Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

The Koch Brothers' Political Surveillance

Just how influential are the Koch brothers? It’s common knowledge that the billionaire industrialists have funneled hundreds of millions into American elections via a broad network of conservative tax-exempt groups. The Koch network’s estimated $889 million budget for the 2016 election rivals what will be spent by the national political party committees. 

But the true scope and aggressiveness of the Koch political operation is only now coming to light, thanks to a series of investigations by Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel. Most recently, Vogel has pulled the curtain back on a vast conservative surveillance network that uses “competitive intelligence” to target liberal groups. In the context of the questions bubbling up over stepped-up government surveillance in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the news that the Kochs are running what amounts to a a sophisticated private sector intelligence agency  is sure to raise eyebrows. 

As Vogel reports:

The competitive intelligence team has a staff of 25, including one former CIA analyst, and operates from one of the non-descript Koch network offices clustered near the Courthouse metro stop in suburban Arlington, Va. It has provided network officials with documents detailing confidential voter-mobilization plans by major Democrat-aligned groups. It also sends regular “intelligence briefing” emails tracking the canvassing, phone-banking and voter-registration efforts of labor unions, environmental groups and their allies, according to documents reviewed by POLITICO and interviews with a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the group.

The story comes on the heels of two prior reports that paint the most detailed picture yet of the Kochs’ shadowy, free-market movement. On Tuesday, Politico provided fresh details about the Kochs’ political influence in 2014. That piece casts the Kochs as a political ATM of sorts for such conservative groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth, and the National Rifle Association, reportedly doling out $88 million in grants to these and other right-leaning groups. Much of that money boosted conservative primary candidates running against opponents who were backed by the Republican Party establishment.

As the Kochs and their allies gear up to spend record sums in 2016, both Democrats and Republicans will be watching. Charles Koch recently announced that he will not back a Republican in the GOP primary. But the Koch network’s general election spending is set to break records. The latest Koch disclosures send a signal to Democratic donors that they had better be ready. They also suggest that liberal activists had better be on their guard. 

Casino Capitalism, Part II

In olden times, when you read about the Nevada Gaming Commission looking into the ownership of Las Vegas casinos, the story was always about the commissioners sniffing around for evidence of organized crime’s hidden interests. As anyone who’s watched Martin Scorsese’s Casino (which sticks fairly close to Vegas’s actual history) can attest, the Mafia families that owned the hotel-casinos on the Vegas Strip had to find fronts—obliging attorneys, developers and the like—to serve as the ostensible owners and executives for the Sands, the Flamingo, the Stardust, the Tropicana, and so on. The agreed-upon fiction was that by enforcing a rule that convicted felons could have no role in owning or running the gaming tables, the Commission would keep Vegas clean.

Today, the Mafia is more a memory than a going concern, and its control of Vegas has long since ended. Recently, however, the Commission has been asked to look into the ownership of some Vegas casinos by a new shady character: the global financial behemoth Deutsche Bank. The Vegas local of UNITE HERE, the hotel workers union—a local I profiled for the Prospect back in 2004—has asked the Commission to determine whether Germany’s largest bank is a suitable owner for the city’s Station Casinos, a company that has thwarted its employees’ attempts to unionize, and in which DB has a 25 percent ownership share. As the union’s complaint correctly notes, DB paid a $2.5 billion fine this spring for its role in illegally manipulating the LIBOR interest rate on inter-bank loans to its own advantage and to the detriment of virtually everyone else. Its co-CEOs were compelled to resign as a result of the scandal. 

Out goes the Mafia, in come the banks. Won’t Vegas ever clean up its act?

The Mizzou Scandal Shows Why Black Colleges Are Still Vital

University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s resignation Monday underscores how even in 2015, majority-white institutions remain potentially unsafe places for black students.

The events leading up to Wolfe’s resignation—the racist verbal assaults on campus, the swastika written in feces in a residential hall, and ultimately the administration’s inadequate response to students’ concerns—are all too familiar to longtime advocates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

As Darrick Hamilton argues in the Fall issue of The American Prospect, tenacious campus discrimination demonstrates the ongoing and urgent need for HBCUs. Such institutions offer students an environment free both from institutional biases and overt hostility, Hamilton and his coauthors note. Yet HBCUs face the danger of extinction amid mounting financial strain.

