The Politico story on the American Conservative Union is getting lots of buzz in the sphere. Mike Allen:
The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.
For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s . (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”
The conservative group’s remarkable demand — black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as “pay for play” — was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO.
The letter exposes the practice by some political interest groups of taking stands not for reasons of pure principle, as their members and supporters might assume, but also in part because a sponsor is paying big money.
If Politico has this right, and they have the letter on their website, this is exactly what we don’t need. Their offer in writing contains nothing but their support for the fight against this bill. The ACU’s eventual public position — that FedEx has been “misleading the public and legislators” — only came after FedEx refused to pay the ACU over $2 million for their services. That looks a lot less like a principled position, and a lot more like sour grapes, or the business end of an extortion attempt. Someone has misled the public in this instance, and it doesn’t appear to be either FedEx or UPS.
The range of services offered calls into question the integrity of the entire organization. Does the ACU normally offer its public commentary for rent? Who else has paid for endorsements in David Keene’s columns, or those of the ACU board members? It would be also fair to ask Keene or the board knew of Whitfield’s proposal before it went out, although it would be difficult to imagine that Whitfield could have offered so much in services for that much compensation without having approval from Keene and/or the board in the first place. The ACU’s about-face on the issue right after FedEx’s refusal would be difficult to explain as well.
Despite everything that’s happened, I don’t think many people grasp just how raw, how explicit, the corruption of our institutions has become.
It’s an interesting look at how this process, usually played out behind closed doors, really works. For a price, a company can buy the loyalty of a conservative organization, its lobbying operation, and perhaps even some media attention. In this case, the ACU’s Keene didn’t necessarily offer to use his print column for paid advocacy, but the fact that it was mentioned as part of the pitch to FedEx suggests a certain, shall we say, ethical flexibility.
And if one fails to pay that price, wouldn’t you know it, the conservative organization finds that maybe it doesn’t really agree with your principled position after all.
It’s tempting to think a revelation like this would permanently undermine the ACU’s reputation, but I can’t help but wonder if the D.C. establishment, assuming that “everyone does it,” and this is just “how the game is played,” will tolerate a scandal like this.
This is what happens as a result of a conservative lobby that road Reagan’s coat-tails to Washington and stayed too long. Obviously, the American Conservative Union is now as much a part of Washington given this pay for play move, than they are about principles.
Activists who support the ACU, especially those that have given it money, should be appalled. Keene has to go if they ever expect to have any credibility, again and the entire organization overhauled. Though, I suspect as long as it is a part of DC that is a waste of time.
Dennis Whitfield of the American Conservative Union has sent out a press release on today’s embarrassing Mike Allen story that alleges a pay-for-play proposal between the conservative group and FedEx.
“An article containing a false headline has been published by Capitol Hill newspaper Politico today regarding an issue with expansion of the National Labor Relations Board.
This article concerns two letters; one issued by ACU and another issued by a separate organization.
Mr. David Keene’s name was on a letter prepared by another organization. This was a personal decision on his part and he was not representing ACU at the time. No permission was given by ACU, and no logo was provided by ACU, to the organization who issued the letter in question.
ACU’s policy position on this issue has not changed and it will not change.
ACU’s positions on important policy issues have never been for sale.
UPS’ position is mere rent-seeking: Trying to get government to impose a cost it already bears on a competitor. For ACU to side with UPS would be outrageous enough; to do so after having been rebuffed on a pay-for-play bid is scandalous. (George Will noted that yesterday in a column written before this scandal broke, but I hadn’t read that until after coming to the conclusion independently.)
It should be noted that ACU is claiming that, despite his use of their logo in the second letter, Keene was acting as an individual. If so, Keene should be ousted at once if ACU is to retain even a shred of credibility.
Maybe I am getting cynical here, but I recommend the following exercise
Google “American Conservative Union” + Microsoft and see what happens.
Or “American Conservative Union” and AT&T.
Look up the story of “Citizens for State Power” a group that lobbied against proposals to shift the regulation of electrical utilities from the state to the federal level, and see if you recognize any familiar conservative names.
I could go on and on.
The point is this: The, shall we say, “accessibility” of ACU’s policy positions has been a notorious fact of Washington life for many years. It’s one of the big themes of the last chapter of my book Comeback.