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- Subject: worth reading
- From: Bussardre@aol.com
- Date: Thu, 5 Jan 2006 10:32:55 EST
January 5, 2006
Paying to play
Revelations that Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff bought op-ed pieces from
fellows at right wing think tanks should unleash an investigation into two
decades of so-called research paid for by conservative philanthropies
"Despite its centrality to political debate, economic research is a very
low-budget affair. The entire annual economics budget at the National Science
foundation is less than $20 million. What this means is that even a handful of
wealthy cranks can support an impressive-looking array of think tanks,
research institutes, foundations, and so on devoted to promoting an economic
doctrine they like...The economists these institutions can attract are not exactly
the best and the brightest...But who needs brilliant, or even competent,
researchers when you already know all the answers?" -- Paul Krugman, Slate,
August 15, 1996)
Several decades ago, when veteran radio news reporter Scoop Nisker closed
out his broadcasts by telling his audience that if they didn't like the news
they should "go out and make some of your own," little did he imagine that the
Bush Administration, and a host of its surrogates, would become masters of
Earlier this year, the public was startled to discover that the Bush
Administration had been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Black
conservative columnist and radio and television talk show host Armstrong Williams to
flak for the "No Child Left Behind Act." Those revelations not only called into
question the columns and commentaries Williams had produced around Bush's
education legislative centerpiece, it also rendered Williams' entire body of
At the end of last month, the New York Times revealed that the Pentagon had
been paying Iraqi newspapers to publish "good news" stories about the
situation in country; stories that had been generated by the Pentagon itself.
Political analyst and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan
argued, during a session on MSNBC's Hardball, that "deception,
misinformation, disinformation, deceit, [and] propaganda" in times of war was acceptable.
Buchanan pointed out that "the Pentagon and our guys over there have got
every right to have good news put into the media and get to the people of Iraq,
even if it's got to be planted or bought."
On Friday, December 16, another branch from the "pay to play" tree of
journalism came crashing to earth.
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the fiercely libertarian Cato Institute,
resigned after BusinessWeek Online revealed that he had been paid ample chunks
of change by indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff to produce columns in
support of issues of interest to Abramoff and his clients. Many of these
columns were related to Indian gambling, and "extol[ing] the virtues of the
free-market system" particularly in the Northern Mariana Islands, the New York
Times reported. .
After the Business Week story appeared, Bandow resigned from the Cato
Institute, and the Copley News Service -- which syndicated his columns -- suspended
him, pending further investigation.
(In a recent piece in the New York Times, Philip Shenon described Jack
Abramoff as "a major Republican Party fundraiser" who is the "focus of a federal
corruption investigation in Washington involving gifts to lawmakers."
Abramoff, Shenon wrote, is known to be among the "most generous lobbyists" with an
uncanny ability to direct "political contributions to lawmakers who could help
Bandow apparently accepted as much as $2000 an article, for writing some 12
to 24 Abramoff-inspired pieces over a several year period beginning in the
mid 1990s, BusinessWeek Online reported.
The story also named Peter Ferrara, of the Lewisville, Texas-based Institute
for Policy Innovation. Ferrara who admitted to receiving money from
Abramoff, was at first quite cavalier about the situation: "I do it all the time," he
said. "I've done that in the past and I'll do it in the future."
In its piece, BusinessWeek Online reported that Tom Giovanetti, the
president of the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), said that he saw nothing
wrong with "pay for play" op eds.
Within days both Ferrara and Giovanetti backtracked. In a press release
dated December 19, Giovanetti claimed that he had been quoted out of context,
arguing that the Institute "has never engaged in what is being called 'pay for
play' op/eds." Giovanetti added "to the best of our knowledge, no op/ed ever
written on an IPI byline was written either directly or indirectly as a result
of lobbyist influence or payment."
Ferrara also tried to clarify his position in an IPI official press release
also dated December 19:
For many years, I have had the honor of having my writing widely published
on a variety of public policy issues. My writing has always reflected my free
market and socially conservative views and philosophy, without exception. I
have not nor would I ever take financial support to write anything that I did
not think was good public policy or that was against my economic or social
I follow an unqualified policy of not taking money from lobbyists for
op-eds, which I established on my own years ago. I rely solely on financing from my
foundation employers for financial support.
I am glad to ask people to contribute to my work if they agree with what I
have been writing for years now and want to support it. That is what I was
referring to in the quote in this regard in the BusinessWeek Online article.
If I were paid by a newspaper or a syndicator to write a regular column, I
could not possibly take money from any outside party for that work, as that
would betray the newspaper or syndicator employing me. As a freelance writer
who submits individual articles to publications, I must honestly follow the
disclosure policies of those publications. These are the rules I follow.
I have already acknowledged that, years ago, Jack Abramoff was among those
who provided occasional financial support for my work. Any crimes or unethical
practices of his do not make anyone he raised money for or contributed to in
the past unethical. I have not dealt with or received any contributions in
any form from Abramoff for years now.