“Despite the promise of integration, black students frequently report feelings of isolation and the burden of representing their race in alien spaces,” Hamilton writes. “Some spaces are not only alien, but explicitly hostile.”

In “Why Black Colleges and Universities Still Matter,” Hamilton and his co-authors describe recent incidents at other college campuses that, in the context of the recent Missouri scandal, have an eerily familiar ring. In December of last year, he notes, “members of the Clemson chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity threw a gang-themed ‘Cripmas’ party. The university placed SAE on probation in April 2015 for two years.”

In March at the University of Oklahoma, the same fraternity made headlines after, as Hamilton describes it, “video surfaced of University of Oklahoma SAE chapter members singing, ‘There will never be a nigger at SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger at SAE.’ The chapter was immediately shut down, but the damage from this egregious case, which just happened to be caught on video, is done.”

Tensions at Missouri had been brewing for a while (for a timeline of the events, see here), but a catalyzing event was a September Facebook post from Missouri Students Association President Payton Head, written after passersby had called him the n-word.

It wasn’t the first time. A similar incident during Head’s sophomore year was what galvanized him to first seek student office.

“I realized I had a decision to make,” Head told the student news source The Maneater after the Facebook post went viral. “I could go back down South to the historically black college that was still offering me a scholarship, but then I realized, what would I be doing if I left?” he wrote. “This place is my home, but I want my home to be better.”

Only about 7 percent of Mizzou students are black. However, as Dave Zirin pointed out in The Nation, more than two-thirds of the school’s beloved football team, the center of a loyal sports culture and a huge cash cow, are black. It was those athletes who ultimately forced administrators to respond.

At historically black colleges and universities, discrimination takes a financial, if not a social toll. Loss of state support and declining revenues for public and private HBCUs are putting their existence at risk, Hamilton and his colleagues note. Private HBCUs received far less revenue per student than their traditionally white counterparts, and HBCUs rely more on government funding. Black students in turn rely more heavily on loans, many of them predatory or risky.

While the postwar GI Bill infused unprecedented amounts of money in higher education, blacks were still shut out of many historically white schools and had far more limited access to federal aid. The student group behind many of the protests at Missouri in the past few months is Concerned Student 1950, a reference to the first year the university admitted a black student. Sixty-five years later, disparities still exist.

On Minimum Wage, Put Hillary Down for $12 (Nationally)

At a campaign event in Iowa on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton officially established a clear difference between her and the two remaining Democratic presidential contenders. She declared her support for raising the federal minimum wage to $12. “That would be setting it at a level that would be equivalent to the point in our history where the minimum wage was at its highest,” (which was 1968) Clinton said.

Her rivals, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, both support the labor movement’s call for a $15 federal minimum, which has already taken hold in a number of big American cities.

Clinton’s support for a more modest minimum wage hike is not surprising. She has long said that she thinks a national $15 standard isn’t flexible enough to work in rural areas and cities with lower costs of living. She backs a higher wage in more high-cost locales.

Her plan fits into—and helps define—the Democratic mainstream. As I’ve previously reported, a $12 federal minimum wage has emerged as the Congressional Democrats’ plan. In early summer, Senator Patty Murray and Representative Robert Scott introduced legislation for a $12 minimum, which garnered support from such prominent Democrats as Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi. (Pelosi, however, has since come out in support of a $15 minimum).

While most labor unions publicly call for a $15 minimum wage, it has not been a deciding factor in the endorsement decisions of the major unions that have already thrown their support to Clinton. The most notable union that has so far withheld an endorsement is SEIU, which has invested huge sums in its nationwide Fight for 15 efforts. The union says that it’s still conducting its endorsement process and hasn’t been clear on what policy factors will be considered.

Clinton’s minimum wage policy decision may be indicative of her looking ahead to the general election. According to a recent survey, there’s broad support for raising the minimum wage to $12.50 by 2020. It polls well across party lines, too: 92 percent of Democrats support it while 73 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans back it as well. And in Tacoma, Washington, on Tuesday, voters approved a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $12, while rejecting a competing measure to up the minimum to $15 for employees of bigger businesses.

Though a $15 minimum enjoys 63 percent of national support, the move is riskier politically. Economists are divided over how high a minimum wage the economy can handle. There’s rather strong evidence that the economy can handle incremental increases to something close to $12. A statement released by a group of 200 economists, however, discounted the risks of raising the standard to $15.

