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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes


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 No, just biased. And unwilling to provide more documentation.

So , let's apply the same standards that he applied to in Sunday's Politifact. I actually extended to him a courtesy I was not provided: they did not wait for me to respond before publishing their rating; I gave Umhoefer and his editor numerous opportunities to explain their numbers and reporting.

Sunday's piece took my comment on Wednesday that the left had outspent the right 3 to 1 in the Supreme Court race and, without comment from me, labelled it "Pants on Fire."

First some quick background on outside third party spending in races like this: via Christian Schneider:

There is no way to know how much an independent group is spending on ads – the only way to estimate is to take what the group tells the media as the truth. When a candidate or a political action committee buys ads, it all has to go to a TV or radio station’s public file, so citizens can come by and inspect how much is being spent. But for independent ads, it’s all secret – just like McDonald’s or Chevrolet is under no obligation to tell anyone how much they’re spending on ads (I guess until maybe in their report to investors). Obviously, it would be in the Greater Wisconsin Committee’s best interest to lowball their number, as it would make it seem Kloppenburg got all this momentum without their sleazy ad.

So basically, it’s all just a guessing game – and it’s no surprise that the Brennan Center would decry conservative spending over liberals.

Back to my comment: it was based on information from multiple sources, whose information I believed to be accurate at the time.

Two weeks out, credible sources told me that the Club for Growth was spending about $250K, and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce roughly 900K for Prosser; against a reported $3 million by the left wing Greater Wisconsin Committee. There was very real concern that conservatives had been caught napping and that some national groups that had made promises had fallen short.

As of Wednesday (when I made the comments that got be the "pants on fire,") we did not have any official numbers. The ones we did have as reported by Wispolitics on April 1, showed about a 2 to 1 edge for outside groups backing Kloppenburg. Spending, however, ramped up in the last week.

In the end, what was the total outside spending? I don't know... but neither does the Journal Sentinel. 

In fact, nobody really knows. 

Instead, Umhoefer and Politifact relied on two sources: the left-wing George Soros-funded Brennan Center and a report in Wispolitics based on the Kloppenburg campaign. They did not include potentially huge outside spending by other outside labor groups such as WEAC, AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, or SEIU.

The Brennan center also had no hard numbers. They simply estimated.

Yet based on this, Umhoefer and Politifact rated my numbers not simply wrong or outdated... but liar, liar.

So I turned the tables on them. To make a long story short, they never answered any of those questions. Instead, Umhoefer and his editor circled the wagons.

**Yesterday morning, I asked Dave Umhoefer these relevant questions:

Here as my email to him:

 "Did you verify the left-leaning Brennan Center ‘s numbers, or did you just rely on the “estimates” of an advocacy group?

" Your other source is the number given to Wispolitics by the Koppenburg campaign. Did you verify those numbers? Or did you rely on the uncorroborated report of one candidate?

 "Do you have any hard data on the actual spending?

 "Did your analysis include independent spending by AFSCME, WEAC, SEIU, or the AFL-CIO?

" Please provide sources and documentation of actual independent spending to support the numbers you cited at the end of your article."





Umhoefer declined to answer, saying instead:


Greg [Borowski] is the spokesman on this.

Dave Umhoefer


I responded:

So you are declining to comment on your own work?


He replied:

I stand by the item, the sources and the conclusion, Charlie.


Borowski also declined to provide any additional answers or documentation:

"Our item makes clear the reporting steps we took and the sources we talked to. You are free to look at it and encourage you to do so."


So, in other words: he did NOT verify the Brennan Center numbers. Instead they relied on an overtly left wing source's "estimate." (Try to imagine the JS ever relying on a Koch Bros. financed group's uncorrobrorated estimates to label a liberal a "liar, liar."

They did NOT verify the Kloppenburg numbers.

They did not include possibly big outside spending by Big Labor.

And they decline to offer any other hard data to support their story... the sort of documentation they demand from others and which they use to declare that others are "liars, liars."



Christian Schneider deconstructs Umhoefer's analysis here.


Merely addressing television ads, however, is a different issue than what it appears Sykes was talking about.  According to Politifact, Sykes said pro-Kloppenburg forces “put in as much money as they will ever be able to… They will never again, in Wisconsin, be able to mobilize a 3-to-1 money advantage.”

Granted, television ads tend to be a third party’s greatest expense.  But Sykes was talking about total spending – does the Journal Sentinel know, for instance, how much AFSCME spent on direct mail?  Does it know how much money SEIU spent on paid volunteers to get out the vote on election day?  Does the paper know how much was spent on radio ads?  I don’t.  And neither does the newspaper.  “Spending” means more than simply buying TV ads (and non-TV spending is often more effective.)

Furthermore, the Brennan Center is a liberal organization (boasting Alec Baldwin and Arianna Huffington on its Board of Advisors), funded by billionaire liberal activist George Soros, which has a vested interest in making it look as if Prosser supporters outspent Kloppenburg’s backers.  (If an arm of the Koch brothers put out a study on campaign financing, would the paper just take it at face value?)

In offering their “estimate,” they provide no citations and no methodology.  The only way Politifact tests to see if their number is accurate is to mention that the Brennan Center figure showed up in other newspapers – including (surprise!) the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  So they’re basically saying, “we have no way of knowing whether this number is right, but one of our reporters used it, so it must be.”

In fact, any time an organization estimates independent expenditures, they are doing just that – estimating.  In Wisconsin, the liberal Wisconsin Democracy Campaign often puts out their hysterical, screeching press releases about how much campaign spending has gone up, yet they rely almost entirely on other press estimates.  (Even with all their hyperventilating, we pick a governor for about the same amount that Prince Fielder is going to be making per year next season – not a bad deal for the state’s highest office.)

For television ads purchased by candidates or political action committees, those expenditures are reported publicly.  Anyone can walk into a TV station and look at its public file.  But for “issue ads,” the numbers are strictly between the group running the ad and the TV station.  Just like Home Depot has no obligation to tell the public when and where it is buying ads, neither do independents.  So it’s often in their best interest, when they talk to the media, to lowball the amount they are spending on TV – to downplay their influence.  (Some like to make it seem like they’re spending more than they are, to give themselves credibility.)

So, in the end, is Sykes’ ratio right?  Who knows?  Yet one thing’s for sure – the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel doesn’t.

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