Thursday, April 30, 2015

PunditFact Corrects Limbaugh and the Federalist, Blumer Finds Accuracy Laughable [Updated]

MRC Watch Dept. - Ugh. Follow this: Last month, the Federalist, a conservative publication, ran an article that note the Clinton Foundation had taken in big bucks from foreign governments while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, a practice author Sean Davis labeled unconstitutional:
The official Team Clinton defense is that this whole thing is no big deal because the Clinton Foundation uses all that money to save lives… If only that were true. When anyone contributes to the Clinton Foundation, it actually goes toward fat salaries, administrative bloat, and lavish travel.
Between 2009 and 2012, the Clinton Foundation raised over $500 million dollars according to a review of IRS documents by The Federalist (2012,2011, 2010, 2009, 2008). A measly 15 percent of that, or $75 million, went towards programmatic grants. More than $25 million went to fund travel expenses. Nearly $110 million went toward employee salaries and benefits. And a whopping $290 million during that period — nearly 60 percent of all money raised — was classified merely as “other expenses.” Official IRS forms do not list cigar or dry-cleaning expenses as a specific line item. The Clinton Foundation may well be saving lives, but it seems odd that the costs of so many life-saving activities would be classified by the organization itself as just random, miscellaneous expenses.
On 23 April, Rush Limbaugh took to his radio show to repeat this assertion:
“The Federalist reports only 15 percent of the money donated to the Clinton Family Foundation went to actual charitable causes. The bulk of the money donated to the Clinton Family Foundation went to travel, salaries, and benefits. Sixty percent of all the money raised went to other expenses. In other words, folks, 85 percent of every dollar donated to the Clinton Foundation ended up either with the Clintons or with their staff to pay for travel, salaries, and benefits. Fifteen cents of every dollar actually went to some charitable beneficiary.”
Two days later, the Clinton Foundation replied, tweeting that “More than 88% of our expenditures go directly to our life-changing work,” and offering a chart that broke down their expenditures. At this point, PunditFact, a division of Politifact, jumped in and evaluated the Federalist/Limbaugh claim. Their rating: Mostly False. From the PunditFact assessment:
“…many foundations carry out charitable works by giving money to other organizations that, in turn, do the ground-level charity work, whereas the Clinton foundation’s charitable works are mostly done by people on the foundation’s payroll. ‘We are an implementing organization rather than a grantmaking organization,’ said the foundation’s [spokesman Craig] Minassian. That’s why the Clinton Foundation’s 990s show a relatively small amount of money categorized as “grants” — only about 10 percent of all expenses in 2013.
“The foundation says its own employees are doing its charitable work. The annual report… says that 7 percent of expenditures were spent on ‘management and expenses’ and 4.5 percent for ‘fundraising.’… Add those two percentages together and you get almost 12 percent; subtract that from 100 percent and you get the magic 88 percent figure the foundation cited.”
At this point, Newsbusters Tom Blumer bumbles into the matter:
“If Rush Limbaugh told his audience that the sun rose in the east today, it seems that PunditFact, an arm of Politifact, would find a way to determine that he wasn't telling the truth.
“That’s pretty much what you have to conclude from the web site’s laughable evaluation of Limbaugh’s true assertion that ‘The Federalist reports only 15 percent of the money donated to the Clinton Family Foundation went to actual charitable causes.’… The Clinton Foundation’s response as relayed at PunditFact is essentially that 88 cents of every dollar goes to ‘life-changing work,’ and not 15 cents, because they have dedicated people on staff actively engaged in direct charitable efforts. Even if true — given the Clintons’ track record, there’s certainly tons of room for doubt; after all, paying someone a salary can be ‘life-changing’ if they’re uninvolved in service delivery — that doesn't refute the Federalist’s original or Rush’s relayed claim.”
But of course, the Federalist claim was that most of the money taken in by the Clinton Foundation wasn’t going for charitable work at all. As PunditFact noted,
“There’s a grain of truth here — roughly 85 percent of the foundation’s spending was for items other than charitable grants to other organizations, and a large chunk of this 85 percent did go to Clinton Foundation staff for travel, salaries and benefits. However, the foundation says it does most of its charitable work in-house, and it’s not credible to think that the foundation spent zero dollars beyond grants on any charitable work, which is what it would take for Limbaugh to be correct.”
The Federalist’s Davis, a terrible demagogue, has responded to these developments but the few significant nuggets in his attempts at rebuttal[1] are lost in a cloud of mostly unresponsive, irrational raving. Blumer, perhaps finding Davis’s tortured ranting too difficult a slog, ignores most of it, including the few legitimate questions Davis raises, and chooses to spotlight, instead, the conspiracy-mongering portion of Davis’s reply, as relayed by the Washington Examiner:
“‘PunditFact is funded in large part by the Ford Foundation, a significant Clinton Foundation donor and partner. I’ll leave it to others to determine why they failed to disclose that fact in their article and how that financial relationship might impact their coverage of the Clinton Foundation,’ he (Davis) told the Examiner Wednesday.”
While any reasonable reader may judge that an absurd non-response, Blumer bolds it then harps on it:
“At a bare minimum, Punditfact owed its readers an explanation of its relationships with Clinton-supporting foundations. But I guess revealing conflicts of interest is only for the little people — or anyone else with whom the Clintons disagree.”
While, as PunditFact notes, the Clinton Foundation’s estimates regarding the percentage of its budget spent on charity work depends on the foundation’s own characterization of its expenditures,[2] the Davis claim, as repeated by Limbaugh, is entirely indefensible, and remains so even if the MRC does defend it.



[1] The major example is here, where Davis wrote:
"While some may claim that the Clinton Foundation does its charity by itself, rather than outsourcing to other organizations in the form of grants, there appears to be little evidence of that activity in 2013. In 2008, for example, the Clinton Foundation spent nearly $100 million purchasing and distributing medicine and working with its care partners. In2009, the organization spent $126 million on pharmaceutical and care partner expenses. By 2011, those activities were virtually non-existent. The group spent nothing on pharmaceutical expenses and only $1.2 million on care partner expenses. In 2012 and 2013, the Clinton Foundation spent $0."
That doesn't even remotely support Davis’s own original claims about the foundation but it is very intriguing. Davis buried it — the item that should have been his own lede — toward the end of one of his unfortunate rants.

[2] And while Blumer is correct in noting there’s always room for doubt when it comes to the Clintons, that’s probably a teensy bit too much doubt.

UPDATE (2 May, 2015) - Mark NC over at News Corpse notes that Blumer points to a Fox News article to claim "that the Federalist and Limbaugh might have missed the mark" but in the other direction -- that the actual amount of their foundation budget that went to charity was only 10%. But upon reading the article, the Fox source for this is Davis himself! Is Blumer this incompetent or this dishonest (and this trusting that his readers won't bother to check)?

[Note: This article was written for MRC Watch, a blog dedicated to a critique of the Media Research Center]

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