax deductions for their donors.

Meanwhile, the lines blur more and more between what is simply political stagecraft and what is actual news. There are no reliable "mainstream" outlets to be be found anymore, because they've all been corrupted in one way or the other, whether by exclusive deals with right-wing organizations or reporters with agendas.

Here are the excuses they're giving for those "exclusive deals."

"We had access to some material in the book, but we wanted to do our own reporting," Times Washington bureau chief and political director Carolyn Ryan said.

"We made an arrangement with Peter Schweizer’s publisher so we could read his book before publication because we are always willing to look at new information that could inform our coverage," said Post National Editor Cameron Barr. "Mr. Schweizer’s background and his point of view are relevant factors, but not disqualifying ones. What interests us more are his facts and whether they can be the basis for further reporting by our own staff that would be compelling to our readers. There is no financial aspect to this arrangement."

Oh, well that makes it just fine. Stellar reporting from The New York Times this morning omitted the true relationship between Breitbart News and GAI, failed to mention that Schweizer has been caught misreporting in the past, and treated the book as though it began as gospel meant to be quoted rather than questioned.

If this continues, there will be no reliable sources at all anywhere, because those of us who try to be accurate and independent don't have the benefit of our own million-dollar Billionaires' club to keep food on our table while we spend our days debunking every lie that comes out of the corrupt media.

Worse, all of us foot the bill. We are effectively subsidizing right-wing propaganda outlets with taxpayer dollars, and those outlets are corrupting the so-called independent media by making "exclusive deals" to promote the themes right-wingers want promoted.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know that something has to change. I don't worry too much about the reliably biased outlets like Fox News as much as I do about NPR, which is already under Koch influence. They're not going to stop until we defeat them.

Update: Rachel Maddow covered this, too. She was a little too light on the Koch/Breitbart connections, but great on the historical inaccuracies of Schweizer.

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