On Wednesday, hours before the Democrats debated in Florida, Freedom Partners unveiled an ad with an unusual message: We agree with Bernie Sanders.
It centers on Sanders’s comments during the Democratic debate in Flint, Mich., in which he dismissed the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that guarantees loans for American companies doing business overseas. Congress got into a heated fight last year over whether to reauthorize the bank, and Sanders came out in opposition to it.
“You know what the other name of the Export-Import Bank is? What it's called in Washington? It's called the ‘Bank of Boeing,’ ” he said. “Because Boeing itself gets 40 percent of the money discharged by the Export-Import Bank. Seventy-five percent of the funds going from the federal government to the Export-Import Bank goes to large, profitable corporations. Many of these corporation have shut down in America and have gone abroad to exploit poor people. I don’t think it’s a great idea for the American taxpayer to have to subsidize, through corporate welfare, profitable corporations, who downsize in the United States of America.”
The emphasis added above are the parts of that speech that Freedom Partners left out in their summary of it. While Sanders and the Koch organization both oppose the bank, it’s clear that they come at it from different angles. Freedom Partners wants to cut government spending. Sanders wants to stop bolstering big companies. They meet in the middle.
During Wednesday night's debate, Hillary Clinton used the ad as a cudgel. “Koch brothers” is a toxic phrase to Democrats, and that a Koch-aligned group gave Sanders praise was clearly irresistible to the former secretary of state. “I just think it’s worth pointing out that the leaders of the fossil fuel industry, the Koch brothers, have just paid to put up an ad praising Senator Sanders,” Clinton said. “There are a lot of different powerful interests in Washington. I’ve taken them on.”
That isn’t really a fair representation of the ad, certainly. Sanders insisted that no one had fought harder than him against the Koch brothers while in Congress. “There is nobody in the United States Congress who has taken on the Koch brothers — who want to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and virtually every federal program passed since the 1930s — more than Bernie Sanders,” he said, earning applause.
Clinton pressed the issue. "[T]hey did just put up a little video praising you for being the only Democrat who stood with the Republicans to try to eliminate the Export/Import Bank, which has helped hundreds and hundreds of companies here in Florida be able to export their goods and employ more Floridians," she said. "So from my perspective, you sided with the Koch brothers."
Sanders, short on time, repeated the argument about Boeing and the broader theme with which the Kochs agree: "It is corporate welfare, and yes, I oppose corporate welfare."
Freedom Partners, for their part, can count the ad as a complete success. Here we are explaining it and there Sanders was, once again disparaging the bank. Money well spent.