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Tilting at Windmills

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July 17, 2009

AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: PRINCIPLES FOR SALE.... There's been an ongoing and heated dispute between FedEx and UPS lately, stemming from a labor provision currently being debated on the Hill. In a nutshell, UPS already negotiates union contracts with individual locations, and FedEx may soon be forced to do the same, giving up its one national union contract for its express business.

A fierce fight between the two shipping giants has broken out over this, and American Conservative Union, a major conservative lobbying organization, was, as recently as two weeks ago, on FedEx's side. The ACU said in a recent letter, "We stand with FedEx in opposition to this legislation."

But that wouldn't last. The ACU asked FedEx to pony up a couple million dollars for conservative lobbying expenses. FedEx balked, so two weeks later, the American Conservative Union switched sides, and now backs UPS.

In return for the $2 million, 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 board of directors. (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 that 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.

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.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Comments

Assuming no laws were broken in making the request, how is this not extortion?

Posted by: verberne on July 17, 2009 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

It's not extortion, it's the free market baby. Let loose the whores of war!

Posted by: martin on July 17, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Given that "you don't pay for access, you pay for people who already have access," I can't imagine this will raise any eyebrows anywhere. I'm sure individual lobbyists come and go from firm to firm, especially when administrations change, and I know that individual firms, while often associated with one party, typically employ lobbyists from both "sides." So I would guess that the label on a firm matters little or nothing to the subjects of lobbying -- in fact, I'd bet they'd be hard-pressed to name the firm an individual lobbyist works for.

About the only embarrassment this might cause is to the ACU when it's trying to market itself to new customers who don't understand how lobbying works.

(And verberne, I don't think that asking for money in exchange for promising to say nice things about you and not about your opponent is extortion -- I think it's called business development.)

Posted by: bleh on July 17, 2009 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, the governmental corollary to this is the evident need for true campaign finance reform. Until the cozy monetary relationships between oligarchs and our government officials is addressed, we will continue to have a condition wherein 'the people's representatives' do not reflexively act in the people's best interests, but instead act on the interests of those with the most money. Such as health care reform. Such as climate change legislation with teeth. Such as reigning in the financial sector. Etc.

Posted by: terraformer on July 17, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

everyone does do it... only game in town... look at that paragon (of something) lanny davis... shit, lanny, who's next?

Posted by: neill on July 17, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

FedEx balked, so two weeks later, the American Conservative Union switched sides, and now backs UPS.

A whore's got to do what a whore's got to do.

Posted by: oh my on July 17, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

The scandal isn't adopting positions based on who pays you more. The scandal is being so amateurish as to get caught. That will undermine the ACU in the future.

Posted by: Bernard Gilroy on July 17, 2009 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

This Is What Happens

... when all the smart-to-normal intelligence people have been purged from the movement, and those remaining no longer have the education or class to know that you keep that sort of thing PRIVATE.

As the auditors say, "If it isn't documented, it never happened."

Posted by: Zandru on July 17, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

To quote Atrios: "It's time for a Blogger Ethics Panel.

Posted by: DR on July 17, 2009 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

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.

Do you really wonder, Steve? I think we all know that the D.C. establishment and the media will have forgotten all about this by, oh, I'm going to guess, tomorrow.

If past history is any guide, there is literally nothing a conservative pundit or organization can say or do to discredit themselves in the eyes of the media.

Posted by: David Bailey on July 17, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe it is time for americans to decide that our government is very unlikely to change just because we wave a flag and cast a vote.

Posted by: SteveA on July 17, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

So, how much would it cost to get the ACU to support universal health care?

Posted by: SRW1 on July 17, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

It isn't so much that the D.C. establishment will tolerate it because everyone does it (almost everyone does it is true), but because it was not a liberal lobbying organization that got caught. Whatever is left of the "liberal media" is still too civilized. They don't go for the jugular just because it is exposed.

Had it been a liberal group caught out so nakedly there would be a groundswell of outrage starting with Drudge and Limbaugh, echoed by O'Reilly and Hannity on the GOP house organ, FOX, and eventually, as it amplified in the right wing echo chamber, taken up by the MSM.

Same game, just different rules.

Posted by: majun on July 17, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

[T]he D.C. establishment, assuming that "everyone does it," and this is just "how the game is played," will tolerate a scandal like this.
================================

Fixed.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on July 17, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK
ACU's Keene didn't necessarily offer offered to use his print column for paid advocacy

I also adopt Fleas' correction above.

Posted by: karen marie on July 17, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

They're tryin to have thangs but it's hard fo an American Conservative Union. You know? It's hard out here fo an American Conservative Union.

And such as.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on July 17, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

So, how much would it cost to get the ACU to support universal health care? - SRW1

More than the opponents have already paid. That was easy.

Posted by: Kevin on July 17, 2009 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

If you check the tobacco papers, you'll find that tea party organizers FreedomWorks was doing exactly the same thing. I'm sure these organizations still do this now. "Give us $1,000,000 and we'll give you a petition, blog posts, and a protest or two." Check these firms 990s on Guidestar. You'll see most of their donations come in big lump sums from anonymous donors.

Posted by: Sickle on July 17, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Of course they are demanding money from FedEx, how else will the GOP send love letters to their lover! Hehehe!!!

Posted by: annjell on July 17, 2009 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Scandal? Not if the DC establishment doesn't play along. Nevertheless, it is an outrage.

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