Rachel Maddow Lies to Leno About Republican Campaign Contributions

As NewsBusters previously reported, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Tuesday told a staggering amount of nonsense to "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno concerning what's going on in Wisconsin with the unions and Tea Partiers.

After some additional investigation, it turns out the juiciest whopper of all came a few minutes earlier when she totally misrepresented Republican and Democrat political contributions in the previous elections (video follows with transcript and commentary):

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: But, if you look at like the last election cycle, of the top ten people donating money in that election, seven of them were giving to Republicans. It was all corporate interests and right-wing PACs and stuff. Seven of the ten were all right-wing. And the only three that weren't were unions.

JAY LENO, HOST: Yeah.

MADDOW: So, if Republicans can get rid of the unions, particularly these public sector unions, they can run the table in every election from here on out. This is the only competition they have for actual, big contributors in politics. So, they want to get rid of the unions for partisan reasons.

Oh really, Rach? Well, let's see what Open Secrets has to say about that:

As you can see, far and away the largest contributor during the 2010 election cycle was a group called ActBlue. As Open Secrets notes:

Launched in 2004, ActBlue bills itself as “the online clearinghouse for Democratic action.” As a federally registered political action committee, it serves as a conduit for online contributions to Democratic candidates and committees. That is, ActBlue bundles and transmits earmarked contributions from individuals raised on their website to specific candidates. The organization assists Democratic candidates and committees of all ideological persuasion, helping moderates and liberals alike. Through mid-2010, it has helped funnel more than $134 million -- and counting -- in contributions. Because much of that money comes in donations below the $200 threshold for itemized disclosure, the total amount given by donors via ActBlue is considerably greater than the totals listed below, which are based on FEC filings of candidates and committees that receive this money. The group also maintains a 527 political organization registered with the Internal Revenue Service for non-federal political activities, and ActBlue has registered as a political committee in more than 20 states for its state-level activities.

Now let's go back to what Maddow told Leno Tuesday evening:

But, if you look at like the last election cycle, of the top ten people donating money in that election, seven of them were giving to Republicans. It was all corporate interests and right-wing PACs and stuff. Seven of the ten were all right wing. And the only three that weren't were unions.

Well, ActBlue isn't a union, and according to Open Secrets, it contributed well over three times more than the second entity on that list, and almost seven times as much as the highest Republican contributor, the Club for Growth.

Notice, too, how three of the top ten contributors were listed as either "Solidly Democratic" or "Leans Democratic" while only the Club for Growth was on the Republican side.

Maddow said, "Seven of the ten were all right-wing." She was only off by 600 percent!

Also contrary to Maddow's claims, two of the "On the fence" contributors that percentage-wise still leaned Democratic - the National Association of Realtors and Honeywell International - are not unions. As such, three of the top ten contributing organizations in 2010 that mostly gave to Democrats were not unions as Maddow told Leno.

For those familiar with Politifact, this is what they'd call a Pants on Fire.

However, just in case she really meant "people" or individuals:

As you can see, seven of the top ten individual contributors in 2010 gave almost exclusively to Democrats.

But let's not stop there, for data from 1989 will really drive home the point just how much more money Democrats typically bring in from large contributors every year, and not just from unions as Maddow claimed:

Look at that! Since 1989, eight of the top ten contributing organizations to federal elections gave mostly or almost exclusively to Democrats with not one strongly leaning Republican.

Not one!

Also notice that the Democrat PAC ActBlue is number one, and that Goldman Sachs at number five gives disproportionally to Democrats.

Additionally important is that of the top ten, only AFSCME is a public sector union. The others unions in the top ten serve the private sector thereby totally refuting any validity to Maddow's point that busting the public sector unions would radically alter the political donations landscape.

Add it all up, and apart from her out and out lie concerning 2010's top ten, there was not a shred of validity in anything Maddow said in the video and transcript above.

As this is now becoming a habit of Maddow's, one has to seriously wonder if the folks at MSNBC are going to do anything about this, or if bald-faced lying is now acceptable on this so-called cable news channel.

*****Update: A Facebook friend of mine was alerted by hostile Open Secrets readers that Maddow may have been referring to "outside non-party committees." Here seven of the top ten contributors in 2010 were indeed conservative, with the only three liberal contributors being unions.

But is that what Maddow told Leno? She said, "the top ten people." I didn't hear "top ten outside non-party committtees" did you?

If this is what she meant even though she didn't say it, she might have mentioned that of the next ten on that list, six were liberal and only three conservative. If you look at the top 25, it's dead even at twelve to twelve.

That said, for some further guidance, let's look at what Maddow told viewers of her MSNBC program last Friday to see whether this was just an innocent omission with Leno:

Of the top ten outside spending groups in last year's elections, seven of them were right wing groups, groups like the Chamber of Commerce, and Karl Rove`s organizations, which are mostly funded by billionaires. Conservative groups like the American Future Fund.

The only non-conservative groups that cracked the top ten in the last election were the Public Employees Union and the SEIU, and the teachers union, that's it. In terms of large scale money spent in elections, unions are the only competition that Republicans have. The are the only institution of any side, on the liberal side of the -- any size on the liberal side of the equation.

She didn't say "Non-party" did she? She said "outside spending groups."

If you look at all "outside spending groups" at Open Secrets for 2010, you'll find that four of the top ten were liberal with two of them being unions and only one public sector.

Making matters worse, when she brought this up again on Monday's show, she didn't even say "outside spending groups":

Here again are the top ten big money contributors in last year's elections, seven of the top ten are right wing. The only three that are not are -- ding, ding, ding -- unions.

So, on Monday it was "top ten big money contributors" and on Tuesday it was "top ten people."

The point is here that words do matter, especially when you're on a program viewed by four million people.

On Tuesday evening, Maddow said "top ten people." She didn't say "top ten outside non-party committees."

There's a lot of money in politics today, and to limit the discussion to "outside non-party committees" without fully disclosing it is like pinpointing your analysis of the top batters in baseball to switch-hitting lefty outfielders without informing your readers and/or viewers.

In any form of statistical analysis, you can almost always find data that will prove the point you're after if you look hard enough.

Commentators and journalists should make sure that when they're quoting such data, they inform readers and/or viewers of the specifics of the data or else they are participating in creating an ill-informed electorate.

*****Update II: John Romano at Yes But However has more.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.