While Clinton’s campaign has been tacking to the left on a number of issues in response to the surging popularity of Sanders’s progressive policies, it seems that her team is confident that staking out her support for $12 is not going to hurt her in the primaries. 

Labor and Climate Groups Blast TPP as Full Text is Released

The United States Trade Representative released the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership today, one month after negotiators finalized the massive 12-nation pact in Atlanta. The release kicks off a 90-day window before President Obama can sign the deal and turn it over to Congress for approval.

In a statement released today on Medium, Obama said the deal “puts American workers first,” and claims it represents “the strongest labor standards in history” and “the strongest environmental standards in history.” Supporters like Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, have pointed to provisions like the bilateral labor rights agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam as proof that TPP puts workers first. The agreement would purportedly ensure basic workplace standards and organizing rights among Vietnamese workers.

But experts and activists on the left have had a somewhat different first impression. Within hours of the text’s release, leading environmental, labor, and civil liberties groups blasted the deal for its lackluster provisions on workers rights, climate change, and human rights.

“We now have concrete evidence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens our families, our communities, and our environment,” said Sierra Club President Michael Brune in a statement released today. In its initial review of the pact, the Sierra Club pointed to the pact’s failure to outlaw illegal trade in plants and animals, illegal fishing, or commercial whaling, all of which remain critical conservation issues for TPP signatories Peru, Vietnam, Japan, and Singapore. At the same time, the TPP gives corporations the power to roll back existing environmental regulations through the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, the group added. The statement from Sierra also noted that, amazingly, the final text does not once mention climate change.

Jason Kowalski, policy director at 350.org, went further. “The TPP is an act of climate denial,” he said today in a statement. “While institutions across the planet are divesting from fossil fuels, the TPP would double down on the industry’s destructive business model.” Like Sierra, 350.org also expressed alarm at what an expanded ISDS system could do to local environmental regulations. “In short, these rules undermine countries’ ability to do what scientists say is the single most important thing we can do to combat the climate crisis: keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Kowalski said.

Experts like Human Rights Watch’s John Sifton have also cast doubt on provisions like the labor rights agreement with Vietnam. “It is not enforceable in practice,” he told The New York Times today. Sifton pointed out that, unlike corporations, workers in Vietnam will have no rights to bring complaints against countries or companies to the newly-empowered investor-state dispute bodies. He also alluded to the U.S. Trade Representative’s poor record on workers’ rights in previous trade pacts.

The view from the American labor movement has been no rosier. The Communications Workers of America, one of the first major unions to respond publicly to the deal, expressed concern today about what the ISDS process could mean for labor and environmental laws in the U.S. The CWA also noted that while hundreds of official trade advisers—mostly representing business—had a direct hand in the TPP’s six-year negotiation, the public is given just a 90-day review.

On Twitter, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters noted that the TPP includes no penalties for human trafficking, while also pointing out that Vietnam has a full five years to implement its much-touted labor policies, and that enforcement will likely be minimal.

This sentiment was echoed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who also lamented the “expansive new legal rights and powers” corporations may soon use to challenge existing workplace, environmental, and financial protections. Trumka also noted that as the TPP was being negotiated, “our policy recommendations and those of our trade reform allies in the environmental, consumer, public health, global development, and business sectors were largely ignored.”

As The Washington Post has reported, the TPP’s negotiation process has long been heavily lopsided toward major corporations and away from labor, environmental, and citizen’s groups. Out of 566 official trade advisers, 480 have represented corporations and trade groups while less than 30 have represented organized labor. Over the past six years, the AFL-CIO alone has requested more than 100 specific changes in the TPP’s wording, but has little to show for it. As the AFL-CIO put it in a 2014 statement, “because the U.S. government treats trade deals differently than all other policies—it is allowed to negotiate rules that affect our lives in these areas behind closed doors. This is undemocratic.”

All that being said, TPP is far from a done deal. With the pact headed to Congress it will face an uphill battle from populist wings in both parties. At the same time, the TPP has also faced strong criticism from leading White House contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, who may help shape the conversation as Congress prepares to vote.  