With specific regard to the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), a think
tank with which I am affiliated, I have never written anything under an IPI
byline that was financially supported or otherwise motivated by anyone other
Since the 1980s, the political landscape has become thick with conservative
and libertarian think tanks. For a time, it seemed that every other week or
so, yet another press release announced the establishment of a new think tank
or public policy institute. During this period, more than 100 such
organizations were founded, staffed and funded. Some appeared to fly-by-night
operations run by one person or by a skeleton staff whose sole purpose was to issue
canned press releases on the public policy issue of the day. Other
organizations appeared to engage in original research and received a substantial amount
of funding support from conservative philanthropies and foundations.
Special studies, op-ed pieces, and so-called "highly documented" studies,
covering a broad swath of conservative/free market issues cascaded forth from
these institutions. Similar to the Bush Administration's faith-based
initiative, where little attention has been paid to discovering whether these groups
actually serve the public better than government agencies, much of the
information generated by these think tanks was accepted without much investigation
into the substance of their assertions. It appeared that the sheer volume of
the material that was generated -- especially when similar-conclusions came
from different groups -- was enough for editorial writers, reporters, op-ed
writers and radio talk show hosts to spread their findings as gospel.
"Paying to play" is not a new phenomenon, nor I suspect, limited to right
wing think tanks. However, over the past two decades, conservative
philanthropists and foundations have spent their money wisely.
In the introduction to its 1996 report titled Buying a Movement: Right Wing
Foundations and American Politics, People for the American Way pointed out
"Each year, conservative foundations channel millions of dollars into a
broad range of conservative political organizations. Their recipients range from
multimillion-dollar national think tanks to state policy centers,
universities, conservative journals, magazines and student publications, right-wing
television networks and radio programs, and community projects. The issue work
funded by these conservative givers ranges from military and fiscal policy to
education funding to health and welfare program analysis to environmental
deregulation to libertarian workplace policy, and more."
"Conservative foundations have overt political and ideological agendas and
invest comprehensively to promote a given issue on every front. In the words
of the director of one foundation, the right understands that government
policies are based on information from "a conveyer belt from thinkers, academics
and activists," and provides funding accordingly."
"Indeed, the foundations are supporting the work at every station on the
conveyer belt. They fund national conservative "think tanks" to package and
repackage conservative issue positions; state think tanks to lend a local flair
to these issues; national political groups to lobby in Washington and shape
national media coverage; state-based groups to do the same in the states;
grassroots organizations to stir up local activism; national and state media to
report, interpret and amplify these activities; scholars to record the history
of such activities and push the intellectual boundaries of the issues;
graduate students to form the next wave of scholarship and movement leadership; and
college newspapers to shape the milieu in which America's next generation of
political leaders comes to their political awakening."
Uncovering the ties -- and the amounts of money involved--between
researchers and op-eders at right wing think tanks and industry lobbying groups and /or
their powerful political patrons is no easy task. As the New York Times'
Philip Shenon recently noted, "Executives in the public relations and lobbying
industries say that the hiring of outside commentators to promote special
interests - typically by writing newspaper opinion articles or in radio and
television interviews - does happen, although it is impossible to monitor since
the payments do not have to be disclosed and can be disguised as speaking fees
and other compensation."
Nevertheless, on Friday, December 23, Shenon reported that at least two
other researchers at the Institute for Policy Innovation -- founded by former
Texas Republican Congressman Dick Armey in 1987 -- "had relationships with
industry trade groups.
On October 25, IPI's Susan Finston wrote an opinion piece for The Financial
Times in which "she called for patent protection in poor countries for drugs
and biotechnology products." Last month Finston also penned a column that
appeared in the European edition of The Wall Street Journal which "called for
efforts to block developing nations from violating patents on AIDS medicines
and other drugs," Shenon reported.
In both cases she was identified as a "research associate" at IPI. However,
according to Shenon, "Neither mentioned that, as recently as August [she] was
registered as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers
of America, the drug industry's trade group. Nor was there mention of her work
this fall in creating the American Bioindustry Alliance, a group
underwritten largely by drug companies."
He also pointed out that Merrill Matthews Jr.writes for major newspapers
under the IPI banner, advocating policies promoted by the insurance industry,
even though he is a registered lobbyist for a separate group backed by the
Given his previous comments on the matter, it was not surprising to read
that the president of IPI told Shenon "Lobbying is not a four-letter word."
Both Finston and Matthews deny any wrongdoing.
While the reputations of Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara have been severely
damaged by the BusinessWeek Online revelations, investigations into the buying
and selling of columnists probably will not end with these two cases
Just as the incompetence of former FEMA head Michael Brown led enterprising
reporters to look into a host of Bush Administration appointments whose
qualifications are suspect, "pay to play" revelations could shed some needed light
on a much larger question; the honesty and ethics of the "research" that has
been produced by right wing think tanks over the past three decades.Found
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