Putting the Con in Conservative

I don’t often link to right-wing sites to approve of something, but recently John Hawkins of Right Wing News published the results of a study showing how right-wing PACs spent contributors’ money. And — what a not surprise — there are many PACs soliciting money for “conservative” politicians that are spending little to no money on behalf of those politicians. Even PACs that are allegedly linked to a particular candidate aren’t spending money on behalf of that candidate. For example, the National Draft Ben Carson for President PAC spent only 4 percent of nearly $13 million received on efforts to draft Ben Carson for President. It may actually surprise you not in the least that SarahPAC spent maybe 7 percent of more than $3 million to help political candidates, which is the ostensible purpose of SarahPAC.

The PACs are not necessarily guilty of criminal activity. There are all sorts of legal ways to move money around to confound oversight. A PAC might set up a couple of vendors, possibly owned by people associated with the PAC, and send the vendors $100,000 each. The vendors then print $1,000 worth of fliers and pocket the rest. But on the PACs paperwork, it shows $200,000 spent on political action.

The Good Roger Ailes is derisive of Hawkins’ work, mostly because — duh, you didn’t know this already? Plus Hawkins’s analysis has lots of blind spots, some willful. But the larger point stands.

There is much speculation on rightie blogs that left-wing PACs are just as bad and probably worse. And I welcome similar analysis of leftie PACs. One of my gripes about progressivism going back many years is that, until the last decade or so, about the only activism going on was coming from single-issue advocacy groups that incessantly raised money but never seemed to accomplish anything. I may have told the story about how I stopped giving money to NARAL back in the 1980s, because as far as I could tell my donations were all being spent on salaries and office furniture.

But progressives across the board have been much more opposed to no-holds-barred contributions and want significant campaign finance reform that would stop a lot of this, whereas conservatives oppose reform and like the system just as it is, thank you, except they’d like to be able to bar unions from political activity if they could. But just unions; not the Koch Brothers.

And the even larger point is that the Right is mostly a grift, anyway. Characters like Richard Viguerie, Ann Coulter, etc., have been cashing in for years by doing nothing but raising alarm about the Coming Darkness of Liberalism When You Will Be Forced to Convert to Islam and Eat Babies. I wrote awhile back:

If bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is, grifters infest the Right because that’s where the gullibility is. People who can be made to believe in death panels can also be sold on dubious investment schemes, survivalist kits and quack arthritis cures. It’s too easy. See especially Rick Perlstein, “The Long Con.”

At least, I’m not aware of anyone using leftie political networks to sell cancer cures, dubious investments schemes or the leftie equivalent of survivalist kits, whatever that might be.

There are also subcategories of specialized grifters such as the NRA/firearm industry and climate change denialists/petroleum industry. But it’s all of a piece, really.

I wrote recently that the only substantive difference between the “extremists” and the “moderates/establishment” in the Republican Party is that “the ‘moderates’ realize elections have to be won, and the ‘extremists’ don’t know that, or don’t care.” When you look at someone like Ted Cruz, who unlike many others may not be crazy or stupid, one suspects his long game isn’t winning the White House. The long game is making a ton of money. In this country, once you become a reliable supplier of red meat for the Right, you are set for life. Whether you ever actually accomplish anything that’s good for anyone is irrelevant.

Now Paul Waldman writes about how rich conservatives are bilking the rank and file:

This particular con is just one variant of a wider system, one that has been in operation for decades. While there may be some cases of similar scams on the left, they’re absolutely rampant on the right, because they’ve been so central to the conservative movement for so long. In the 1960s, conservatives realized that the nationwide grassroots network that activists built to support Barry Goldwater could be an ongoing source of funds, not only for conservative causes but for people wanting to sell snake oil. Lists of names and addresses became a valued commodity, built, bought and sold again and again for the benefit of those who controlled them and those who used them (Rick Perlstein lays out that history here).

That tradition continues, but in new and more complicated ways that I like to call the circle of scam. Organizations like the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks pay radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity big money to offer on-air endorsements that are the radio equivalent of ‘native advertising.’ Future presidential candidate Mike Huckabee sells his email list on ‘miracle cancer cures’ hidden in the Bible. Conservative media figures like Dick Morris solicit contributions that somehow are never turned to the political ends they claim. Nobody wants to upend the system, because too many people are getting a taste.

The common thread can be found in the marks: the little old lady in Tupelo who sends in $50 thinking that she’s striking a blow against Barack Obama, the couple in Topeka who hopes Mike Huckabee’s biblical cancer cure can save their daughter’s life, the man in Toledo who thinks that the group with ‘Tea Party’ in its name is going to have an impact on his state’s races. What none of them know is that their money is just going to make somebody who’s already rich a little bit richer.

It’s been a hugely successful scam. However, there are signs more and more people are getting elected who don’t know it’s a scam. Could The Stupid eventually become so blatant even wingnuts notice? Hmm, I’m not holding my breath until that happens. But maybe Peak Wingnut will finally come to pass.

16 thoughts on “Putting the Con in Conservative

  1. They’ve been being scammed for 50+ years, and NOW they’re just starting to realize it?!?!?!?!?! *

    But no, sorry, I don’t think we’re at peak wingnut.
    We may run out of many things in this country, but we’ll never run out of ignorance, hatred, fear, bigotry, and “TEH STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPID!!”

    *This makes me wish I was an unscrupulous grifting douche-canoe most of my life.
    I could have retired by now, and lived off of the proceeds from the rubes!

