How Movement Conservatism Spends $6.5 Million

by Conor Friedersdorf

In an investigative piece worth reading in its entirety, David S. Bernstein of The Phoenix reports on movement conservatism's moneymaking machine. I've written before about ethically dubious right-wing organizations like Human Events that sell out rank-and-file conservatives.

Other examples are offered in Mr. Bernstein's piece, which I encourage you to read in full. An example to whet your appetite. It concerns talk radio show host Michael Reagan:

He has teamed up with David Bossie a Republican operative so sleazy that, when Bossie was a top Clinton-scandal investigator for House Republicans, Gingrich had to fire him for having "embarrassed" the effort.

Reagan lends his name and face as "co-founder" of, among other things, Bossie's Presidential Coalition. That PAC raised and spent about $6.5 million in 2007–'08 80 percent of which came in contributions of less than 100 dollars, according to federally filed documents.

Of that $6.5 million, three-quarters was spent on fundraising and follow-up with contributors. (Much of it was reported in campaign-finance documents as "survey" work, but was actually telemarketing, conducted by Presidential Coalition's fundraising vendor, under a separate name.) More than $400,000 of the rest went to salaries of Bossie's Citizens United nonprofit mostly to Bossie and his cohort Michael Boos.

After rent, insurance, and legal and accounting fees, that left less than $150,000 about two percent of the contributions to put to actual use. (Compare that with the American Association for Justice PAC, which raised a similar $6.2 million in the 2008 election cycle, and gave $2.7 million of it to candidates.) Most of that $150,000 went (either directly or through other PACs controlled by Bossie and Boos) to a couple dozen candidates, mostly conservatives running for state-legislative office in Virginia, where Bossie and Boos live.

This is not unusual. In fact, of the dozens of organizations for which the Phoenix reviewed recent filings, a great many appear to have very little function other than convincing members of this conservative constituency to send them money (very little of which actually goes to furthering any ideological agenda).

Would the rank and file conservatives who give their hard earned money to these organizations do so if they actually understood how and where it was being spent? I am skeptical! Folks like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Bill O'Reilly, Erick Erickson, and others are routinely claiming that unlike Inside the Beltway elites, they're looking out for the interests of regular Americans, especially those who self-identify as conservatives.

Will any of them bring this valuable information to the attention of their audience, and inveigh against the folks who are misspending their money and squandering resources that would better advance movement goals if spent in other ways?

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