Note: Jeff D. originally posted this story about PolitiFact's treatment of Obama's campaign contribution policies back in October of 2010 on his personal blog. With renewed focus on the Obama campaign's handling of credit card donations, we feel a review of PolitiFact's past treatment of the issue has renewed value. The post was edited for style in this incarnation.
Few media outlets are as disingenuous and misleading as the supposed "fact checking" outfit PolitiFact
. Despite making the claim that they "help you find the truth in American politics", the project is simply an extension of the unabashedly left-wing St. Petersburg Times editorial page
, and their consistently flawed "Truth-O-Meter" shtick betrays this bias.
This week produced a fine example of the bizarre contortions this "unbiased" outfit will go through to defend Obama. On Tuesday they offered up RNC chairman Michael Steele and his comments
regarding disclosure of campaign donors. Specifically, PolitiFact chose to rate Steele's charge of Obama's hypocrisy-
When President, then candidate, Obama was asked to disclose some of his donors because there was suspicion of their being the foreign source of money into his campaign, they refused to do it. So don't give me this high-and-mighty, holier-than-thou attitude about special interests flooding the political marketplace.
With Obama's false narrative
about the Chamber of Commerce, and Pelosi's hysterical warnings about plutocracies, Steele's comments were timely and spot on (for a change
Was Obama asked to disclose donors, and did he refuse? It seems
simple enough to verify.
It is a well documented fact that during the 2008 presidential campaign Obama refused to disclose the names of over 2 million donors. These particular donors contributed less than $200 each, and therefore fell below the reporting requirements. While Obama had no legal obligation to disclose them, he was under pressure to do just that. The reason was Obama had reduced the security safeguards on his campaign website that prevent fraudulent or illegal contributions. Obama claimed this was necessary due to the high volume of donations and the fact that the security measures slowed the process down. Fair enough.
Then erratic and abnormal donation patterns began to appear, including odd and un-rounded amounts (e.g. $133.29-suggesting foreign currency conversion), and curiously named donors like John Galt and Nodda Realperson
, and of course Adolf Hitler and "Hbkjb,jkbkj"
In allowing donors to evade standard verification procedures, it became easier for people in Gaza
, or even passionate supporters in Vermont, to circumvent donor disclosure laws. Basically, a single person using phony names could make multiple donations, with each individual donation under the $200 limit, but totaling tens of thousands of dollars in the aggregate, in order to avoid the reporting threshold.
These types of contribution shenanigans aren't unique to Obama's campaign. They happen to all politicians. What was
unusual however was Obama's steadfast refusal to disclose the names of donors so independent journalists could vet the legitimacy of erroneous contributions.
Several groups started asking Obama to disclose the full list of donors in order to investigate these discrepancies. Obama refused.
The Republican National Committee went as far as filing a complaint
with the FEC
over the irregularities claiming Obama was accepting foreign cash. The Center For Responsive Politics
asked Obama twice
to disclose the names of "bundler" donors.
When the supposedly tech savvy Obama campaign finally responded with the ridiculous claim that compiling the list of names would be too technologically difficult, left-leaning Slate.com asked "So how come we were able to do it in a couple hours?"
Politically, there would be several advantages in releasing the names. Obama has campaigned on a platform of making government more transparent...
Ultimately the Obama campaign refused to disclose the names of over 2 million donors representing roughly $400 million
In response to Obama's recent misleading attacks against the disclosure policies of Republican PAC's, the Wall Street Journal pointed out the hypocrisy
in an editorial:
Mr. Axelrod told CNN the White House "believes deeply in disclosure"...But it wasn't always the case. During 2008, the Obama campaign didn't show any interest in going beyond the letter of the law in disclosing its donors to the general public. Despite public pleas from campaign-finance reform groups such as Common Cause and Democracy 21, Team Obama refused to...release names of donors who gave less than $200, even though such donors supplied about half of the $800 million the Obama campaign raised.
The bottom line is Obama accepted donations from contributors who were likely foreign nationals and he refused to publicly disclose the names. With all of this evidence it wasn't hard for PolitiFact to rate Michael Steele's claim......False
PolitiFact tries to frame the "facts":
Despite the context of the conversation, Steele was not contending that the Obama campaign was asked to disclose donors to independent groups funding attack ads. That's a somewhat new phenomenon this election cycle. Trade groups and other 501 (c) groups were always allowed to keep donors anonymous. But the Supreme Court's Citizen United case upped the stakes with a ruling that allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts to independent efforts to support or oppose a candidate.
What the what?!
PolitiFact correctly notes that Steele didn't imply that Obama refused to disclose donors of independent PAC groups. So why bring it up except to confuse the issue? And speaking of confusing the issue, what exactly does the Citizens United case have to do with Obama's 2008 campaign? Well, nothing except to throw the controversial ruling into the mix to get the base all fired up and attempt to connect two things that are otherwise unconnected. In this case it's diversionary and misleading.
Steele's statement begins and ends with calling Obama a hypocrite because in 2008 he refused to disclose his donors, and now Obama's complaining about right wing groups failing to disclose donors. All they need to determine is whether or not Obama refused to name names of donors. But if PolitiFact did that they'd have to call Obama a hypocrite.
Surprisingly, Politifact had the balls to cite Opensecrets.org
to "prove" Obama's innocence while also taking a thinly veiled swipe at John McCain-
In fact, an analysis of campaign contributions by the Center for Responsive Politics found that the Obama campaign scored slightly higher than McCain's when it came to full disclosure of donors. The center found the Obama campaign fully disclosed 90 percent of the donations to the campaign, as opposed to 87 percent for the McCain campaign..
Those numbers are accurate. But what the unbiased, non-partisan, help you sort out the truth, fact checkers at PolitiFact fail to tell you is that those numbers don't include donor's who contributed under $200
, which is the exact group of donors Steele was talking about. Oh, what Politifact also
fails to mention in their snub was that unlike Obama, John McCain did
release the names of donors who contributed less than $200. Why was this fact left out of the article?
What other gems did PolitiFact come up with?
We think Steele's comment is misleading in the context of responding to Democrats' complaints about tens of millions of dollars anonymously making their way into this election via independent groups like Crosssroads GPS. Steele's comments aren't directly related to that issue.
Huh? The argument is about transparency. How is it not a relevant criticism? And even if it was
irrelevant, that doesn't make it false.
Again, it's not that the Obama campaign was asked for names of foreign donors and refused.
Well, except for the fact that that is exactly
And finally they offer up their conclusion:
There was no issue of the Obama campaign willfully refusing to disclose the names of foreign donors.
Yes. There was. For PolitiFact to ignore the mountain of evidence that supports Steele's claim can only be a deliberate evasion of reality. PolitiFact's disingenuous "fact checking" can only be considered ideological cheerleading, and yet another example of media bias.
This latest disservice to facts is not new for PolitiFact. Bryan White over at Sublime Bloviations
has been documenting
their flawed and misleading ratings for a long time. His site is an invaluable source for exposing the misleading conclusions and flexible standards PolitiFact employs in their farcical "truth seeking" project.
Politics is full of misleading statements and outright lies. A truly unbiased source providing actual facts would be a welcome addition to political discourse.
But PolitiFact is not unbiased. They are simply a liberal opinion site riddled with inaccuracies, rhetoric, and ideology.
Falsely claiming to be objective purveyors of truth is wholly offensive, and PolitiFact should be exposed for the left wing ideologues they are.
Edit 10/09/12-Removed broken embed to video of Steele/MSNBC interview. It can still be found here. -Jeff
Edit 3/9/13-Removed link from words "warnings about plutocracies" for dubious source. - Jeff