How the Koch machine works
On April 6, Popular Information published a report on Stand Together, the influential non-profit organization run by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch. The piece featured excerpts from an internal email that Dan Caldwell, Stand Together's Vice President of Foreign Policy, sent to Stand Together's staff on March 16. This email, which you can read in full here, established three critical facts:
1. Koch's group opposes the broad-based economic sanctions against Russia that were imposed by the Biden administration. Caldwell wrote that "aggressive and targeted sanctions against Russian leaders are warranted" but "overly broad sanctions rarely work." Biden's sanctions go beyond targeting Russian financial institutions, technology transfers, oil imports, and other areas.
2. Koch's group thinks the United States should focus on a diplomatic solution that would include Ukraine ceding some of its territory to Russia. Caldwell writes that the "United States should support diplomatic efforts to help end the war" in light of the reality that "outright victory by either Russia or Ukraine is increasingly unlikely."
3. Koch's group linked their views on the conflict to Koch Industries' decision to continue business operations in Russia. In the same email, Caldwell encouraged Stand Together's staff to read Koch Industries' statement explaining why it would continue to do business in Russia, including operating several major glass plants.
Popular Information contacted Stand Together and Caldwell prior to publication and gave them an opportunity to address the core facts established by the email. If any of the three points above were incorrect, Caldwell and Stand Together had an opportunity to correct the record. They did not respond. We sent another request for comment to Caldwell prior to publishing this piece. Again, we received no response.
Instead, Popular Information's reporting has been repeatedly attacked by third parties. In most cases, the entities publishing attacks on Popular Information's reporting are funded by the Koch network. Often, this funding is undisclosed.
The most recent attack against Popular Information's reporting took place on Tuesday in The American Conservative. In the piece, Sohrab Ahmari, a contributing editor, describes Popular Information's report as "mendacious" and "downright vile."
Ahmari does not disclose in the piece that The American Conservative has received at least $966,600 from the Koch non-profit network — the same network he is defending — between 2015 and 2020. The money was donated from the Charles Koch Foundation, part of the Stand Together network, to the American Ideas Institute, a non-profit formed to publish The American Conservative. A request for comment from The American Conservative was not returned.
The actual financial contribution from the Koch network to The American Conservative could be much higher. Stand Together is composed of a variety of entities, organized under different sections of the tax code. Only the Charles Koch Foundation discloses its donors. The American Conservative does not disclose any information about its funding.
Notably, Ahmari's piece does not allege any factual errors in Popular Information's reporting. Instead, he claims that the piece includes "selective quoting." Here is the example he uses to illustrate that point:
There is selective quoting—and then there is Judd Legum-style selective quoting. Far from making a merely boilerplate condemnation of the invasion, as Legum claimed, Caldwell had written, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is immoral, unjustified, and should be immediately halted. In addition, the regime of Vladimir Putin is authoritarian and has inhibited the Russian people from enjoying the benefits of a free and open society.”
The implication is that quote from Caldwell condemning Russia was excluded from Popular Information's story. (Ahmari does not provide a link.) But that exact quote from Caldwell — every single word of it — is included in Popular Information's piece. It is nearly the entirety of the third paragraph.
Here is Ahmari's next criticism, related to Caldwell's advocacy for a diplomatic solution:
As for the “victory” bit quoted by Legum, he really only quoted the single word, victory, and added his own verbiage to make it seem as if Caldwell had called for a partial Russian win. Here’s what Caldwell had actually written to the Stand Together staff: “An outright victory by either Russia or Ukraine is increasingly unlikely, and a diplomatic resolution is the path that best limits the bloodshed and minimizes the risk that the current war could escalate into a larger conflict.”
Again, the entire quote that Ahmari implies Popular Information left out of the initial piece is included. There is literally a screenshot of that entire section, word-for-word.
That is the entirety of Ahmari's objections and the complete basis for describing Popular Information's reporting as "cheap smears."
Forgetting about $120 million in funding and your second job
The National Review ran a piece last week attacking a related story in Popular Information, published March 16, about Koch Industries and Charles Koch's non-profit organizations. That piece revealed that, as Koch Industries was continuing to do business in Russia, Koch-backed groups were opposing economic sanctions.
In the National Review, Veronique De Rugy objects that Popular Information's reporting was featured in the New York Times. She spends a considerable amount of time defending Charles Koch and a longtime Koch operative named Will Ruger, who was featured in Popular Information's report.
What De Rugy did not reveal is that her primary employer George Mason University, has received more than $120 million from the Charles Koch Foundation between 2015 and 2020. She does also not reveal that her secondary employer, the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) — which has received a much smaller amount of funding from the Charles Koch Foundation — is run by Will Ruger.
A representative for AIER said it was not necessary for De Rugy to disclose that she is a Senior Fellow at AIER because she is paid by AIER as an independent contractor.
Koch grantees go on the attack
Popular Information's reporting on Charles Koch was attacked by many other entities and nearly all receive Koch funding. Reason editor Robby Soave, described Popular Information's reporting as "very bad," "dishonest," "unfair," and "lazy." To Soave's credit, he does disclose that Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason, receives money from the Charles Koch Foundation. He does not disclose how much, however. The total is more than $1.5 million between 2015 and 2020.
Soave, like Ahmari, does not claim Popular Information made factual errors. His objection is that the piece "selectively quotes" from Caldwell's email. Soave's primary objection is that "Caldwell clearly does not wish for Russia to achieve 'victory.'" Popular Information never made that allegation. Rather, Popular Information's piece correctly notes that Caldwell is pushing for a diplomatic resolution whereby Russia would achieve a partial victory. Soave, in the end, comes to an identical conclusion.
Caldwell "is merely acknowledging that any peace will likely involve both Russia and Ukraine getting some things that they want," Soave writes. "It's perfectly reasonable to concede that in order to end all the death and destruction, Putin will have to emerge from the conflict as something short of a complete and total loser." The real objection appears not that Popular Information mischaracterized Caldwell but that Popular Information didn't explicitly agree with his point of view.
Other outspoken critics of Popular Information's reporting include individuals associated with the Eurasia Group Foundation ($915,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation since 2017) and Defense Priorities ($100,000 from Stand Together in 2017).