Thursday, January 29, 2015

Scam PAC's

Kenneth P. Vogel details the rise of "scam political action committees" (scam PAC's) on (h/t Kevin Drum).

Since the tea party burst onto the political landscape in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them. Combining sophisticated targeting techniques with fundraising appeals that resonate deeply among grass-roots activists, they collect large piles of small checks that, taken together, add up to enough money to potentially sway a Senate race. But the PACs plow most of their cash back into payments to consulting firms for additional fundraising efforts.

A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million — 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs. POLITICO’s list is not all-inclusive, and some conservatives fret that it’s almost impossible to identify all the groups that are out there, let alone to rein them in.

“These groups have the pulse of the crowd, and they recognize that they can make a profit off the angst of the conservative base voters who are looking for outsiders,” said the influential conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who has taken it upon himself to call out PAC operators and fundraisers he sees as scams. They are “completely a drain,” said Erickson, whose assessments of candidates and groups carry particular weight among tea party activists and the Republicans who court them. “The conservative activists feel like they’ve contributed to a cause greater than themselves, but the money goes to the consultants, and eventually the activists get burned out and stop giving money, including to the legitimate causes.”

In the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections, McConnell and Boehner tried to
marginalize out-of-favor PACs, and McConnell’s allies last week launched an unofficially endorsed super PAC to go along with one that Boehner’s confidants formed in 2011, partly to stem the flow of cash to competing PACs.

That technique has worked well for Democrats, who have mostly avoided the problem, though they also benefit from the lack of tea party-style insurgency on their side. That could change if the 2016 Democratic presidential primary inflames deep ideological divisions within the party. But on the right, this industry appears only to be growing, according to conservatives who track it closely.

Kevin Drum asks why scam PAC's have been so much more successful on the right.

So here's my question: why is this so much more common on the right than on the left? It would be nice to chalk it up to the superior intelligence of liberal audiences and call it a day, but that won't wash. There's just no evidence that liberals, in general, are either smarter or less susceptible to scams than conservatives.

I won't be happy with answers that simply assume liberals are innately better people. Even if they are, they aren't that much better. It's got to be something institutional, or something inherent in the nature of American conservatism. But what?

Two reasons jump to mind for me:

The first is the tendency of those drawn to conservative politics to confuse net worth with self-worth, to define themselves and their value in terms of material wealth.  A corollary of this is the Gordon Gekko belief that "greed is good," that making money is a higher good in and of itself. A second corollary is let the buyer beware. If someone is taken in by a scam, the ethos of individual responsibility says that is on them, with less sense of a collective responsibility to protect the unsuspecting from exploitation.

A second factor may be the emphasis in the conservative movement on ideological conformity. Ideologically correct language may serve as an "all clear" sign that makes conservatives feel safe and results in letting the guard down. A movement that ostracizes those questioning the party line (e.g. David Frum, Bruce Bartlett, David Stockman, Andrew Sullivan) encourages the suspension of critical thinking where ideology is concerned.

Together these and other factors seem to have created conditions ripe for scam PAC's.

Your thoughts?

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