The Keystone Effect

Just hours after the White House indicated it would make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline by the end of Obama’s second term, TransCanada made a sharp left on its years-long effort to quickly secure approval. Perhaps sensing that the Obama administration was poised to kill the project (turns out, they were probably right), yesterday TransCanada sent a letter to the State Department asking that it suspend its review of Keystone and instead wait until the next administration takes office in 2017. The move has been widely interpreted as a punt, intended to stave off a decision in case a friendlier president takes office—like, say, a Republican.

Keystone opponents, from 350.org to the Sierra Club to Bold Nebraska, were quick to declare a hard-won victory in the fight to stop a project that James Hansen famously warned would mean “game over for the climate.” But, as activists like Bill McKibben have long been stressing, this decision is not just about Keystone. It’s about a dramatic change in the public perception of fossil-fuel projects and their impact on the planet.

At an event held by America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) this past May, ANGA President Marty Durbin outlined a new and growing problem facing his industry: grassroots opposition. “Call it the Keystone-ization of every pipeline project that’s out there,” he said. “These are things that pipeline developers have had to deal with for a long time. But we’ve seen a change in the debate.”

The difference, added Dominion Energy President Diane Leopold, has been the rise of “high intensity opposition” to pipeline projects. “It is becoming louder, better funded, and more sophisticated,” she said.

At the time of the event, ANGA and its supporters were under a lot of pressure. Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a $5 billion project crossing three states and 550 miles, had inspired a uniquely diverse opposition of climate activists, conservative landowners, and prominent Republican officials. As Politico reports, the anti-ACP campaign includes heavyweights like former Bush 41 staffer Tom Harvey, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, and financial services lobbyist Phil Anderson, along with climate groups like 350.org and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Such a diverse alliance has a direct parallel in anti-Keystone activism, particularly in how Bold Nebraska has built a broad-based campaign of conservative landowners opposed to eminent domain and climate activists opposed to dirty tar sands. And that opposition has only grown. With the ACP far from finalized, local opposition has pushed Dominion to sue dozens of landowners who wanted no part in the project, while also adjusting its route a number of times due to environmental concerns.  

Proposed projects in the Northeast and upper Midwest have met similarly stiff opposition from climate groups and landowners. In Minnesota, Enbridge’s $2.6 billion Sandpiper Pipeline, slated to snake across the state’s northern region, has run into hard resistance from landowners, environmental activists, and tribal groups, particularly the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Opponents have cited a lack of formal hearings in the pipeline’s development as well as Enbridge’s decidedly poor record of oil spills in the region. The pipeline remains about a year behind schedule.

As Elana Schor reports for Politico, “Keystone has changed the politics of pipelines nationwide, offering a template that activists from New England to Minnesota and Wisconsin are using to grind projects to a halt.”

And of course companies like Dominion and Enbridge are far from the only targets. In fact, the same week Durbin warned about “Keystone-ization” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the government body in charge of issuing permits for new pipeline projects, was forced to reschedule its annual meeting in Washington after warnings from law enforcement about impending protests.

To be sure, the battle over Keystone isn’t over. As activists acknowledge, even if Obama rejects the pipeline, TransCanada can resubmit its application under a new administration. But it does seem like the ground underneath projects like this has begun to shift.

Judge Issues Restraining Order After an L.A. Charter Network Interfered with Teachers Union Drive

Drama has escalated for teachers organizing at the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter network in Los Angeles. Since the teachers, organizing with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), first went public with their union drive in March, they allege the administration has erected illegal barriers to organizing, including intimidating their employees. (Alliance denies these accusations, though some of their leaked internal communications certainly suggest they are opposed to the effort. For example, one memo instructed management to keep their statements focused on “the potentially negative effects of UTLA and any union on fulfilling the school’s mission.”)

Union leaders have filed four unfair labor practice complaints against Alliance, claiming that that administrators have sought to spy on teachers who are organizing, and block UTLA organizers from coming on campus, among other things. Teachers also took issue with Alliance using “funds that could be used for student education to hire high-priced PR consultants, to create an anti-union website.” Towards the end of the 2014-2015 school year, the California Charter Schools Association started to pay Alliance alumni to call parents at home, in order to help galvanize them against the union effort. Part of the script that alumni were asked to read said, “We are asking parents to sign a petition in support of the Alliance as it is today…without UTLA. Will you please sign our petition?”

