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June 15, 2011 9:30 AM The right gets its money’s worth

By Steve Benen

Pay for Play controversies pop up on the right with some regularity. The idea is, companies or interest groups pony up a big check, and in return, they can buy (or at least, lease) the credibility of like-minded media figures. Just last week, we heard about a “RedState Endorsement Program,” in which clients could purchase a “video endorsement” from Erick Erickson (the program was quickly scrapped).

This new Politico report may not be quite in the same league when it comes to conservative media corruption, but it’s at least in the ballpark.

If you’re a regular listener of Glenn Beck’s radio show and you wanted to contribute to a political group that would advance the populist conservative ideals he touts on his show, you’d have plenty of reason to think that FreedomWorks was your best investment.

But if you’re a fan of Mark Levin’s radio show, you’d have just as much cause to believe that Americans for Prosperity, a FreedomWorks rival, was the most effective conservative advocacy group. And, if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity are who you listen to, you’d be hear a steady stream of entreaties to support the important work of the Heritage Foundation.

That’s not coincidence. In search of donations and influence, the three prominent conservative groups are paying hefty sponsorship fees to the popular talk show hosts. Those fees buy them a variety of promotional tie-ins, as well as regular on-air plugs — praising or sometimes defending the groups, while urging listeners to donate — often woven seamlessly into programming in ways that do not seem like paid advertising.

If you’ve ever listened to talk radio, you know it’s standard practice for advertisers to pay hosts to read commercials on the air. Clients are, in effect, paying for the host’s voice, hoping that listeners will be more likely to listen to it. It’s clear, however, that the comments aren’t part of the regular on-air programming, but rather, just an ad.

But what the Politico article is describing is something different. Far-right groups pay sponsorship fees, and in turn, the nation’s most prominent right-wing hosts tout, echo, and even defend the groups’ work, without always letting listeners know about the financial support.

And what of the left? The report added, “The increased willingness of non-profits to write big checks for such radio endorsements … seems to be a primarily, if not entirely, a conservative phenomenon.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Lifelong Dem on June 15, 2011 9:52 AM:

    Wait, I thought "both sides do it equally" was a standard part of Politico reportage ....

  • c u n d gulag on June 15, 2011 9:56 AM:

    The left?
    On radio?
    HA!

    I live about 60 miles north of NY City, and I can't get a Liberal radio show.
    I can pick one up out of Buffalo, about 380 miles away. But only at night.
    And only if atmospheric conditions are right.
    And only if the Buffalo Hockey team isn't playing.
    And only if the Buffalo Triple-A Baseball team isn't playing.
    But, I can go up and down both the AM and the FM dials and pick up all of the major rightie voices. If not the original show at the original time, then in replay.

    The right owns radio.
    And in a nation of people who are constantly in their cars, they have a huge audience who's tired of listening to R&R songs they've heard for over 40 years, or the news repeated over and over every half hour, and turn to these talkers for their "news."

    And just as with all things Liberal, be it Think Tanks, TV, Op-ed writers, etc., there is little that can be done compared to the worlds of opportunity that the right has for all of these paid political groups.

    If you want to really look at why this country is so disfunctional, you can look beyond FOX News who only get a relatively small audience, and turn to radio, where 10's of millions of people tune in while they're driving, or have it on as background in the office or at home.
    Propaganda, repeated often, and well (and you have to give the right credit - their talkers ARE good), will, and has, changed the course of a nation. Usually not for the better...

  • DaY on June 15, 2011 9:57 AM:

    The Maharushie was provided with a Cadillac, free of charge, and he extolled its many virtues on air. Now that the head of GM has suggested a buck a gallon tax, I wonder what tune he will sing?

  • jcricket on June 15, 2011 9:57 AM:

    Hey look over there! There's George Soros!!!

  • some guy on June 15, 2011 9:57 AM:

    Steve,

    I was struck by your earlier story about the coprorate welfare program known as Ethanol Subsidies. 34 Republicans voted to end it, along with FIVE Democrats. Cantwell, Tester, Pryor, Webb,and Manchin voted to end this tax giveaway, and every other Democratic Senator voted to keep shoveling dollars at Agribusiness.

    The idea is, companies or interest groups pony up a big check, and in return, they can buy (or at least, lease) the credibility of like-minded media figures.

    substitute Democratic Senators for "media figures" in your sentence and I think we can see what is wrong with our legislature.

  • km on June 15, 2011 10:13 AM:

    Come on Steve, that ethanol vote was Senate inside baseball crap, not Dem senators bought by agribusiness.

  • Danp on June 15, 2011 10:24 AM:

    The right pretty much owns the Public Opinion Cafe. This is just a new ala carte menu.

  • ken on June 15, 2011 10:55 AM:

    The left doesn't need radio personalities spouting a steady stream of incendiary crap, we use facts instead of rhetoric.

  • exlibra on June 15, 2011 11:32 AM:

    But if you’re a fan of Mark Levin’s radio show, you’d have just as much cause to believe that Americans for Prosperity, a FreedomWorks rival, was the most effective conservative advocacy group. And, if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity are who you listen to, you’d be hear a steady stream of entreaties to support the important work of the Heritage Foundation. -- Politico

    And here I thought that all three above-mentioned "institutions" were but different tentacles of the same Kochtopus...

    Let's see if my guess at Captcha works. It looks like "usually onetworo", which sounds apropos of this thread.

  • jjm on June 15, 2011 11:45 AM:

    “The increased willingness of non-profits to write big checks for such radio endorsements … seems to be a primarily, if not entirely, a conservative phenomenon.”

    Natürlich. Logical, reasoned and reality based thinking doesn't require investing in indoctrination.

  • thisdave on June 15, 2011 12:20 PM:

    Regrettably, it seems the Gray Lady has round heels, too. Matt Taibbi reports that the NYTimes DealBook section sold sponsorships to Goldman Sachs and a few other large financial firms. Then DealBook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote a happy PR piece defending Goldman.

  • edb on June 15, 2011 2:47 PM:

    Now we know how the Republican "trickle down" theory works: give the wealthy tax cuts and they spend a hefty amount of it on advertising so they can get more.

  • howie on June 15, 2011 3:31 PM:

    Isn't this what brought Alan Freed down?

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