America's Newest Conservative Dark Money Engine, Illustrated

Freedom Partners is an organization affiliated with the Koch brothers that spent more than $200 million last year to bolster other organizations advocating for conservative political positions. Here's what that looks like.

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Freedom Partners is an organization affiliated with the Koch brothers that spent more than $200 million last year to bolster other organizations advocating for conservative political positions. We used the data on those donations, first obtained by Politico, to illustrate how the groups it supported invested in campaigns last year.

While Freedom Partners' existence wasn't a secret before now, its spending was. The group provided Politico with a copy of its donations in an attempt, in the words of its president, Marc Short, to undermine the "vilification that happens that gets exaggerated when your opposition thinks you’re secretive." As a 501(c)6 under the IRS tax code, Freedom Partners doesn't have to reveal where it gets its money, but does outline where the money goes.

Here's what the breakdown looks like. For organizations that themselves spent money, we used Open Secrets to determine how much they spent in 2012 — mostly on independent expenditures (meaning money not given to candidates) and on Republican issues. One organization, the anti-Obamacare Center to Protect Patient Rights, doesn't have a record of its 2012 spending. Since its the largest beneficiary from Freedom Partners, we used the 2010 data for a sense of scale. The height of each box (or width of the vertical lines at bottom) is proportional to the amount of money it conveys. (Yellow boxes are the height of the larger value: money coming in or going out.)

The six organizations emerging from the bottom of the large Freedom Partners rectangle are groups that either act as umbrella organizations for smaller groups or act in a supportive role. Themis Trust, for example, is involved in an effort to create a voter database that conservative candidates and organizations can use for electoral politics. Generation Opportunity seeks to get young people politically engaged on conservative issues.

The graphic above is misrepresentative in one sense: it suggests a streamlined flow of money. Instead, investment in conservative organizations is more often a web. Last December, Open Secrets reported on the interplay of another conservative funding pool and Themis Trust — noting that Themis got funding in 2010 from both a fund called TC4 and the Center to Protect Patient Rights. CPPR, like TC4, also gave to 60 Plus Association, Concerned Women for America, and others.

The link to the Kochs, for what it's worth, is explicit. Politico writes:

Short refused to open up about the men and women behind the quarter-billion-dollar fund, beyond saying that Koch-linked entities provided a “minority” of the funds and that the largest single donor gave about $25 million.

What's perhaps most remarkable about the diagram above is how small $25 million is in the scheme of things. The little orange arrow coming out of America Future Fund is about $25 million — a tiny amount compared to how much Freedom Partners distributed. Or look at the NRA. It spent about $20 million on political activity in 2012 according to Open Secrets — one tenth of how much Freedom Partners distributed to support its and politically sympathetic partners.

Photo: David Koch laughs. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.