“Paying alumni to read a script designed to get parents to sign a petition against their own students’ teachers infuriates me,” said Michael Letton, an Alliance teacher, in an UTLA statement.

Alliance’s spokesperson, Catherine Suitor insists that everything the charter network has done in response to the union effort “is to the letter of the law” and says they would not seek to create a coercive or hostile environment.

Two weeks ago, California’s state labor board announced that it would be issuing an injunction, calling for Alliance administrators to quit interfering with the organizing efforts. Then on Friday, in a surprising move, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a restraining order against the Alliance administrators. The order says that Alliance cannot coerce or ask teachers about their positions on unionization, must allow organizers to come onto school grounds, cannot block emails from the union, and must stay 100 feet away from UTLA organizers.

This restraining order will remain in place until November 17, when the judge considers the state labor board’s injunction request. Union organizers will now be allowed to enter into school buildings after school hours.

In March, 70 teachers first announced their intent to join a union, and by June, 146 teachers had signed on in support. Shaun Richman, AFT’s deputy director of organizing, says the current number stands at 124 teachers, after losing some supporters over the summer who no longer work at Alliance. Forming a union will require 50 percent-plus-one of the charter’s roughly 600 teachers to sign on in support.

Earlier this fall, news leaked that the Broad Foundation seeks to enroll at least 50 percent of L.A. public school students in charter schools over the next eight years. Currently, about 16 percent of students in the district attend charters. Such an expansion would undoubtedly threaten the jobs of many unionized teachers in the district.

While the Broad Foundation’s charter expansion plan would require about 5,000 teachers, their documents make no mention of recruiting from teachers already working for L.A. Unified. It does discuss recruiting from Teach for America and other alternative teacher training programs. “While TFA is important, we predict they can provide just 15 percent of our total need,” the report stated. “In order to significantly narrow the teacher recruitment and training gap, we will need other providers like the Relay Graduate School of Education or TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project to come to Los Angeles.” The report estimates that training for new teachers for their charter expansion plan will cost about $43 million over the eight-year period.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the number of teachers in the district has shrunk to about 25,6000 over the last six years, down from about 32,300. The district says that half that decrease is due to the growth of charter schools.

Oh Yeah, Tomorrow Is Election Day: A Preview of Ballot Measures in Four States

While coverage of the 2016 presidential election (which is still 12 months away) ramps up, it’s easy to forget that tomorrow is still Election Day. The national political stakes may not be high, but there are a number of ballot measures that could have resounding impacts on state and city-level politics.

Here’s a quick preview of some of the initiatives that voters across the country will be considering:


Campaign-finance rules could be drastically changed if Maine voters approve Question 1 on the ballot. Backed by a grassroots coalition of good-government advocates, the measure would bolster the state’s public campaign-funding system to better compete with increases in outside spending, increase penalties for those who violate campaign-finance laws, and work to shine a light on dark money. Here’s a good explainer on the measure from the Bangor Daily News.

Voters in Portland, the state’s biggest city, will also consider a measure that would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Portland’s city council recently voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Critics have vehemently argued that the city’s economy cannot handle an increase to $15, while supporters say it’s necessary for workers to earn a living wage.


Seattle residents will consider tomorrow whether to institute an innovative public campaign-finance system that would give voters $100 in vouchers, to distribute to candidates as they see fit. This would be a big victory for campaign-finance reformers who see vouchers as a promising way to get big-money influence out of politics.

On the other side of the state, in Spokane, a bold new Worker Bill of Rights would unilaterally improve conditions for the city’s workers. As In These Times has reported, the ballot measure would increase the minimum wage, guarantee equal pay for equal work, protect against wrongful termination, and prioritize worker rights over corporate rights.

Statewide, Washingtonians will decide on a controversial tax measure that critics say amounts to nothing more than “legislative blackmail.” Long-time anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman is backing the initiative, which would cut the state’s sales tax by 1 percent if the legislature doesn’t reinstate a constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds majority to pass any tax hike.


Ohioans will vote on two major ballot measures tomorrow—one that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana and another that would make the state’s redistricting process bipartisan.

Many marijuana-legalization advocates are skeptical of the ballot initiative, given that deep-pocketed investors who stand to gain a monopoly over commercial growing rights are bankrolling the measure. Another measure on the Ohio ballot aims to nullify the legalization initiative, if it passes.

