Even the most casual political observer might remember the collective outrage from the left last year as conservative billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers dared to exercise their constitutional rights and engage in the political process.
The county's left-leaning editorial boards pilloried the Supreme Court over Citizens United, and top Democrats in Congress proposed legislation to roll-back First Amendment freedoms. For example, when it was reported that Adelson was donating millions more to a SuperPAC supporting Mitt Romney, the New York Times editorial board wrote, in part:
He is the perfect illustration of the squalid state of political money, spending sums greater than any political donation in history to advance his personal, ideological and financial agenda, which is wildly at odds with the nation's needs.
And in the Washington Post, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne echoed that sentiment, writing:
Did they consider that the democratizing gains made in the last presidential campaign through the rise of small online contributors might be wiped out by the brute force of millionaires and billionaires determined to have their way?
President Obama went even further and proposed a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United as he decried the "no-holds barred flow of seven- and eight-figure checks, most undisclosed, into super PACs." And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was among many members of the Democratic caucus who joined the chorus saying,
What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson….for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government."
Yet, what we've learned this week is that these self-described pillars of good government and campaign finance regulation actually have no problem at all with billionaires engaging in the political process—provided, of course, that they simply agree with the liberal agenda. Earlier today, the first in a series of TV ads started running in states across the country as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spends millions of dollars to advance his support for stricter gun control laws. As the New York Times first reported Sunday:
The mayor's advertising blitz, which will saturate television screens in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arizona, represents by far the biggest escalation of Mr. Bloomberg's attempts to become a one-man counterweight to the National Rifle Association in the political clash over guns. The mayor, who has spent tens of millions of dollars to support his favored candidates, intends to wield his " super PAC" to influence the midterm Congressional elections next year and beyond.
Notably missing from the Times' story was the perfunctory quote from so-called government groups like Common Cause or the Campaign Legal Center slamming the effort or a background primer on Citizens United—both of which almost inevitably accompanied any story reporting on efforts by conservative billionaires last cycle. And beyond that, the reaction from the national media was an effective shoulder shrug, with virtually no one raising their eyebrows to news of a billionaire using his fortune to advance his ideological agenda on the airwaves. As former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher astutely observed on Twitter:
NYT writes soft piece about a billionaire spending $ 4political influence. If your name is not Adelson & NYT likes your cause, they go easy.
Now personally, I may not agree with Mayor Bloomberg's position on the Second Amendment, but I certainly support his right to exercise his First Amendment freedoms. Unfortunately, however, this pattern of hypocrisy and double-standards from the left isn't new. As the Washington Examiner's Mark Tapscott wrote recently in observing the disproportionate news coverage of the Koch Brothers versus left-leaning groups that also engage in the political process:
Here's a couple of data points that bear serious thought this week by transparency advocates celebrating Sunshine Week and by everybody else who cares about protecting and preserving a free and independent press:
1,130—Number of results for search term "Koch Brothers" on The New York Times web site.
64—Number of results for search term "The Tides Foundation" on The New York Times web site.
Apparently the New York Times' editorial board's description of politically-active billionaires as "the perfect illustration of the squalid state of political money" only applies to those of the conservative variety. And how about President Obama, who just months ago was slamming the activities of conservative billionaires on the campaign trail and proposing a Constitutional Amendment to muzzle them? According to his former campaign manager Jim Messina, who appeared Sunday on ABC's This Week, not only does he fully support the mayor's activities, but they are leaving the door open to using their new Super PAC, Organizing for Action, to run their own ads complementing the mayor's campaign.
The hypocrisy is rich.
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Updated 11/5/13: Brian Walsh remains a paid adviser to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.