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Monday, February 20, 2006
Debunking the American Prospect and Paul Krugman

(Welcome, fellow Just One Minute, National Review Online, Donald Luskin, and Ankle-Biting Pundits readers!)

I took a whack at a ridiculous story in the American Prospect a couple weeks ago, but it seems to have settled in as accepted wisdom among the lefty bloggers and has appeared in a Paul Krugman column, so I thought it was worth cracking in detail.

To summarize the American Prospect story, they commissioned a "study" of donations by Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, and found that contributions to Democrats had dried up or remained stable once Abramoff was directing things, and that donations to Republicans had skyrocketed.

This has resulted in a large part in the shrillness with which liberal bloggers have greeted any attempt by the media to be even-handed about the Abramoff scandal. They feel entitled, because a flagship journal of the American Left has told them that there's essentially nothing to the claims that Abramoff directed money to the Democrats.

Paul Krugman has probably spread the myth (linked at a liberal blog to avoid Times Select) the furthest through his column in the New York Times on January 30:

But the tribes were already giving money to Democrats before Mr. Abramoff entered the picture; he persuaded them to reduce those Democratic donations, while giving much more money to Republicans. A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes’ donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled. So in any normal sense of the word “directed,” Mr. Abramoff directed funds away from Democrats, not toward them.

Numerous major lefty blogs have pushed this "study" as proving that Abramoff was not an equal opportunity employer, that he drastically curtailed spending to Democrats and radically increased it to Republicans.


That's just nonsense. The American Prospect showed as much in a study done by a nonpartisan research group...

Gutless punk Brad Delong:

The American Prospect performs a public service--one that the Washington Post would have long ago performed, were it a real newspaper....

Brad Blog:

Chris Wallace, once again, asserted that Democrats are largely tainted with Abramoff money. Of course, Wallace ignores this non-partisan study that the great majority of contributions from Abramoff clients largely went to Republicans.

Okay, so I think I've established that major liberal columnists and liberal bloggers have relied on this story quite a bit, right? Now, you can probably guess the next step, let's take a really close look at the American Prospect story.

Although Abramoff hasn’t personally given to any Democrats, Republicans, including officials with the GOP campaign to hold on to the Senate, have seized on the donations of his tribal clients as proof that the saga is a bipartisan scandal. And the controversy recently spread to the media when the ombudsman for The Washington Post, Deborah Howell, ignited a firestorm by wrongly asserting that Abramoff had given to both. She eventually amended her assessment, writing that Abramoff “directed his client Indian tribes to make campaign contributions to members of Congress from both parties.”

But the Morris and Associates analysis, which was done exclusively for The Prospect, clearly shows that it’s highly misleading to suggest that the tribes's giving to Dems was in any way comparable to their giving to the GOP. The analysis shows that when Abramoff took on his tribal clients, the majority of them dramatically ratcheted up donations to Republicans. Meanwhile, donations to Democrats from the same clients either dropped, remained largely static or, in two cases, rose by a far smaller percentage than the ones to Republicans did. This pattern suggests that whatever money went to Democrats, rather than having been steered by Abramoff, may have largely been money the tribes would have given anyway.

The analysis shows:

# in total, the donations of Abramoff’s tribal clients to Democrats dropped by nine percent after they hired him, while their donations to Republicans more than doubled, increasing by 135 percent after they signed him up;

# five out of seven of Abramoff’s tribal clients vastly favored Republican candidates over Democratic ones;

# four of the seven began giving substantially more to Republicans than Democrats after he took them on;

# Abramoff’s clients gave well over twice as much to Republicans than Democrats, while tribes not affiliated with Abramoff gave well over twice as much to Democrats than the GOP -- exactly the reverse pattern.

“It’s very hard to see the donations of Abramoff’s clients as a bipartisan greasing of the wheels,” Morris, the firm’s founder and a former investigations editor at the Los Angeles Times, told The Prospect.

Now when I first tackled this article I quickly discovered an obvious flaw. The Prospect article claimed:

At the same time, two of those four tribes -- Saginaw and Chitimacha -- saw their giving to Democrats drop or remain static.

But when you looked at the information on the Saginaw tribe, it said:

1) Tribe: Saginaw Chippewa (Michigan)
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 9/2000): $371,250
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (9/2000 - 2003): $191,960

Okay, so pre-Abramoff the Saginaw Chippewa gave $371,250 to the Democrats over about 9 years, that's a little over $41,000 per year, while post Abramoff, they gave the Democrats $191,960 over three years, that's $64,000 per year.