Also on the ballot is a measure that would work to reduce political gerrymandering in the state’s redistricting process. The current system uses a five-member partisan board that critics say has created district borders that reduce the power and representation of minorities across the state. The measure would reform the system by creating a seven-member board appointed in a more bipartisan manner.


As a state that is perennially on the bottom of national education rankings, voters in Mississippi will decide on a measure that advocates say is an attempt to improve education standards by changing the way the state funds public schools. The measure would force the legislature to adhere to a 1997 state law that was meant to increase public-school funding allotments. However, the law’s funding formula has only been met twice. If this measure is passed, lawmakers would be required to fully fund public schools, or relinquish their power to a county judge.

From campaign finance and tax reform to public-education funding and minimum wages, these are all likely to be central to the 2016 presidential election. And tomorrow, we’ll get a peak at how some possible policy solutions fare with voters. 

Eliza Newlin Carney to Join The American Prospect

Eliza Newlin Carney joins The American Prospect as a senior editor on November 9. Carney joins the Prospect from a post as a senior writer and columnist for CQ Roll Call, where she covers lobbying, influence and political money.

Before joining CQ Roll Call in 2011, Carney worked at National Journal, where she also wrote a column and focused on money and influence. She is best known for coining the term "super PAC," and brings broad editorial experience in magazines, breaking news, blogging and commentary to the post.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Prospect and its talented staff,” said Carney. “This is a key moment for the progressive movement, and the Prospect is uniquely positioned to inform it.”

Politicians Are Still Using Black Lives Matter as a Scare Tactic

In his appearance this past Sunday on Face the Nation, Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie resurrected one of his favorite talking points when he argued that Barack Obama’s recent comments “justifying” Black Lives Matter were “encouraging lawlessness in this country.”

The New Jersey governor was referring to a statement Obama made at the end of last week’s White House forum on criminal justice reform, when as The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery reported, he said that the movement to end racial bias in policing has raised “a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”

Over the past year, a growing chorus of conservative pundits and politicians has railed against Black Lives Matter, often framing the movement as an anti-police crusade aimed at inciting violence. These condemnations usually appear after the deaths of police officers or outbursts of highly charged language at protests, but the evidence that the perpetrators possess any substantial connection to Black Lives Matter has ranged from slight to nonexistent. As Vox’s German Lopez pointed out last month, it’s unlikely that BLM would get very far if it actually advocated for anti-police violence since “targeting individual officers does nothing to achieve the movement's broader goals, and in fact may detract from them.”

That bit of logic hasn’t stopped Christie (or Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz, or the now dropped-out Scott Walker, for that matter) from mischaracterizing Black Lives Matter on the 2016 campaign trail. But given that candidates in the still-bloated GOP field are looking for a way to distinguish themselves, the move makes political sense, even if the numbers aren’t there to support it.

Placing Black Lives Matter activists in direct opposition to police officers without any factual support has become unsettlingly common. In a speech on Friday, FBI director James Comey expressed his belief that “a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year” has negatively impacted police officers’ ability to do their jobs. It was a statement that appeared to lend credibility to the controversial (and highly speculative) “Ferguson effect,” which argues that video-recording technology and heightened scrutiny of police officers by the public has simultaneously disempowered police officers and emboldened criminals. And while a new study from the Justice Department finds that “the proportion of fatal attacks on officers attributable to ambushes [is] increasing,” the study ends its data collection at 2013—before the Ferguson protests and the emergence of Black Lives Matter.

Comey’s remarks (which he repeated on Monday) have been heavily scrutinized, and The New York Times reported that the White House quickly distanced itself from Comey. Over at The Atlantic, David Graham exposed the fundamental flaw in arguments like Comey’s: “If the Ferguson effect is real, and the current system can only provide security by means of questionable policing in communities of color, then American policing is much more troubled than its defenders have been willing to admit.” In a separate Atlantic article, Ta-Nehisi Coates added, “A theory of government which tells citizens to invest agents of the state with the power to mete out lethal violence, but discourages them from holding those officers accountable is not democracy.”

That’s one point Comey and the 2016 GOP contenders would be wise to remember. But it’s highly unlikely that the message will stick.