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The real problem behind the Rachel Maddow-Koch Brothers feud

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Representatives of Koch Industries, the company run by conservative philanthropist Koch Brothers, are accusing MSNBC host Rachel Maddow of lying about the company and its owners in a segment last week.

In the segment, Maddow tied the Kochs to a law in Florida that would require welfare recipients to be drug tested. When the Kochs protested, demanding a retraction and apology and even sending a script on how to say it, Maddow doubled down, refusing to "renounce or retract reporting that is true," and as for the script, she said, "I don't do requests."

But according to John Hinderaker at his Powerline blog, Maddow is all wet because neither the company nor the Kochs had taken a position on the law.

Koch has funded a group called the State Policy Network (SPN), an affiliation of state-based, free-market think tanks. One of SPN’s members, the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability (FFGA), supported the law.

But Hinderaker argues that neither SPN, let alone the Koch brothers, had anything to do with the Florida legislation, that SPN doesn't support even support local groups like FFGA. Hinderaker would know, he points out, "since I was formerly the Chairman of the Board of a think tank that is a member of the State Policy Network" (or at least a think tank that didn't have any contact with SPN). Maddow, says Hinderaker, was simply playing guilt by association: Koch sent money ($40 grand over eight years) to SPN. FFGA is a member of SPN. FFGA supports the law, ergo, SPN and the Koch brothers support it.

Koch posted a number of emails to MSNBC staff on its website Monday. The exchange shows that Maddow's producer first reached out to Koch for comment less than an hour before the Maddow segment aired, which Koch staffers suspect was done intentionally so that "Maddow could claim on the air that we did not respond to your request for a comment.” (The first request for comment was sent at 8:15 pm; the show airs at 9 pm.)

In a final thrust, Hinderaker also notes that Maddow's employer, Comcast, the parent company of MSNBC, also has donated to the State Policy Network, ergo, Rachel Maddow supports the same law she claims the Koch brothers backed.

Whether Maddow responds to all this remains to be seen.

Part of this problem is that the Koch Brothers have had a long history of dark money advocacy. While they barely donated barely donated $6 million directly to Republican candidates and the party in 2012, the Washington Post published a chart Monday showing 17 tax-exempt groups backed by the brothers raised over $400 million in 2012, just for the election cycle, much of going to voter mobilization and television ads attacking President Obama and congressional Democrats, all of it to groups designed to help conceal the sources of the money.

What Hinderaker doesn't point out is how the State Policy Network is used as a dark money launderer, a middle man, for many conservative think tanks and foundations, including the Donors Capital Fund, which has donated over $9 million to SPN. Guess who funds DCF? That's right, the Koch Brothers. DCF is SPN's largest donor. (The smallest donor listed is $25 grand, and Comcast appears nowhere in between). SPN is also funded by the DCI Group, another shadowy organization closely tied to the Koch Brothers, and SPN has close ties to the Koch brother-backed tea Americans for Prosperity.

Just last September, SPN's annual meeting was attended by a slew of Koch representatives, both from the parent company and its many Koch-affiliated front groups.

The agendas behind these groups include familiar suspects: privatize education, restrict workers' rights, roll back environmental protections, create a tax system that critics argue benefits mostly the one percent and, until recently block healthcare reform.

SPN is also one of the most active members and largest sponsors of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where special interest groups and state politicians vote behind closed doors on model legislation to change public policy. Over half of SPN's members have direct ties to ALEC (beyond SPN's own ties as an ALEC funder). SPN members regularly write bills and bring them to ALEC for consideration as "model" bills. ALEC then passes them along to lawmakers (state or federal), thousands of whom are also members and those lawmakers then present those bills in respective statehouses as if they had authored them. One lawmaker actually forgot to remove the ALEC mission statement from a bill before presenting it. She withdrew the bill hoping no one would notice. Too late. The lawmaker was from Florida.

The point here is that the web of special interest money is so thick that it's almost impossible to unravel. Maddow may only be scratching the surface. Hinderaker, using only his own anecdotal experience, may have no idea how deep the ties are. Maybe no one does. But sombody is benefitting from it. Chances are it's not the voter.

The brothers, meanwhile, insist they have no such power to coerce anyone.

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