When news broke Friday afternoon that a group tied to the Koch Brothers donated $4 million to the effort to pass Proposition 32 this November, key California political reporters were quick to pass along the story to their readers. Well, part of the story, anyway.
The Los Angeles “Gropinator” Times, keeping its long history for left-biased political reporting solidly intact, was typical. Its Sacramento-based PolitiCal reporter Anthony York made the tie to the Koch brothers the top of his story, leading with this: “A group with ties to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers has dropped $4 million to pass a ballot measure that would severely limit the political activity of labor unions.”
Quickly establishing that the Koch brothers are billionaires (the terrible 1%) and conservatives (aren’t all greedy capitalists?), York also noted the proposition’s potential impact on labor unions, while failing to mention it imposes on corporations similar restrictions against soliciting funds and spending them on political purposes.
But those are not the worst aspects of York’s story. Rather, it’s that he made no effort to put the Koch contribution into perspective. The $4 million contribution to the California Future Fund for Free Markets (not to the Yes on 32 Committee itself) increased total contributions in support of Prop 32 to $7.2 million. Opponents have raised five times that, $35.8 million as of September 12. The California Teachers Association alone has contributed $16 million to defeat the measure.
CTA collects $1,000 a year from each of its 340,000 members to fund its political efforts. That’s enough to earn the union the #1 rank in the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s study, “Big Money Talks,” which ranked California’s special interest organizations by their total campaign contributions and lobbying expenses from January 2000 to December 2009. The $211.8 million CTA spent during that period was nearly twice the amount of the second-place contributor, the California State Council of Service Employees, and nearly five-and-a-half times greater than what the top-spending pro-business group, the California Chamber of Commerce, spent.
So, wouldn’t CTA’s $16 million contribution to the No on 32 side merit a mention by York? Apparently not. Nor did it appear in a story on the Koch contribution by Joe Ortiz, author of the State Worker blog at the Sacramento Bee. Ortiz’ failure to mention the “no” side of the Prop 32 story follows a September 12 story in which he did acknowledge the funding discrepancy, but included a detailed list of only the Yes on 32 contributors, depriving his readers of a similar list of the proposition’s opponents.
The Associated Press story on the contribution, which was picked up by multiple media outlets throughout the state, parroted Ortiz’ story so it also failed to report who’s funding the No on 32 effort.
With California’s primary media outlets conducting journalistic misconduct, the No on 32 side ended up faring very well on the Koch contribution story. This reinforces the theory I espouse in my book “Crazifornia, Tales from the Tarnished State” that the PEER Axis – Progressives, Environmentalists, Educators and Reporters – have worked together very effectively for more than a century to keep California firmly in the Progressives’ grip.
In this case, Progressives in and out of the Legislature created the mess Prop 32 seeks to mend, and are funding the campaign to oppose it, with educators leading the way. Reporters, which I define more broadly as all aspects of the media from newspapers to Hollywood, are doing what they can to defeat the measure by slanting their coverage. The environmentalists are largely on the sidelines in this particular battle, but will assuredly vote as a block against Prop 32.
Ironically, in California’s most Progressive-dominated major city, San Francisco, the Chronicle’s Politics Blog writer Joe Garofoli broke the PEER mold, responsibly reporting the vast contributions gulf between the two sides. (He pegged No on 32 contributions at $28 million instead of $35.8 million, however.)
No matter. Look for San Franciscans to follow their long PEER tradition as their vote on Prop 32 this November will no doubt lead all California counties in the percentage of votes cast against responsible reform.