So to the American Prospect, going from $41,000 per year to $64,000 per year--a 50% increase in donations from that tribe per year to the Democrats--means that tribe "saw their giving to Democrats drop or remain static."

But it gets better. The Chitimacha? Again, the Prospect kindly gives us the figures so that we can work it out:

2) Tribe: Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana
Pre-Abramoff contributions to Dems (1991 - 9/2000): $61,320
Post-Abramoff contributions to Dems (9/2000 - 2003): $64,000

Okay, $61,000 divided by 9 years is $6,800 per year, while $64,000 per year divided by 3 years is $21,000 per year. So going from $6,800 per year to $21,000 per year means that the tribe "saw their giving to Democrats drop or remain static."

You can see what's going on here, right? The American Prospect is actually looking at the total number of dollars donated without looking at the number of years. Gee, before Abramoff the Chitimacha donated $61,000 to Democrats, after Abramoff they donated $64,000; it's hard to see that represents a 200% increase per annum.

And no kidding, that's where they get the absolutely ridiculous 9% decrease in spending on Democrats that Krugman cites in his column.

A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes’ donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled.

Here's a look at the spreadsheet (Excel file) linked by the American Prospect to show their conclusion (click on pictures to view larger):

My first reaction was that they showed the total for each election to each party from each tribe, and yet they don't give us the totals for each party? Well, that's pretty easy to add:

Wow, end of story, they've proved their point, right? My gosh, the tribes gave 9% less (Krugman's point apparently proven) to Democrats after Abramoff took over, while they suddenly splurged on Republicans, more than doubling!

What about the number of years that Abramoff represented the tribes and the number that he didn't? We have seen in the cases of the Saginaw and Chitimacha tribes, what the Prospect described as stable or declining funding for the Democrats was actually a pretty substantial increase on a per annum basis. And if you look at the number of years before and after Abramoff, there was only one tribe (Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians) that spent the majority of the years in the study represented by Abramoff; most of them spent fewer than 1/3 of the years as his client.

But the clincher was when I downloaded the spreadsheet (Excel file) that showed the annual contributions by Abramoff clients to each party in each election cycle. Now, they don't make it easy for you, you have to wade through all the other tribes, but once you have the Abramoff clients isolated, these are the contributions by election cycle to the Democrats by the seven tribes:

1992: $3,700
1994: $5,500
1996: $43,000
1998: $231,000
2000: $175,970

Ah, here's the part that fits "the narrative". The tribes, which had been loyal to the Democrats suddenly abandoned ship in 2000. Except that's really not what happened. In 1998, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe donated $222,000 to the Democrats and all the other tribes donated a grand total of $9,000; in 2000 the Saginaw Chippewa reduced that to $57,000 but the other tribes increased their giving to $119,000.

In 2002, as you can imagine, the Democrats saw their funding cut dramatically. Most of the tribes were now under the merciless orders of Jack the Knife, and so their contributions to Democrats suffered draconian cuts:

2002: $550,980

No kidding. All of Abramoff's clients (except the Cherokee Nation, which didn't donate a significant amount of money) were on board before the end of the 2002 campaign. And yet in that campaign Abramoff's clients didn't reduce their funding for the Democrats, they more than tripled it!

But in 2004, Abramoff must have really cracked the whip on his tribal clients, right? I mean, Paul Krugman assured us there was a 9% decrease!

Sorry, Paul. Total donations to the Democrats from those same 7 tribes:

2004: $648,000. That's about an 18% increase over the 2002 level. Meanwhile the Republicans must have gotten the big bucks, right? Nope, they were cut by 33% by Abramoff clients in the last election cycle.

I don't mislead my readers like the American Prospect has its readers. The Republicans did get dramatically increased funding as well from the tribes represented by Abramoff, especially in the 2002 election, when funding went from $387,000 to $1.22 million (a much higher rate of increase than the Democrats received). So if the argument is over whether Abramoff's tribes gave more to the Republicans than Democrats, hey no question. But if the argument's over whether the "Democrats Don't Know Jack", all I can say is the American Prospect doesn't know how to count the Jack.

So to reiterate, the Democrats received from Abramoff's clients, both before and after they were clients, the following amounts by election cycle:

2000: $175,970
2002: $550,980
2004: $648,000

That's what the American Prospect wants you to believe is stable or decreased funding.

Minor correction: I said up above that the Republicans had a much larger rate of increase in funding from the Abramoff tribes in 2002 than the Democrats. Actually the increases were 213% for the Democrats and 215% for the Republicans, an insignificant difference in percentage terms, although of course it worked out to a much larger dollar amount.

Thanks for the link: Super Fun Power Hour and Lifelike Pundits.
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