Will reporters workshop on ‘dark money’ follow the left’s secret money trail?


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — A watchdog news organization that has received some of its funding from the left’s “dark money” king is partnering to host a reporters’ workshop aimed at “shining the light on dark money.”

The session, titled “Reporting on money’s role in Wisconsin’s 2014 elections,” is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Vilas Hall.

WHAT’S LEFT? The mainstream media have fixated on conservative ‘dark money.’ But what about the massive pile of undisclosed money being pumped into left-leaning causes?

The free workshop is sponsored by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and hosted by the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in partnership with the left-leaning Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism — a watchdog journalism group that conservatives, including Republican legislative leaders, have accused of promoting left-of-center causes.

Workshop topics include:

  • Tricks for following the money
  • Shining light on dark money
  • Using available tools to report on money in politics
  • How to track the payback

No doubt about it. There’s a lot of money in Wisconsin politics — on the left and on the right.

The question is, Will the reporters workshop spotlight the left’s “dark money” games as much as the mainstream media and groups like the Center for Investigative Journalism have obsessed about “Koch money” and campaign fundraising on the right?

Yes, assures an official from the Democracy Campaign, who told Wisconsin Reporter the workshop will focus on all money ads, “anybody who spends money.” He called it a tutorial for reporters.

The workshop will show “some ways to see where dark money is coming from, regardless of which party benefits,” according to an email from Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe, who said presenters will “show examples of campaign reports from Democrats and Republicans that conceal the true origins of the money.”

But the people putting on the session have been quick to dog conservative organizations who, acting on their First Amendment-given rights of anonymous speech, do not disclose their funding while all but ignoring so-called “dark money” on the left.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has vehemently defended the prosecutors in a politically charged John Doe investigation alleging illegal coordination between dozens of conservative organizations and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during the state’s partisan recall drives of 2011 and 2012. A U.S. District Court judge recently ordered the secret John Doe shut down and expressed concerns about the potential overreach of the probe and what the judge sees as the prosecutors’ faulty campaign theory.

“If correct, this means that any individual or group engaging in any kind of coordination with a candidate or campaign would risk forfeiting their right to engage in political speech,” Randa wrote.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization based on the UW campus, between 2009 and last year received $535,000 from the Open Society Institute, founded and funded handsomely from backer of all things liberal George Soros.

While the center does disclose its donors online and insists those who write the checks don’t make the editorial decisions, a search of the organization’s website didn’t come up with any stories about Soros’ massive contributions to left-leaning groups, often not disclosed.

You certainly won’t find stories like the exclusive this week from the Washington Free Beacon that exposes a “secretive dark money group backed by George Soros and other liberal mega-donors” billed as the Democracy Alliance. The group, according to documents obtained by the Free Beacon, is looking to steer nearly $40 million to left-wing groups in 2014 to support high-profile political efforts.

As Watchdog.org’s Tori Richards reported earlier this month, the Democracy Alliance requires some hefty financial backing. It costs $25,000 just to join, yearly dues of $30,000 and an additional $200,000 donation to alliance causes. Donation recipients must sign confidentiality agreements.

The shadowy group’s goal is to fund think tanks and media organizations to move societal change toward a more socialist agenda. But the focus changed to funding political endeavors after Vice President Joe Biden asked for help in 2011 for the upcoming election.

Do you think the follow-the-money workshop will follow that story?

Media critic Dan Gainor wonders.

Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Virginia-based Media Research Center, is conducting an analysis on the mainstream media’s coverage of “dark money” issues.

“Anecdotally, without a doubt, the media cover the Kochs more than the prominent liberal donors,” he said. “They don’t dwell on the fact that Tom Steyer has spent $100 million getting climate change candidates, Democrats elected. They don’t tell you that Michael Bloomberg is spending $50 million to take away your Second Amendment Rights. And they certainly don’t tell you that George Soros is funding everything on the left.”

Gainor said Soros isn’t just the king of “dark money.” He’s the king of money.

“He’s an entire football club making it rain. He funds so much of the left and yet the media don’t report it,” the media critic said.

There should be plenty to talk about at Friday’s reporters workshop.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org