Koch Industries Requests Correction to Factually Inaccurate, Hypocritical NYT Op-Ed

Does the New York Times fact-check its editorial pages? A slew of recent errors in Times opinion pieces suggest it does not - or, if it does, that it needs to do a better job.

The most recent bout of falsehoods was, perhaps unsurprisingly, directed at the much-maligned owners of Koch Industries, Charles and David Koch. In a Sunday, April 3 op-ed in the Times, David Callahan, a senior fellow at the left-wing advocacy group Demos, made numerous factual errors regarding the company and its fraternal owners, and about non-profit tax law - together, the two central topics of his piece.

Koch Industries sent a letter to Andrew Rosenthal, the Times's editorial page editor, on Tuesday requesting corrections to the "several errors" in Callahan's op-ed, but as of Monday afternoon, no correction had been issued. Read the full letter below the break.

To: Andrew Rosenthal, Editorial Page Editor, The New York Times
From: Mark Holden, Koch Industries
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2011 5:44 PM
Subject: David Callahan's April 3, 2011 Op-ed article

Dear Mr. Rosenthal:

I bring to your attention several errors in David Callahan's article in the Op-Ed section of The New York Times on April 3, 2011.

Overall, Mr. Callahan's analysis conflates political activities and philanthropy, and fails to recognize the differences. But the law is clear and to be unsure about the fundamentals, upon which he proposes his remedy, especially in an article on your opinion pages, does a disservice to your readers.

First, Mr. Callahan's description of what the United States Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allows is completely incorrect and his entire analysis seems to rely on his erroneous understanding of this case and its effects. 501c4 groups have always been permitted to accept unlimited corporate, union, and individual contributions without publicly revealing their donors except to the Internal Revenue Service. Further, these groups could spend unlimited amounts on lobbying, grass roots activities, voter registration and other advocacy. In fact, as the Times reported at the time of the Citizens United decision in January 2010, the Supreme Court decided by an 8 to 1 majority to uphold the Federal Election Commission's disclosure requirements for 501c4 groups like Citizens United.

Second, contrary to what Mr. Callahan suggests in his opening paragraph, donors cannot deduct their contributions to political activities. Such a fundamental error in the opening paragraph calls into question everything that follows. In fact, Mr. Callahan compounds his errors by equating philanthropy and political giving, as evidenced by his second sentence in the sixth paragraph.

Third, Mr. Callahan failed to check his facts when he declared that Charles and David Koch have contributed funds to FreedomWorks. As noted in past stories in the Washington Examiner and the Washington Post, Koch companies, the Koch foundations, Charles Koch and David Koch have no ties to and have never given money to FreedomWorks.

I request that you publish a correction to this article in a forthcoming edition of The New York Times.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely, Mark V. Holden
Koch Industries, Inc.
Senior Vice President and General Counsel

The numerous errors in Callahan's op-ed are, as mentioned above, simply the latest bout of inaccuracies in the Times's opinion section.

In January, I sent a letter to New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane requesting a correction to a Paul Krugman column that claimed, falsely, that Rep. Michele Bachmann wanted her constituents to literally bear arms for political purposes. Just last week, Powerline's John Hinderaker caught a Times editorial claiming that Rep. Joe Pompeo, R-Kan., had received $80,000 in contributions from the Koch brothers. The Times was forced to issue a retraction of that claim.

Hinderaker, who alerted readers to the Koch Industries letter on Monday, also called for Brisbane, in his capacity as the reader's advocate, to investigate the Times's fact-checking procedures on its opinion pages - especially with regard to the paper's ongoing rhetorical campaign against the Koch brothers.

We call on the paper's Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, to investigate his newspaper's animus against the Koch brothers and their company--one of America's most respected companies, which employs 50,000 people in the U.S.--and explain why his newspaper has produced a series of false and misleading attacks on them. Further, we call on Mr. Brisbane to see that appropriate corrections are made, where there have been factual errors and misrepresentations.

While the factual inaccuracies in Callahan's op-ed are of course striking, attentive readers were also likely taken aback by the author's strident hypocrisy, detailed by Scott Walter at Philanthropy Daily. Here's the key portion, for our purposes:

4. Callahan’s current “advocacy organization” — which goes unmentioned in his op-ed’s argument — lists no private donors in its latest annual report, but only foundations that are already required to disclose their giving.

5. Nor does Callahan mention that the online donation portal for his advocacy organization has a button that explicitly allows each donor to “Provide none of my personal information (anonymous).”

6. This anonymous giving is possible because every single donation at Demos’s online portal goes through a donor-advised fund, Network for Good. (Cato, by the way, lacks this ingenious innovation in online anonymity.)

7. It goes without saying that Demos is supported by the Open Society Institute, the premier institutional giving vehicle of billionaire George Soros, whose political and advocacy funding is easily in the same league as the two Koch brothers’ combined (see, e.g., this comparison by Open Secrets).

It will be telling to see how - and if - the Times reacts.

Disclosure: I have attended two seminars held by the Institute for Humane Studies, funded in part by the Koch Family Foundations, and received a total of $3,350 from the organization in an honorarium and an internship stipend. I would highly recommend IHS to any liberty-minded individual looking to pursue scholarly activities.