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March 18, 2005

Scandal, What Scandal?

What is Brad Plumer thinking, echoing a rightwing attack on progressive groups receiving foundation money for campaign finance reform?

It seems that two years ago, the Pew Foundation gave a bit of money—oh okay, a lot of money—to a bunch of other groups so that they would all advocate campaign finance reform...Still, there's obviously a sordid quality to all of this, in that liberals advocating "money out of politics" would quite clearly not be very happy if a bunch of conservative groups shelled out multimillions to spread certain views among the general public...So... it's icky.
I'm no fan of McCain-Feingold (I agree with Brad there) or, particularly, of dependence on foundation money, but it's ridiculous to refer to $14 million per year over ten years as "big money" to fight for campaign finance reform in an election system with BILLIONS spent EACH YEAR on elections and lobbying. This was obviously a priority of these foundations, but we are talking money that is less than one quarter of what the construction industry spends each year on poltiical contributions.

To put this in perspective, Dick Armey left Congress as Majority Leader and took up a position as lobbyist for Piper Rudnick and co-chairman of the industry-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy. As Slate pointed out at the time. Citizens for a Sound Economy has an annual income of $15 million per year. Piper Rudnick received $43.5 million for lobbying Capitol Hill. So Dick Armey by himself is at the center of $60 million per year in lobbying all.

So why would Brad even hint at an equivalence between $14 million spread over many, many different groups compared to this concentrated lobbying power of the special corporate interests?

The problem of foundations on the left is that they have a disproportionate power to set the agenda of the progressive movement, but that's an internal problem on the progressive side, not a reflection of their "big money" influence in the broader society. What's remarkable is that the money on a top priority issue like campaign finance reform was actually so pathetically low, less than the budget of one rightwing organization like Citizens for a Sound Economy. That should be the story Brad emphasizes, not acting like progressive groups are "icky" when they actually spend any money to try to combat rightwing power.

Posted by Nathan at March 18, 2005 05:10 AM