  2. “Could The Stupid eventually become so blatant even wingnuts notice? ”

    I think you’ve answered your own question? I watched Andrea Greenspan on MSNBC this afternoon, she was again in full war-pimp mode asking Egypt’s foreign minister if he had enough Apache spare parts and if he was interested in buying some drones, no shit I’m not kidding! She then went on to bolster Jeb’s chances in 2016, even running some red-meat for the base. The fact that Jeb is even being considered really points out the failure of our modern media, after all the shit the Bush’s have pulled on this country? Could you have imagined a Nixon running for office to succeed Ford or Carter?

  3. I don’t know how seriously to take reports like Hawkins’ – candidates build up war chests, and just because they’ve only spent a fraction to date doesn’t mean much. We’ve all read stories where an election is coming up and candidate X, who’s neck and neck with candidate Y, has run out of cash, and so won’t make it to the finish line. There’s an art and science to cashflow in political campaigns, and it’s critically important to not run out of money.

    Certainly conservativism draws scammers, but it especially draws true believers, and the truly paranoid. That the true believers can make a buck off gullible followers is secondary to their zeal in converting others and their desire “to turn Amerca around”, and the messianic belief they have that they are God’s chosen person to do so. Glen Beck and Ted Cruz really believe in their cause. For Ted Cruz at least, I don’t think it’s about money at all.

    Peak Wingnut has passed in the sense that the people who listen to Rush and Fox News and all the other nutballs are getting older and this audience is diminishing. Do you know of any millenial who doesn’t roll their eyes at this craziness? Peak Wingnut has succeeded in transforming the country, rotting its institutions and letting the oligarchy capture nearly everything they can get. The most interconnected generation in history, Millennials just want a life that works, and are trying to pick their way among the wrecked landscape, and don’t have time for grandpa and his weird bigotries.

  4. I think the core problem is that conservatism, in its modern form, requires one to ignore massive amounts of evidence about the nature of reality, on an amazingly wide range of subjects. This means the adherents of conservatism are natural chumps for what would otherwise be obvious scams.

  5. Joanr16,

    He’s not waiting to serve time, he is in a halfway house, he won’t be going to real prison.

  6. Well, if you’re going to scam…then go with Jesus. No PAC can even come close to raking in the cash like the wonder workin’ power of Jesus. Franklin Graham racked up over 400 million dollars with the Samaritans Purse® last year. The plus to peddling Jesus is that it’s not dependent upon election cycles, it’s a consistent flow of capital and the hope that you’re peddling springs eternal. Not like the time limited shelf life of a political hack.
    Pac’s might be a lesser alternative for guy’s like Huckabee who couldn’t muster enough wonder workin’ power to turn a profit while working the Christian circuit, but overall, Jesus is where the easy money is at.
    Oh, and speaking of scams..What’s Newt and Callista been up to lately? Are they still hawking American history books with modified versions of the actual facts.

  7. When people buy into this type of scam, they do get something for their money. They get a “walk on” part in the Biblical drama, or a crowd scene gig as a brave patriot with tons of lethal hardware for props. They get to think of themselves as a little bigger than other people might see them. It’s very hard to convince them that they are being scammed because they’ve just bought the Maltese Falcon, “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

    Regarding what Joan posted: I am reading a book by Elaine Sciolino about France and French society. She uses the concept of seduction, and its broader definition and use, to illuminate various parts of French culture, even politics and diplomacy. Contrary to what mr. D’Souza has tweeted, the French evidently regard the President and First Lady as exceptionally elegant, and well, seductive. It’s hard to imagine “Dubya” turning any heads anywhere outside of Buddox, Texas, let alone Paris. Maybe Dinesh suffers from the same inability. I know I do.

    Up until this moment I was totally ignorant of the “selfie stick” and their immense popularity in the “ghettoes.” I guess I’ve been living in the sticks too long.

  8. Is there anyone out here who can give a testimony about the vast sums of money that they made by investing in Iraqi dinar? I remember when you couldn’t visit a wingnut site without being overwhelmed by wingnut advertising claiming that a fortune was to be made from George Bush’s rebuilding of the “new” democratic Iraq.
    Due to my astute business acumen I didn’t get taken in by investing in Iraqi dinar. I exercised my wisdom and put my investment money in Glen Beck’s survival seeds. Once the apocalypse comes upon us my wisdom will be made manifest. You’ll see!

  9. It’s hard to imagine “Dubya” turning any heads anywhere outside of Buddox, Texas, let alone Paris.

    Dubya is viewed by the French as the equivalent of an Uncle Buck. A crude rustic who can’t even grasp the concept that he doesn’t fit in.

  10. There is much speculation on rightie blogs that left-wing PACs are just as bad and probably worse …

    They could actually find out, but 1) that would require actual work and 2) there’s a strong possibility that they wouldn’t like what they found out. So why bother?

    Anyway, these scam organizations are such a shame. Too bad the IRS can’t, like, check them to see whether they’re for real because that’s Hitler.

    I wrote recently that the only substantive difference between the “extremists” and the “moderates/establishment” in the Republican Party is that “the ‘moderates’ realize elections have to be won, and the ‘extremists’ don’t know that, or don’t care.”

    I think that’s far too generous. the only real difference between the “moderates” and the “extremists” is over the question of whether a government shutdown is worthwhile. That’s it.

  11. or the leftie equivalent of survivalist kits, whatever that might be.

    Homosexual fondue kits? Latte-flavoured Koran playsets? Tofu ouija board/eco-bulb bundles?

    • SpaceSquid — I’m going with the Tofu ouija board/eco-bulb bundles, especially if it’s gluten free and comes with one complimentary colon cleanse. Oh, and kale. Kale is the new arugula.

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